Sugar Bush Golf Club is proud of its heritage as a “gem,” offering low greens fees to Garrettsville, Ohio (and to residents of Cleveland willing to make the relatively short drive in that direction). Designer Harold Paddock was heavily focused in northern Ohio, and Sugar Bush may be the crowning achievement in his collection.
Camp Creek is the defining feature of the property, providing all the water hazards experienced during a round. At No. 6, players must position themselves off the tee well, or else the creek may catch an approach shot that doesn’t draw enough to come into the putting surface. Coming back in the opposite direction, No. 7 — the top handicap hole — forces smaller hitters to consider laying up short of the creek or going for the 450-yard par four in two. Even the first hole will have players thinking right out of the gate: At just 490 yards, it is more than reachable as a par five, but of course Camp Creek will force some deeper consideration.
Between the two nines, players will spend equal time in more open parts of the property along with those featuring more tree-lined corridors.
There are stories of great putts and then, for the rest of us, there are tales of great two-putts. Although I would prefer it that my greatest two-putt had occurred during my Bandon trip or perhaps at the tilted ice-skating rinks that were Sunnehanna, this past weekend saw a brilliant par from the very back of the green at Sugar Bush Golf Club’s final par three, an 180-yard, downhill hole with a putting surface that almost mirrored the descent from tee-to-green, heading from front-to-back at an angle that created an isosceles triangle; I named the two putts “Menzel” and “Chenoweth,” respectively, for the way they defied gravity and lagged Wicked-ly.
I exaggerate, but only slightly. Greens like the ones at Sugar Bush draw an interesting contrast between the characters of a “difficult” green. Had my playing partners, locals who frequented the course, driven a few hours south to Muirfield Village, they would suffer mightily. But, I would reckon that they would ultimately out-putt Jon Rahm if he came by their home course. I may be doing Rahm’s putter a disservice.
But just maybe.
My playing partners possess something that I, a competent putter, did not: the acceptance that one does not come to Sugar Bush with the expectation of birdies. Or a 36-putt day. One simply comes to golf, and the rates acknowledge this reality.
Such rates frequently allude to the quality of golf one should expect as well and this isn’t necessarily the case here. The greens moved quickly...far beyond what I would have expected at Minerva Park, a similar mom-and-pop establishment that served as my home when I returned to Ohio during 2014.
It’s a mixed blessing when considering the greens described above. “Randy,” one of my group — having learned my interest in the finer points of golf course analysis — was sure to point out sinister pin positions as we progressed through the round. No. 10, an 185-yard par three, plays well over a pond to a green well above the water, but with a shaved apron running all the way down. As the pin was at the front, he advised that I miss in the rough either right or left; stopping below the pin without coming back was too high-risk a shot, and missing farther than 10 feet past could mean a near-miss putt that would roll 40 feet back to the water.
I was fortunate that day the super skipped on alleged pins that, as “Randy” demonstrated, sat on slopes too severe to hold anything not in the hole. This is all to give myself an excuse for as many three-putts as I turned in that day.
There’s the glimmer of potential at Sugar Bush. I recently wrote a post regarding whether some experimental club would create putting surfaces of true Sitwellian proportions, with the intent to maintain green speeds slow enough to make them tenable. I have doubts; we as a golfing culture — at least in the United States — have too eagerly embraced the idea of green speed as a symbol of status, and the greens that such speeds require. Sugar Bush is hardly as Lovecraftian as MacKenzie’s infamous Sitwell green but I reckon they demand something in the neighborhood of 8 to putt properly. I’d say they’re at 10 currently...impressive that the club makes such an effort, but also too much of a good thing.
The putting surfaces reeled in, and some trees removed (as is usually the case with courses of this ilk), and the impressive landscape at Sugar Bush will glow forth. No. 11, one of several short par fours on the property, is the peak of the potential I describe due to its lack of trees and its relatively reasonable green. A blind drive from the back tee over the fairway’s crest, before riding down a remnant of glacial movement similar to those found at many of the region’s best courses. A centerline bunker sits ahead of the green, creating an intimidating view for those pitching back up to the green after taking too much club from the tee.
The tee shot at No. 18 may not quite be as high as that at Donald Ross’s Denison, near Columbus, but it’s worth a comparison. The clearing of trees would open up views across the entire course from this point, as well as from the nearby No. 5 tee.
A clever renovating architect, with a reasonable budget, could turn this into a public of cult appeal. But of course the course already has such cult loyalty among nearby residents. A Columbus-type such as myself suggesting renovation might prompt an invitation to quit reading putts and start reading their third finger instead.
Ryan - Congrats on posting the first Top100 review of Sugar Bush - there is no finer feeling.
Aside from clearing trees and slowing greens, is there anything else you’d change were you given the keys to the renovation castle?
Note to all - Don’t Google “Sugar Bush” like I did using your work phone. Simply use the official website link in the above course detail overview.
It was not quite as glorious as beating Fergal and M. Ward to Sands Point, but nice nonetheless.
I'm not sure I would go much further in terms of renovation. It's easy to get carried away and I think I had realized this by the end of my post...my greens speeds 'n' tree removal plan was based strictly on playability factors, to improve enjoyment for the local crowd that calls Sugar Bush home. To begin adding bunkers and redesigning greens may dramatically increase the course's stature within Ohio but it also threatens to price these locals out. When you start discussing publics where people are already paying $150 (not sure any of these exist in Ohio), then you can ethically consider more world-changing overhauls.