Ranking the West/North route at New Albany Country Club is a difficult one for me, as I’m not convinced it’s the pair I should be rating. The club itself has always sold the West/North as its “championship” route but, considering that the club has never hosted any actual championships of note, this gives me some leeway to determine my own superior route, no? My host suggested that he was inclined to support the North/East collaboration over North/West (German politikers, eager to create clever color-coded nicknames for their coalitions, might call this the “Kanye Offspring” option). I’m inclined to agree.
Bad news first. I’ll begin with a short list of things I don’t really appreciate about the North compared to its siblings: A) The first half of holes are not particularly inspiring (the opening par three is actually quite alright). It’s possible that at this point, on my third nine, I was expecting visual stimulation akin to the rest of the club thus far (and, in honesty, much of Jack Nicklaus’s oeuvre). But, to immediately counteract myself, the final stretch on the North crossed my line in terms of blending “interesting” and “dangerous” to create what I presume is the final stretch in club competitions.
No. 15 is the nearest thing to a reachable par five at New Albany (although some other yardages appear gettable, my host says the plush maintenance and surrounding creeks keep fairways slow, and par fives three-shots), with the best angle coming from attempting to carry the bunkers at the right of the fairway. Squeezing a tee shot through the narrowed fairway on the left is hardly a risk-free shot, however...so that the player has no chance at the green because it doglegs left around trees is unfortunate. No. 18 would be a fine closing hole if the fairway had a bit more bounce...the position of the creek that cuts ahead of the green can make second shots difficult for even well-placed drives on this long par four. No. 17 receives a similar complaint as the closer, but it’s also my least-favorite Nicklaus trick...the “pillar green,” set atop a stone wall, surrounded by water (the shame is that it’s a fine green, maybe even the best on the property, big and rolling, and able to defend itself from par even without the wide maw of Rose Run).
The opening hole on the East is the more clever version of the creek-ahead-of-the-green trick: Playing to the inside of this dogleg right gets a shorter approach shot, while challenging the bunker at the outside of the dogleg gives a longer shot with a better angle into this green, which plays front-left to back-right along the creek. The plaudits continue on the East Side; No. 2 features a much steeper green than most Nicklaus offerings, using slope rather than water to inspire fear. Deep bunkers and angles makes No. 3 a fun par five. The short cape-style hole at No. 6 (361 from the back tees), coupled with a long green, made it a fun twist on the Gauls-to-the-wall version featured at No. 8 on the West nine (which is also a good, and challenging hole).
The West Course falls somewhere between the North and East...a tad more Nicklaus quirk than the East (see the par five No. 4, in which Rocky Fork and Sugar Run reach their confluence, crossing the fairway multiple times). If anyone should suggest that I’m simply aquaphobic, consider that I greatly enjoyed the No. 5 par three despite losing two balls during the bout; one to the creek that flows along the front and right of the hole, as well as knocking my second ball over the green from the bunkers at the back (I’m honest, if not good). My appreciation for this hole may speak more to my appreciation for a well-executed uphill par three than anything else.
Interestingly, I began this review by wondering whether the West/North was truly the desirable pairing at New Albany, or whether the East should be included instead. It seems that I’ve talked myself into personally favoring the East over both the two courses currently celebrated by Top100! Therefore I must endorse the West/East coalition for Ohio ranking purposes. A bit of drying out would do this parkland estate some good, and further emphasize Nicklaus’s strategic touches.
That said, I more fully endorse you just playing all 27 and deciding for yourself, unless you’ve got an invitation to The Golf Club in the afternoon.
Date: September 30, 2021