The South course at NCR Country Club was one of two golf courses originally laid out in the mid 1950s for the employees of the NCR Corporation. The country club is still owned by the employees of the giant NCR global technology company and joining the club is still free today for all NCR staff.
Dick Wilson designed both the North and South courses and the latter is universally considered the best. The 7,055-yard South route has become known as the “thinking man’s course” because accuracy rather than length is key to a good score on this heavily wooded, cleverly bunkered and often doglegged layout.
NCR’s South course has hosted three major championships – the 1969 PGA Championship, the 1986 U.S. Women’s Open and the 2005 U.S. Senior Open. Ray Floyd won the former tournament and Gary Player suggested that golf architects “could learn a lesson from this course”. Jack Nicklaus is an admirer of the sloping green on the long par three 13th and said “what a job that architect Dick Wilson did!”
During his heyday Dick Wilson was the main rival for Robert Trent Jones, Sr., and his layouts generally followed a predictable pattern. Big time greens, broad fairways, often engaging dog-legs and bold bunkering. The layouts often featured a "muscular" dimension with little in regards to subtle features. I have had the opportunity to personally play a number of Wilson designs but only few have merited serious acclaim when viewed from a 2021 perspective.
Architecture styles have clearly evolved from that era and few of the Wilson designs have remained near the forefront. The South Course for National Cash Register (NCR) is clearly on the short list of courses I've played by Wilson that are truly compelling. Why the course is not held in even more regard is truly baffling.
The central prominent for the South Course is the land itself. The facility is located just south of Dayton and is situated on a global moraine. The ebbs and flows of the golf round are considerably bolstered by the topography and the elements of virtuoso shotmaking is clearly required.
Having quality land in my mind is no less than 60% of the total equation when assessing any course. Wilson's more noted other courses - Pine Tree, Doral Blue, Laurel Valley, Cog Hill #4, Meadow Brook, La Costa, Bay Hill, Deepdale, are the usual ones spoken about. The South Course provided Wilson with a top tier site to work his magic and I would say among the best 2-3 layouts I have played of his handiwork.
The South Course did have its moments of outside exposure when the 1969 PGA Championship was played there and a U.S. Women's Open was also contested in 1986 as well as the U.S. Senior Open in 2006. Unfortunately, southern Ohio has taken a backseat given the annual fanfare tied to The Memorial event in Columbus and when pro golf has gone to Firestone in Akron.
Wilson did include his penchant for dog-leg holes and the South has a number of superb ones with the likes of the par-4 3rd and 7th holes as well as the engaging par-5s at the 6th and the beautiful downhill 10th.
On flat land Wilson designs can appear washed out but with the South layout you are inspired and the variety of holes -- in conjunction with a routing that never demonstrates predictability.
As the round reaches its culmination the slightly uphill par-3 15th is noteworthy. Far too many architects in recent years have eschewed long par-3s. Such holes have a place the 15th is testing and yields nothing especially if the green is missed to the right. The dog-leg right par-4 16th is a first-rate follow-up. The approach is played to an elevated target and pity the player who fails to judge club selection correctly.
The only downside of the South comes with the penultimate hole. The short par-4 is a clear birdie opportunity and one has to wonder if Wilson ever created a vintage two shot hole where the yardage was
on the short side. Fortunately, the closing hole is a testing two-shot hole that ends the day on a high note.
The South Course calls upon consistent shotmaking -- being able to work the ball off the tee is an absolute must. And the putting surfaces are cleverly shaped -- with fascinating panhandle inclusions at the par-3 2nd and par-4 14th.
Interestingly, NCR is located immediately next to Moraine CC - another of Ohio's brilliant courses.
Is the South Course a top ten course in the Buckeye State? Unquestionably, it's a serious contender and the sum total of what is there has much to savor. Those traveling to the greater Dayton / Cincinnati area should endeavor to play both courses. Your time will indeed be well spent.
M. James Ward
The first unusual observation was that the very first hole is handicap/index #1. It’s a straight tree-lined 420-yard par 4. Reflecting back, I couldn’t fathom why it was handicap #1.
The ‘National Cash Registry’ corporation engaged with Dick Wilson to build a very fine golf course in the mid-1950s. The property is blessed with really amazing topology. The changes in elevation are dramatic, frequent and thrilling.
Wilson created a ‘thinking man’s course’ is an understatement. The course is visually stimulating and I’ll remember the holes 50 years from now. You have to admire the ridges that run through the property which Wilson took advantage of to perfection with the routing he left us with. This course, without question, exceeded my expectations and went to the top of the list of the Dick Wilson courses I’ve played in the past 10 years.