Jeff Osterfeld is not a name familiar in golf course architecture circles, however among sandwich enthusiasts he is better known for being the founder of Penn Station Subs, a sandwich chain with locations across the eastern United States. As any good self-made man would do, he founded a golf club and, showing kindness to the rest of us, opened it to the public.
Osterfeld was bold enough to design the course as well, and we use the word “bold” in a literal sense, as he was clearly influenced by some of the bolder courses around the country. Water is a frequent opponent, impacting just over half of the holes. There is also an ounce of restraint, however. Rather than install a simple par three island green à la TPC Sawgrass, Osterfeld makes the green at No. 9 an island amid a rather short par five, thus allowing less confident players to make it in regulation with little concern while giving the low handicappers more to think about.
Likewise, No. 16 offers multiple routes, a pair of split fairways for those who wish to lay up, or straight to a green tucked up against a lake on this 310-yard par four. Fortune favors the bold, no?
I can list at least three golf courses in Ohio that were founded and designed by entrepreneurs who had made their money in other industries. All three feature an island green. We tend to imagine characters such as Elon Musk (or Richard Branson, for those reading in the UK) as flashy, bigger-than-life personalities, and what better expression of this mindset than an island green? A singular entity, surrounded by a murky/obnoxious aura. This is just a bit of haphazard psychoanalysis by an unlicensed practitioner.
The difference at Stonelick Hills is owner (and designer) Jeff Osterfeld packaged his island at the end of a short Par 5, allowing those who play toward the center of the fairway to strike at the large putting area if they feel so bold, but also allowing the conservative player to continue down the fairway to the left, and take a shorter third to the green complex. In short, Osterfeld offers options...something other aspirational architects (and golf course architects in general) would do well to consider before moving ahead with the simple “Island” Par 3. Heroism is the simplest concept for amateur golf designers to appreciate. It gets the player’s pulse up, and generally creates an impressive aesthetic. Stonelick benefits both from the owner’s restraint but—as with the aforementioned No. 9—also from his occasional push for adrenaline.
Osterfeld made his money producing long sandwiches, but he finds more pleasure at Stonelick in short Par 4s. Both require the decision whether to take the long way around a hazard tracing the left of the fairway, or to bomb it over. On the more drivable of the two, No. 16, a pond waits on the right, and a dramatic green guarantees nothing to those who carry the blinding hill to reach in one. It’s a fun challenge at the end of the round for buddies to place bets upon. No. 11 is almost the same concept, although not quite drivable. Carrying a trio of bunkers at the corner leaves a shorter pitch to a green as comically-thin as Spyglass Hill’s No. 4 (i.e. not reasonable). Exciting, exotic...the kind of things we expect from businessmen-turned-course architects...but without the subtle touch displayed at nos. 9 and 16. Likewise, trees in the fairway can swing violently from “strategic thrill” to “strategy-strangling nuisance.” The latter takes place at No. 2, a longish Par 4 with only one route to glory. The small tree that nestles within the kidney-shaped green at the Par 3 No. 6 provides a unique distraction—and not an unfair one—for those who consider attacking back-right pins.
You correspondent is wary—probably unfairly—when playing courses designed by rich hobbyists. Osterfeld, however, merits your trust. His boldest initiatives aren’t worth serious gripes in the grand scheme of a round, and the maintenance standards are quite high. The course is ultimately much better for Mr. Osterfeld’s brand than his company’s current slogan, “put it in your face.”
Stonelick Hills has to be one of, if not the best public course around Cincinnati. Out here, missing the fairways is forgivable. Unless you go into water, some of the (very) deep bunkers, or the woods, you can drive it all over the place and salvage a decent score. Missing the greens, however, is what will make your round much more challenging. I happened to play the course on the day of the final round of the club championship, so some of the flags were in some pretty extreme spots. Consequently, when I went pin-seeking and missed short side, I had almost no prayer of getting up and down. Even if the pins our placed in the dead center on all 18 holes, no up and down is a given. There's lots of slope to maneuver around, and plenty of chances to have the ball roll right back to your feet. The only other Ohio course to this point I've played on the ranking is Shaker Run, and I definitely liked Stonelick more, so I'm willing to bet this course could actually be in the state's Top 30 at worst, maybe even Top 25. If staff friendliness is a big deal to you, this group will delight you. Everyone I encountered from the pro shop to the course was top class.