3605 Tremont Road,
Ohio (OH 43221),
- + 1 614 514 4653
5 miles NW of downtown Columbus
OSU students and personnel, members and their guests
Alister MacKenzie drew up the plans for the golf complex at Ohio State University in the early 1930s and Wendell Miller – a Columbus native who had worked on other projects (such as Augusta National) with the architect – was to be the lead builder on the assignment.
Unfortunately, MacKenzie died and Miller was struck down with a heart attack, delaying the start of the project. A replacement architect was sought and, despite the recommendation from Bobby Jones that Robert Trent Jones should be selected, Perry Maxwell was given the contract.
According to Christopher Closer’s book The Midwest Associate: The Life and Work of Perry Duke Maxwell the architect and a professor named George McClure handled the job: “Maxwell would oversee the construction of a majority of the holes on the complex, before dropping from the project and it was completed by McClure.”
The author continues: “The Ohio State Golf Course may not be the best collegiate course in the nation but it has an amazing legacy and history that was touched by two of the greatest architects in history. One can only imagine what the course would have looked like if MacKenzie and Maxwell had seen the project through to its completion together.”
There are actually two 18-hole layouts on the property: the par 71 Scarlet course, measuring 7,455 yards, which was unveiled in 1938, and the shorter par 70 Gray course, which followed a couple of years later. Host venue for the US Junior Amateur Championship in 1977, the Scarlet course was renovated early in the new millennium by Ohio native Jack Nicklaus.
Just the names involved in the creation of the 36 holes at The Ohio State University is impressive:
Donald Ross – he selected the site, Prescott Bush- USGA executive and father of President George Bush, Grantland Rice – noted sportswriter both recommended Alister MacKenzie to Lynn St. John , OSU Athletic Director, Alister MacKenzie- initial design, Perry Maxwell -completed design after MacKenzie’s death. Bobby Jones – he recommended Robert Trent Jones complete the design, Jack Nicklaus redesign
The initial site was identified in 1928 and the course did not open until 1938! The preponderance of labor utilized to build the courses was the WPA (Works Progress Administration)
To the course, the first hole is not easy, a right leaning par four with too massive fairway bunkers on the right. The green is protected with bunkers left and right. The 2nd also leans right and is longer. Fairway bunkers right and left and right greenside. The short 3rd tilts left. Favor the right side off the tee, good birdie oppty. The 4th was originally a par 4. In the Nicklaus redesign he moved the green to the right behind the water hazard. Possible to get home in two as it is downhill, and the 2nd shot is just about all carry. Play it as a 3 shotter, favor the right off the tee to avoid the left fairway bunker. The 5th is a long par 3 with bunkers front right and left. The 6th is a par five dogleg right with a water carry with a large left fairway bunker in the landing zone. Good scoring oppties 7-9. The 7th short dogleg left with a bunker on the inside elbow as well as greenside front right and left. The 8th is the shortest par three and the ninth is a straight away par four.
The back starts off with a par 4 paralleling the 9th with the same look and feel. I believe the 11th-13th are the Scarlet’s best holes. The 11th is long and leans left with a fairway bunker left. The approach is uphill so take an extra club and trust me you do not want to be in the deep front right bunker. You par this hole, you earned it. The par 5 12th is another good hole. It is possible to get home in two and the 2nd shot will be downhill, however, there is a creek in front of the green. For those of us who lay up the green will be above us with a false front between the bunkers. I took the false front out of play by skulling it. That did not work out either. The long par 3 13th is downhill with 3 bunkers in the front. Long is better. The long uphill par 4 14th is brutal. The green is T shaped with bunker compressing the front left and right. The 15th isn’t much easier but at 50 yards shorter you feel like you have a chance. The last three holes are scoring oppties. The 16th is a short par 4 that heads left. A good drive can carry the left bunker, but why mess with it? A solid drive will leave you a flip wedge. The 17th is a long par 3 with a guitar pic green with bunkers front right and left. The finishing hole is a big dogleg left with a bunker on the outside elbow.
Good course, good value, interesting pedigree, I highly recommend it.
Every year, golf media repeats similar praise for the maintenance at the Muirfield Village Golf Club, home to the Memorial Tournament and—perhaps more notably—Jack Nicklaus himself. Another route in the Columbus area deserving recognition is another one of the Bear’s “biographical” courses: The Scarlet Course at the Ohio State University Golf Club.
A typical “win” for golf architecture fans is when a modern architect can sweep in and, with the help of documentation, restore Golden Age courses that have fallen on unkempt times. Historically, attempts to “improve” the works of masters to suit the modern game have been damaging. Rare is the case where these courses actually needed renovation so much as restoration, much less from one as touted as Alister MacKenzie. Some have claimed Nicklaus manhandled MacKenzie’s intentions, but that’s a chronologically-inaccurate complaint. MacKenzie passed away before his plan could be implemented. Without his boots on the ground, and a relative lack of drawings from the original architect. And so Nicklaus took the simplest route toward creating what a MacKenzie course “should” look like: bunkering.
And so we return to the quality of maintenance at Scarlet. Nicklaus enhanced the course’s original bunkering to take on a more authentic approach—featuring high sand lines, steep faces, and plenty of grass fingers. Such an approach demands proper upkeep, and their intent remains true even after a rain. Certainly the most photogenic example is No. 13, a short Par 3 fronted by stellar examples. Even then, the soft sand might be a better play than putting downhill from the back of this green—which has also recovered Mackenzian essence. Perhaps the best indication of Nicklaus’s strength in the renovation is that it doesn’t play like a Nicklaus course, despite his heavy footprints. If you’re looking for something more Bearish, look to the No. 4 Par 5, which is truly a total overhaul. What was once an automatic score now features a creek crossing to consider upon the second shot, as well as a pond curled up to the green.
Ohio State University is among the largest in the country, so MacKenzie fans shouldn’t struggle to find an alumni host. The experience lives up to one’s expectation of a MacKenzie route, and not down. And some good news: Although the bunkers may approach the quality of sand at Muirfield Village, the greens do not. Which is to say, no 12-on-the-Stimp nightmares.
Jack Nicklaus is an alumni of Ohio State and with an incredible golf resume, the debate as to who would win the work to restore the Scarlet course didn’t take very long. When I pegged it up on the Scarlet course, I was fortunate to play with a member of 35 years, so I could grill him with questions all day long. The majority of the changes made by Nicklaus to the MacKenzie layout were actually quite helpful. Without losing their original design intent, he significantly deepened the bunkers, including the enormous fairway bunker complexes.
It’s a sincerely strategic course with fantastic visuals, and I even concluded that it was underrated in the state of Ohio. Jack did move a couple of green locations, including the creation of a strange par 5 early into the round. It was originally a par 4, but he moved the green 60 yards right and expanded the pond in front of the green, rendering it an awkward 3-shotter for most golfers.
With that said, Jack did a good job preserving the spirit of MacKenzie’s imagination. The bunkers were the highlight.