Ohio State University is known for its scarlet and gray color scheme, so for the school’s championship route, the Scarlet, there must also be an 18 dedicated to the Gray.
The course has always and ever lived in the shadow of its brighter-toned brother, but there is still considerable charm to be had on the shorter course. For one thing, it provides students and membership a considerably less severe challenge than the Scarlet, with smaller sand hazards and much shorter yardage (maxing out at just 5,800 yards across 18 holes).
Fans of historic golf may find other positives to take from Gray. It’s a traditional route that begins and ends at the clubhouse, without returning in-between. Perhaps more relevant to readers of this site, the original Alister Mackenzie design (constructed by Perry Maxwell) remains untouched here, whereas the Scarlet course was significantly overhauled by alum Jack Nicklaus during the early part of the new millennium.
There are typically two opinions when discussing Ohio State University’s Scarlet Course: one, that Jack Nicklaus did a fine job restoring the course to championship-caliber glory from the bones of the Alister MacKenzie that sat there, or two, that Nicklaus is a heathen who ruined a perfectly good MacKenzie. The trick is that MacKenzie had died before Scarlet was constructed, and therefore the greens presented are actually a mix of those designed by the man himself, and the rest by the team of Professor George McClure and original superintendent John McCoy. In fact, the original Scarlet course featured no fairway bunkering (due to lingering budget effects of the Great Depression), and McCoy handled all fairway bunker design and placement years after the club opened.
Why is your correspondent blathering so much about the Scarlet course in an alleged review of the Gray course? The point is that MacKenzie is sacred to believers, and messing with any of his original work will create a tizzy, even if it wasn’t actually his original work.
Perhaps this is why Gray sits largely untouched at one of the nation’s most well-funded universities, even after management splurged millions on a marquee renovation of its Scarlet Course.
Granted, another reason is simply that Gray was always intended to provide a more casual round of 18 than its muscular brother (and it plays this role well). But perhaps if those near the top accepted McCoy’s oversized role in Gray (nine of the holes were completed to his specifications after the opening of the other 27), they might be willing to sink a few quid into adding a bit more excitement?
The Gray opened with zero fairway bunkers and has since escalated to six, two of which have real strategic impact on the course. In terms of geographic interest, much is withheld until No. 16, where the previously pancaked property (there’s slope, but barely enough to merit a sleigh ride, and no wrinkles for odd lies) folds up into a blanket of moraine, which it rides for the final three holes. These three need no help from man, but the other 15 holes (excluding the four par threes) could use some help. The fairways are wide and accepting...and boring. A tasteful touch of challenge would do the course well, both by our standards and MacKenzie’s. After all, it seems unlikely that his original drawings featured no fairway bunkers—the understaffed university just never got around to placing them!
One area of Gray that needs little touching up is the greens. They are small, and McClure notably preferred them this way, but they work well for a course that maxes out at 6,200 yards. McCoy, although not a Hall of Famer like MacKenzie, created devious little curiosities among his half of the greens. Among my favorite are No. 4, a short par three with a long movement...No. 14, a short par four with a funnel out the back (to stump those putting to long pins from the wrong side of the green), and No. 15, a reachable par five that wraps up and around two fronting bunkers, ever tempting to those who have struck a long drive to its toothless fairway.
Ah but if that fairway had teeth, I would presumably have fewer career eagles to my name, and such is the problem across much of Gray. The course is maintained to the same high standard as the Scarlet, and its position as the more relaxing of the pair is appreciated. But I would not mind if someone added more intrigue from the tee. As C.B. Macdonald noted, if a golf hole is a portrait, the green is the face. I am awfully fond of my wife’s face, to be sure, but I do not mind other, ahem, hazards.
It would do Gray well if the MacKenzie MacKult put down its pitchforks, and somebody encouraged some sacrilege to “his” design. The architect himself may appreciate if his final route brought on a touch more challenge.