When one discusses golf in Dublin, Ohio, the conversation inevitably revolves around Jack Nicklaus, who both lives near and hosts the Memorial Tournament at his nearby Muirfield Village Golf Club. Seems a tad cheeky to invite another icon of the game to design a course in Jack’s backyard, no? Fortunately, Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer were legendarily affable, and so the latter’s work for Tartan Fields hardly created a stir in one of Ohio’s most golf-friendly neighborhoods.
Although Muirfield Village also offers a less challenging Country Club course (versus the Golf Club’s challenging reputation), the route at Tartan Fields may provide a better comparison point for those looking to get a sense of Dublin’s most established course. Consider the various creeks and ponds around the Tartan property, and how Palmer set greens alongside them in a method to daunt the daring. The architect was more sympathetic to higher-handicapped souls, however, so reaching those greens (and putting on them) is not so frightening for those playing a wise round.
Arnold Palmer has a...vibe, shall we say, when considering his vast portfolio of course design work. It’s always dangerous to generalize, especially with someone who has traveled as far as he, but I like to live dangerously so I’ll go ahead and boil the Palmer approach down to one course (which he ironically did not design, but tweaked to no end as his base of operations): Bay Hill. Metaphorically, this is to say that Palmer could create clever golf holes but, often, the visual appeal of water and the threat of splashdown was either what he sold or what club owners were buying.
The Club at Tartan Fields epitomizes Palmer’s Janusian approach.
The opening two holes offer the opportunity to end in the red, despite their short distances (just 373 and 385, respectively, from the back tees). The first makes all approach shots a trick, as the shot will be slightly uphill while the green runs away; it’s a technique that some will sniff at but that I do not...I appreciate the number of variables I needed to consider, even if only one shot into the round. No. 2 rewarded my play to the inside of the dogleg with a series of mounds that blocked the view to the green; the more risky play would have been to the large bunker at the elbow, which offered a clear view. Very satisfactory holes, both.
No. 3 is not a bad hole; it rewards those who keep the ball on the upper plateau right with an even approach to a very wide, shallow green; those who fall off to the left will not be penalized in terms of angle, but the uphill loft across a creek and bunker barrier will be a much tougher shot. Fair enough; I find this green variety almost as shallow as its shape, but a one-off is no knock.
Unfortunately, it appears elsewhere throughout Tartan, and by now Palmer’s thirst for water has reared its soggy head. No. 10 is another short par four (400 from the back) where, theoretically, those who can draw like Albrecht Dürer can get in position to take a nice angle into this green, tilting bottom left-to back right while a creek sits in front. The hole repeats itself at No. 12, but this time with a tree positioned along the left so that the optimal line in is now blocked. Most players who find the fairway will be looking at the portrait view of a pancake, fronted by death. This penal tendency peaks at No. 17, a par three that calls for a shot to take the 90-degree angle into another horizontal green, nearly 50 yards wide yet perhaps 15 deep. It could be seen as the less tactical response to No. 12 at Muirfield Village Golf Club, right across the road.
And therein lies the problem, I think. Muirfield Village Country Club was not created as a competitor to the Golf Club, but rather a more affordable, playable version of MVGC for other members of the Muirfield Village community. Tartan Fields attempts to balance the need for both a playable course within its separate development and a “championship” challenge akin to The Memorial’s host. Those familiar with the MVGC know that its employ of water hazards is a design strategy aimed at PGA professionals...more soul-crushing for the casual member. The holes mentioned above, plus the island green at No. 8, are indicative of an era and a mindset.
This is not to say that water, of itself, is a problem, or that Palmer is incapable of using it in quality ways. My two favorite holes at Tartan feature drink, as well as alternative paths that are subtly just as likely to result in a high score. For example, No. 7 has a pond (and a swan!) left of the green, which is divided in the middle by a ridge. That ridge continues through the shortgrass area right of the green; those who miss to the right for fear of water must make sure to be on the correct side of the ridge, as a pitch across it is no sure thing. The closing hole, a more stout par four (450 yards), offers a clear look at birdie when the flag is on the left, lower tier. That means considering the creek left...and putting the ball on the upper tier to the right will mean a tough two-putt. Likewise, targeting flags on the upper platform require a shot blinded by a hill-full of bunkers on the right of the fairway...while the visible landing area left means another tough two-putt.
Tartan Fields is a sum of Palmer’s sensibilities as a golfer: the winner of back-to-back Open Championships and a true lover of the skill and strategy required to win on links golf courses, as well as a perpetual salesman who understood what his customers wanted. My play here was reminiscent of my son eating Chinese food...happily chomping at most holes, while pulling out bits of vegetable here and there.
Tartan Fields is a Palmer design in golf crazy middle Ohio. One is a welcoming par four. Favor the right off the tee this should take the left greenside bunker out of play. The 2nd leans eft and has a large fairway bunker and water hazard right. If you are playing the correct tees these are definitely in play. This is a small narrow green that slopes left to right. The 3rd also leans left, it is longer with more hazards, but I do not think it warrants being the number one handicap hole. Favor the right off the even though there are fairway bunkers right. The left side of the fairway has a significant dropoff and should be avoided. There are several bunkers in front of the green, as well as a creek. Only really big hitters will be able to reach the first par five in two. The hole doglegs right and has fairway bunkers on the inside elbow and on one the outside. If you are playing the correct tees you should be able to navigate these. There appears to be a bunker right on front of the green, but it is actually about 70 yards from the center. We go from the easiest hole on the course to one of the toughest. Definitely be right of the left fairway bunker. There is a large water hazard left that protects the left third of the green. Pars are earned on this hole. The 6th is a mid-length par 3 very narrow green with water left bunker left and one in the back. The 7th is a good birdie oppty, favor the left side off the tee. A decent drive should leave you with a short iron with more water left. The 8th is the shortest hole and a classic Florida par three all carry to an island green. The front closes with a reachable par five. If you can carry the fairway bunkers left it is a green light to go for it. From here you will have to carry a marsh on the left. Be forewarned this green slopes hard left.
The back starts with a pretty par four. Stay left of the right fairway bunker off the tee. A decent drive will leave you with a short iron to a redan green that is protected with a water hazard in front with a lovely waterfall. The 11th is a long par five. Water carry with a fairway bunker right, favor the left side. I would recommend playing down the left side just short of the left fairway bunkers. This may leave you with a blind approach, but I think this angle gives you the best shot at hitting it tight. I really liked the par four 12th. I overcooked my drive, but this left me with the most green for my approach and the pin was back. The green is tucked left with a water hazard in front. I skulled my 8 iron and rolled it to 2 feet for an insta-birdie. Do not try this at home. The short 13th is also a birdie hole. The only real hazards are two fairway bunkers right. I hit another skull, but this one resulted in a bogey. Play the long par 5 14th as a 3 shotter. It is a reverse S with a water carry and bunker on the inside elbow. Play left of the bunker. For your 2nd aim at the right fairway bunker in the next elbow. This should give you a flip wedge to the green that has a stream in front and left and right bunkers. The 15th is a long par 3 with a redan green. There is a bunker front right and left. The slope of the green will push everything left. The 16th is an awesome hole and I did not even come close to parring it. A long par four with a water carry and a large fairway bunker right. Ideally, you want to be just left of this bunker. The green is tucked behind a water hazard on the right. Plenty of room to miss left, right not so much. The 17th is a slightly downhill mid-yardage Florida par three. The 18th is a good finishing hole. Left off the tee is best on this long par four. It is a two-tiered green with bunkers front right.
A fun under-appreciated course that I highly recommend.