Tom Bendelow made a swing through Ohio during his run as one of America’s most prevalent producers of golf courses, and in time, many of those courses were retouched or totally revamped by Donald Ross. Some clubs are more eager to feature the latter’s name on the marquee, but Maketewah is happy to share the name of both architects in its heritage.
Like many designs in Ohio (from either architect) the property is defined by various ravines running across the property. One such ravine is the defining feature on a rather irregular closing hole. The final hole is a short (140 yards) par three, that must cross a deep ravine to reach a large green. Although the target is not particularly tough to find, front pin placements are guarded by both a long slope to the bottom, as well as a large bunker...certainly an example where a par three closer is no nuisance for the purpose of matchplay. Crumpled fairways will be the order of the day for much of the round.
The club is also home to the Francis Xavier Homan Golf Center, the headquarters for both the men's and women's teams representing nearby Xavier University.
I reached down and pulled my birdie putt from the cup on No. 7, and found a clumsy insect struggling to claw its way up the vertical surface, despite having wings. Yes, I chose this anecdote to highlight my excellent approach shot (more on that later) but also to acknowledge the full-fledged efforts of the cicada hordes flying awkwardly across Ohio. For those unfamiliar, the massive “Brood X” emerges, breeds and dies across the span of a month, once every 17 years. You can tell that CBS piped in bird calls for this year’s Memorial Tournament because, on the ground at Muirfield Village, one could hardly hear themselves yell “Brooksy” at Bryson over the high-pitched wail of millions of cicadas.
They’re an innocuous species that many question whether it has any real biological purpose.
I bring it up in tribute to Tom Bendelow, the oft-ignored founding father of American golf, who laid out more than 400 of the nation’s oldest tracks, with much less finesse than his Golden Age followers. Maketewah is one such example, among numerous Ohio routes where Donald Ross led total redesigns, plowing over Bendelow’s work to create more compelling tests of golf.
No. 7 is one such example. Having played enough Bendelow in my life, I seriously doubt whether he would have originated a green as fun as this one. Prior to executing the simply spectacular 110-yard approach that led to my birdie, I considered how tricky my shot would be, based on the “muffin” placed front and center at the front of the putting surface...the front-right pin meant that, regardless of ground attack or air attack, I would need to deftly maneuver the mound. No. 5, a short par five, is also a standout green, with an even larger mound to pair dangerously with a pair of platforms at the back.
I’ve been told that Brian Silva will be undertaking a project to restore Ross’s lost fairway bunkering, and — while I’m naturally eager to see Ross’s touches to these fairways — I also couldn’t help but wonder how necessary they were. The consistent terrain movement at Maketewah, with moments of bold swoops and rare evenness, does a great job by itself in preventing hacks like myself from finding greens. Having played a great tee shot to the inside corner of No. 13 — a long dogleg right, heading uphill — I found myself with an instance of the “reverse camber” so en vogue following the U.S. Women’s Open at Olympic: a lie leaning left but requiring a long iron to a green on the right. Such defense can only be found, not built. I may have preferred to be in a level bunker!
I have many an Ohio Ross to play before I rest, but the terrain at Maketewah has elevated its status among those that I have...a “very good” among many “goods,” perhaps even approaching “great.”
But is it fair to give Ross all the credit? I doubt it. The Scot is well-regarded as a router, perhaps even the greatest of all time. But Maketewah has used the same routing for its entire history. Which is to say that Tom Bendelow deserves ample credit for setting out a course at Maketewah in the way that he did. So often we, like Ross, plow over Bendelow’s contributions. Just as the allegedly worthless cicadas will provide valuable pruning to mature trees, soil aeration, and a colossal baby bump for Ohio’s fauna (thanks to its role as a food source), Tom Bendelow’s 101-level efforts played a major role in making Ohio one of the most Ross-rich states in the Union.
Cheers to Tom, and cheers to Brood X. Long may the buzz continue for both.