Defining the top three Donald Ross courses in Ohio is a fairly simple exercise...perhaps Andrew Green’s restoration of Scioto will bring it into contention with Inverness, and Brookline (of Canton) is amply celebrated. Expand that ranking to a top five, and now it gets difficult. It’s somewhat like watching The Bachelor; while there are a few obvious “nopes” / closet psychopaths, the vast majority are quite desirable if not entirely perfect. The trick, and I suppose this applies to spousing off-television as well, is choosing what imperfections bother you least.
Springfield will be among the final contestants vying for my heart...er, at least trying to get into the top five of my heart. But, from discussions with fellow GCA enthusiasts in the past 24 hours, I’ll acknowledge that there are reasons to argue for or against. I can think of at least two primary imperfections, with counter arguments for why Springfield is beautiful just the way it is.
One is a problem that buggers many an Ohio Ross, and many an Ohio golf course in general: a large swathe of the property is entirely flat (Ohio is often pancake-flat or pancake-covered-in-strawberries-hilly...no in-between). My counter — to a pal who prefers Columbus Country Club — is that Ross was more creative in creating visual challenges to one’s approach shots here. The creek that runs ahead of the No. 6 green? That’s child’s play. Effective, but simple. The cross bunker that rises up 55 yards out from the green on the No. 3 par 3, so that players can’t see the front of the green from the tee, now that’s clever. And No. 5 is a reachable par five for big hitters...but a manmade berm crossing the fairway 50 yards out means you’ll need to carry it, or consider laying up lest you be left with an awkward third.
When the course gets into its more glacially-improved areas, there’s no question as to its pedigree. Highlights include the back stretch of the front nine: Nos. 8 and 9 are among the most photographed at the course. First you’ll head uphill during “Heaven Sent,” across an imposing cross bunker, to a punchbowled green. You’ll need the punchbowl’s help; going over this green means a dramatic drop, down several clubs to where the No. 9 greens sits. Surrounded by bunkers and well below the previous hole, it counters No. 8’s “Heaven” with the name “Inferno.” The tee shot at No. 17 was also a treat for me, playing over the crest of a hill to a blind fairway as part of the course’s longest hole.
Another fair criticism of Springfield would be the parallel nature of many fairways. Looking at an aerial of the route, the West end of the property does seem to be vertically-oriented, versus the horizontally-oriented East half. I’d counter this, however, by noting both that A) the mighty Inverness is guilty of the same and B) while the lack of 45-degree angles may not speak to Ross’s most creative routing, there are also only two places where consecutive holes play in the same direction (nos. 8 & 9, and nos. 15 & 16). Considering that both these pairs include a par three, I find this more tasteful than had it been two longer holes.
The greens are also quite strong among the competition in Ohio, which is a more definitive “plus” for those who consider putting surfaces the most essential element of the course. Many feature ridges that divide the green into multiple “collection” areas, and make two-putts tricky for those on the wrong side. No. 6 stands out, as I can imagine a player landing on the far end, and facing a putt over the ridge and downward to the flag...where an extra ounce of oomph means emulating the infamous Strath of St. Andrews and rolling off into the stream, immediately ahead of the green.
Although I’ve alluded to enjoying No. 17, the par fives are the obvious weak point at Springfield. Three reside in the flatlands. Nos. 2 and 12 measure just 512 and 479, respectively (the former is a mere 462 from the “member” tees, which this non-scratch golfer tends to play), with no real armory near the green to entice skilled players to think twice. Although I think there’s nothing more fun for an average golfer than the ability to think realistically about eagle, even I’ve got to play the Mark White card and question whether these holes can be taken seriously as championship-caliber golf (to be fair, they play as par fours during U.S. Open qualifying).
(While we’re on the topic of this site’s most reputable rankers, a quick toast from this metalhead to M. Ward for reaching 666 reviews.)
There are currently 16 Donald Ross courses listed among the Ohioans on this site (and a few more that should be considered). Is Springfield worthy of a Top 5 placement among them? A fantastic question, which I will dance around rather than provide a definitive answer. Ross was among the most consistent of architects, and I’d reckon there are perhaps four courses — five, if Gil Hanse executes a master plan at Denison — that will vie for spots in the “Top 5 Rosses of Ohio” list. Springfield is one of them, but I’d encourage you to sample them all.
Date: August 13, 2021