If the general manager of Little Mountain Country Club looks familiar, you may not be fooling yourself. Jimmy Hanlin is more famous for his “18 Holes” program, co-hosted with the LPGA’s Natalie Gulbis and golf reporter Holly Sonders. When not traveling the country revealing quality courses, he frequents the Cleveland club that he owns and manages.
Celebrities aren’t the only thing to be seen at Little Mountain, however: Although the mountains in Ohio are even smaller than the name suggests, on a clear day one can see Lake Erie from the fairways. White sand bunkers are also eye-catching, and the design of Michael Hurdzan and Dana Fry ensures that plenty of balls will become ensnared in them as well.
Although this is not “mountain golf,” players can also get a gauge on the hills of northern Ohio by glancing left of the fairway at holes Nos. 10-14. The steep fall down to Ellison Creek may give you all the more reason to stick to the right side on the split fairway at No. 11!
Although billed as a “country club,” Little Mountain is very much a public facility.
Little Mountain is a par 70 Hurdzan/Fry design that is a golf course with a housing development in the middle of it. Also, Little Mountain is misnomer, perhaps rolling hills.
The first hole is a welcoming par five. From the tips it will be hard to get home in two. Favor the right off the tee. The 2nd is a short par three, slightly downhill with front right bunker and water hazard front right. The third is a par four with a fairway bunker right in the landing area and a stream crosses the fairway about 70 yards out. The hole plays easier from the right so check your yardage to the bunker from your tees. The 4th is a mid-length par three, bunkers left and right greenside, yawn. The 5th is a big dogleg left with a large bunker on the inside elbow and one thru the fairway. It is the number two handicap hole. I do not get it, you can fly the corner and be inside 150 yards. The 6th is a long par three with four bunkers providing some defense. The 7th is a tight but reachable par five. Favor the left of the tee. The 8th is a short par four with bunkers in the landing area and greenside. Favor the right off the tee. Good birdie hole. The 9th bends a wee bit right. Favor the left off the tee and the green has bunkers front right and left.
The back start with a long par four that bends left. There is a bunker on the inside elbow and a BAB greenside left. The 11th is a short par 4 with three fairway bunkers in a row in the middle. Left is bad so favor the right off the tee. The 12th is the shortest hole on the course. Slightly downhill with a tabletop green and bunker front left. The 13th is the number one handicap hole, the longest parr four. Does have a generous landing area. Right is best. The 14th is another short par 3. The 15th bends a little left, a good birdie oppty and the green sits between bunkers left and right. The 16th is a straightaway par four with trouble left of the green. The last par five, 17 is straightaway and not really reachable. There are diagonal cross bunkers that start on the left hand side about 100 yards out. The green is well protected with bunkers right and left. The 18th is a tough finishing hole. Long and with a boatload of bunkers on the left and a large U shape one on the right.
I won’t be going back.
Michael Hurdzan is based out of Columbus, Ohio and, as a resident of this capital city, your correspondent can attest that much of his work in the area involves courses routed around subdivisions. I recently commented upon another reviewer’s post regarding housing complaints when reviewing golf courses themselves, and the need to justify one’s complaint in regards to the course. Little Mountain Country Club is a testament to an architect’s battle against real estate interests, and the unfortunate, realistic limits within such a battle.
The first major question to ask when considering housing on a golf course is whether a poor shot has any likelihood of breaking a window and/or killing the wealthy resident therein. This answer is certainly “no” at Little Mountain; all homes are tucked well enough from the holes that not even your correspondent could damage them. Unfortunately, this bit of “smart” urban planning means sacrifices elsewhere, and Hurdzan was forced to make them. He remained admirably steadfast that wider fairways are better: Nos. 5, 8, 11, 13, and 16 are examples where players have more strategic options from the tee (than at my local subdivision clubs, for example). This commitment requires many parallel fairways stand closer together than current COVID-19 regulations allow. We found the fairways peppered with balls that were abandoned following a tee shot from relatively nearby. In one instance, an elderly gentleman played my partner’s ball rather than his own, which was lying maybe 10 feet away (that my partner’s ball had a better line to the nearby Par 3’s green was not suspicious at all). Some complain about trees between fairways, but the ones at Little Mountain clearly serve as a modest shield for patrons.
The Par 3s punctuate routing issues in a tight property. Gil Hanse recommends waiting until No. 4 for a Par 3, as nothing kills pace-of-play like high-handicappers on early shorts. Little Mountain features shorts at Nos. 2, 4, and 6. Their locations seem the opposite of the Stanley Thompson method, as if Hurdzan waited until he had 13 holes drawn up and was looking to fill gaps on what little property he had left. In his defense, these holes feature some of the best greens on the course. No. 12 looks like a throwaway from an aerial perspective, but its green bubbles to punish those who miss the short tee shot (a mere 90 yards the day we played).
All these spatial issues stem from the subdivision that stabs awkwardly from the South into the heart of the course, to the point where the walk from the No. 14 green to the No. 15 tee requires exiting the course and walking along “Augusta Lane” (I acknowledge that this walk would be less bitter had the street been named something not quite so overwhelmingly cliched). Had Hurdzan the opportunity to access the full breadth of this property, I don’t doubt the Little Mountain experience would have been less constrained, and lived up to a more full potential.