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.
As I turned into the entrance drive of Maketewah CC, my first impression, was, “Wow, old school.” The clubhouse is classic. I arrived about two hours ahead of my scheduled tee time on a Sunday morning. Ian, the AP, said hang tight and he would work me in. Sure enough, I teed off 40 minutes later. Staff was extraordinarily friendly. Dave, the HP, actually took it upon himself to find me out on the course to say hello. The Bendelow/Ross design has very large greens and ravines serpentining throughout the course.
The first hole is a welcoming valley par four. The key is a drive over the crest. The green is protected by grass bunker right and two left. The 2nd hole is a valley par three with bunkers right and left. The 3rd is another valley hole, but you cannot see the green on this long dogleg left. Challenge as much as you can on the dogleg, as you can hit it thru the fairway. The green is at least an extra club. I suspect one and half. The reason I don’t know is a I skulled my nine iron and it caught the top of the crest and killed it. Lucky par. The 4th is another dogleg left and one of my favorite holes. Well designed hole, there is a bunker on the inside elbow and a fairway bunker to the right if it, just about in the middle of the fairway. I wasn’t really sure how to play it, but recognized playing it safe and being right of the right fairway bunker would leave me a lot of work. I channeled my younger self’s fearlessness and took dead aim over the left bunker. I was rewarded with my best drive of the day. Surprisingly, I actually hit a good nine iron tight and made the putt. The previous reviewer erroneously referred to the 5th as a short par five. It is a straightaway par four and the green has the classic Ross three knobs. I was fortunate the pin was in the middle, thus everything trundled closer. The 6th is a beast, it is the number one handicap hole and while it is long and tight, it is not even the longest par four. (nor the hardest) Straightaway, OB left and trees down the right side. The ravine slices in front of the green about 100 yards out and bunkers front right and left. The first par five is easily reachable and I am surprised it is the number 9 handicap hole. There is a fairway bunker left. If your drive is too good, you may end up with a slight downhill lie. You can run your approach onto the green, there are two bunkers left and two right. Definite, birdie oppty. I was found wanting. The 8th is the longest par four, it is 6 yards shorter than the par five 7th. It is not as tight as six and the ideal drive will be right of center with a draw. The approach will be over the ravine and the green is perched right on top of it. If you are fortunate, you will not be firing at a front pin. My approach was just short and I paid the price. One of my playing partners tried to learn from my trials and tribulations, took an extra club and was on the back third of the green which slopes precipitously back to front. It ended badly for both of us. The front ends with the longest par three. One of my playing partners, who had a tough front nine and had a woefully weak slice, said he would pay me $1k if I could cure his slice. I said that while I am not a teacher, I could, but it would feel extraordinarily weird. He said okay. So, I had him spread his hands apart, one at the top of the grip and one at the bottom. He hit it well, with a slight 5 yard tail. He was ecstatic and said that I n three years he had only been in the fairway five times. As the round progressed he hit it straighter and straighter and asked why none of his instructors had ever had him do it. I said that I can’t speak to that but probably because it is a such a bizarre solution. To his credit he did ask who he should make the check out to….
The 10th leans left is long but downhill. Favor the right side, the raised green is protected with a large front right bunker. The short left leaning 11th is a good birdie oppty. It is essentially a valley hole from an elevated tee. If you can reach the crest you will be inside 80 yards. If it doesn’t, be prepared for it to roll back down the slope, or in my case into a divot. The 12th is a classic Ross par three, downhill, raised green surrounded by four bunkers. The 13th is a really tough hole. Long dogleg right with the last half uphill, There is a large tree on the inside elbow that only the few can carry. Additionally, the terrain slopes left, thus your drive will bound further away from the corner. The green slopes back to front with bunkers right, rear and left. A par here warrants a celebration. The 14th and 15th are back to back reachable par fives. The 14th is downhill and bends left. The 15th pretty flat and straightaway with most of the trouble left. Fairway bunker and then a crossing bunker about 70 yards out but does have two greenside bunkers right. The 16th and 17th are short par fours with blind tee shots. On the uphill 16th favor right of center off the tee. Decent drive will leave you with an attack wedge to a green with three bunkers. The 17th is downhill. Wait until you hear the bell before teeing off. There are two large oak trees behind the green, aim at the right one as the terrain will kick the ball left. The green is protected by three front bunkers. The 18th is the shortest hole, a valley par three. It is rated the easiest and has four greenside bunkers and a deep dropoff right. It is almost a party like atmosphere. When I played there were half a dozen guys enjoying beverages in Adirondack chairs beneath a shade tree right behind the green. Behind them under the covered patio there were another couple of dozen revelers watching golf, amongst other things. I skulled my tee shot but made the up and down. One of the guys said nice up and down. I asked if anybody lost any $$$ on my lousy tee shot. They laughed and said we only bet on foursomes.
As I was leaving, I noticed the pool was well attended with many young families. The driving range had several young juniors working on their game, as was the case before I teed off. This is a very vibrant club. I was also told that a retro-redesign will take place next year with the intent of bringing it back closer to the original design. Over 50 bunkers will be added and some holes lengthened. The strength of this course are the fours, the par fives need some teeth. Maketewah is doing an outstanding job blending and respecting the past with the present and the future. It should be rated much higher in the state of Ohio. Regardless, I highly recommend it.
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.
Not to be pedantic, but the 5th is a 394 yard par 4. The green does have the classic Ross 3 moguls
Hmm, I thought it was a little TOO short. Now scrambling to remember whether I meant one of the two long par fours that sandwich No. 5. This is why yardage guides are my go-to souvenir…makes retrospectives easier. Hopefully they have some by the next time I come around.