The Golf Club is not a search that you’d type into Google and expect to get a meaningful result. The name is vague and we suspect that's just the way they like it. The Golf Club is a course, and naturally a golf club too, which opened at New Albany, close to Columbus in Ohio, in 1967. It’s one of Pete Dye’s earliest and most understated creations, and the course feels mature way beyond its years.
To our knowledge, The Golf Club has never hosted a significant tournament, so very little is widely known about the course. But if you are lucky enough to receive an invite to play The Golf Club, take it immediately but make sure you choose the right tee blocks. Even though this is one of Dye’s earliest designs, it’s still a really tough challenge, so don't spoil the fun by slogging it round off the tips.
The Golf Club is the brainchild of Fred Jones who has effectively created a charming and understated private course. We suspect that The Golf Club does not want any publicity but we passionately believe that if a course is worthy of a Top 100 ranking, it’s a legacy worth sharing. If you've played The Golf Club, we'd love to know what you think.
Tom Doak is certainly an admirer, commenting as follows in The Confidential Guide to Golf Courses. “The original course was the epitome of founder Fred Jones’ directive to “make it look like it’s been there for 200 years,” and a wonderful study in how to create interest on a flattish site by emplying some small, abrupt changes in elevation: the 10th and 13th couldn’t be more flat, but an abrupt two-foot rise makes each a memorable hole.”
Every magic trick consists of three parts, or acts. The first part is called the “pledge.” A magician shows you something ordinary. A deck of cards, a bird, or a man. He shows you this object. Perhaps he asks you to inspect it, to see if it’s real, ordinary. But of course it probably isn’t.
Discussing The Golf Club with fellow architecture enthusiasts elicits one word, in my experience, more than any other: “subtle.” This word has long been distasteful to me — a former music publication editor, reviewer, and acknowledged writing prig. “Subtle” is a word I frequently saw used as a crutch, translating the realization that one enjoyed what they had just listened to or seen...but were not sure why. It is easier to describe the flavor behind a Coke because it’s packed full of sugar...a Burgundy wine, on the other hand, well...that’s “subtle” (“robust” is another word I distrust). There’s no need to scrape it from your vocabulary, as there is certainly subtlety to be had in golf course architecture. I have played many fine putting surfaces that are subtle in relation to Walter Travis’s baroque greens. That said, the cynic in me is often on guard when reviewing reviews for The Golf Club; is its status as a World Top 100 truly defined by subtlety? Or do many of us dodge the question of what merits this status, only because we’re not really sure? Is there a chance that many acclaim The Golf Club simply so that they don’t look like fools by taking a risk and going against the grain?
You may recognize my opening paragraph from the film ‘The Prestige.’ If The Golf Club’s greatness was indeed a trick, calling its bluff would require identifying the blind, a distraction that allows a magician to lead rational people into buying irrational results. Many swanky country clubs employ this tactic to distract from ordinary golf via doting staff and delicious dining. Indeed, as a diabetic, the waiter’s offer to provide me “sterilization” supplies following an insulin shot was customer service on a level I’d never experienced anywhere. But I kept my eye on the prize.
And keeping your eye on the prize is exactly where Pete Dye gets you, once you’re finally on the golf course. “Subtlety” is not the word for The Golf Club. The word is “trickery.” The Golf Club operates as a magic trick, and Pete Dye is the magician.
I won’t make you wait for the verdict: The Golf Club is an incredible golfing experience because of this trickery.
A common complaint against The Golf Club is its relatively flat property. It’s an overstated issue. I had planned on a pancake property but ended up getting bacon; maybe not as uneven as a pile of scrambled eggs, but certainly enough roll to satisfy my morning urges. Many holes playing flat are accompanied by Blacklick Creek or other engaging features, such as the top handicapper at No. 6, a pièce de résistance for the switchback strategy Dye adopted from his idol, Donald Ross.
But what to do with No. 10, Dye surely thought to himself. A slight grade down from the tee, through a relatively well-treed portion of property next to the clubhouse. A simple dogleg left could have sufficed...but it also would have been painfully similar to the previous hole (which itself is perhaps the weakest on the property). And so Dye waved his wand. Tee off to a wide fairway and you’ll see an approach to a wide green, clearly raised atop a berm...the twin staircases at either end indicate there must be a rise. Leaving it short is not an option, I told myself. There is a bunker running along the front. But there is not. I had looked at the yardage guide. I had looked at the course on Google Maps. All rational thought pointed to it being a safe layup. I could not convince myself otherwise...the steps mirrored those coming out of The Golf Club’s signature par three — and one of Dye’s signature holes — an intimidating mess of stacked bunkering and railway ties. But once you’ve come to terms with the lack of bunker, you can consider approaching the very wide green, which stretches from the far-left staircase to the far-right, nearly 35 yards. But again, it does not. The green, perhaps 15 yards wide, is angled so that the kidney bean resembles a Raynorian cube from where you stand, considering the next shot. Like Penn and Teller, Pete and Alice Dye know the numbers you are thinking, and they have programmed the course to defy what you know should be.
I could run through a bulleted list, but I’ll stick to two more examples, both water-based. No. 8 is a Dye pseudo-Redan, playing to a green higher at the front, down to a lower platform at the back. Fair enough. But, there are also a series of three dammed pools, flowing downward from left to right. Gravity insists that the highest pool must be at the left, if the waterfalls continue to the right. And yet the lower level of the green appears even with the highest pool, while the higher area of the putting surface seems to sit flat with the right-most pool. Perturbing, especially to those trying to pick a club at the tee. Take a close look at the leftward pond as you approach the green at No. 13 as well. It’s not the fine cocktail from the clubhouse doing this to you, my friend.
Perhaps the “subtlety” everyone sees is a contrast to the Dye they have played before. Like the character played by Hugh Jackman in 'The Prestige,' Dye progressed from these sleight-of-hand tricks to giant, buzzing electro-balls...his visual intimidation defined more by monolithic landscapes than minimalist trickery.
Assessing course design is a cumulative summary of what the architect finds in the landscape and what they conceive by sheer creativity. Some courses, like Riviera, are hailed as masterpieces for the sheer strength of the latter force, weighted down by the former. I would be so bold as to suggest The Golf Club receive similar consideration.
Dye shows you a hole, asks you to inspect it, to make sure its ordinary. But it probably isn't.
Ooh, nice Ryan. Had to read this one twice for the penny to drop.
How does the trickery here function compared to blind shots - are all secrets revealed after playing a hole once, or would it take a little longer to decipher the deception?
As with the illusion movie allusion, hope you didn’t have to commit unspeakable truths in your pursuit of success (fully getting on at such a Prestigious club)
BB, you BBring up a good point; although I think there's significantly more thought involved on Dye's part to create deceptions like the ones I described, there is probably better return on investment from a blind approach a la the Alps template. I imagine that it becomes easier to dodge Dye's mind tricks the more you play the hole...but I won't know until I join. I'll note that there are two blind tee shots here, at Nos. 2 and 15, which Dye attributed inspiration to No. 14 at Dornoch, both of which I also appreciated.
If you try to hit a normal approach shot into hole number 10, especially if the pin is towards the front of the green, you won't be able to hold the green. The trick is to hit a high iron short of the berm and bounce it up to the green level. It's a ballsy shot that takes a fair amount of fortitude and confidence in your distances, as well as luck, to pull off. But it's very rewarding when it works. It's also a ton of fun.
The name Pete Dye is in the pantheon of the greatest to have ever created golf courses. I believe it can be said that no person more truly impacted the course of design in the USA during the 2nd half of the 20th century.
Many architects who have long careers often tail off in terms of the caliber of courses they create because renditions coming down the pike in later years are not really groundbreaking or especially noteworthy. In sum, you get 2nd level repeats carried out because clients prefer to get what was done previously. Case in point, Dye's creation of TPC Sawgrass later replicated with PGA West / Stadium.
But the Dye impact truly hit its high notes with his earliest efforts. Unfortunately, far too much attention is paid to a few of his later year designs with the likes of Whistling Straits and The Ocean Course, usually garnering much praise. Both will be on full display this year in hosting the Ryder Cup Matches and PGA Championship respectively.
The early efforts of Dye were more subdued and more cognizant of how to weave routings that mandate the most thorough of shotmaking skills. Dye provided the re-birth and re-examination of the elements found most notably in Scottish golf.
In Dye's storied career his creation of The Golf Club is often mentioned very little given the overwhelmingly brilliant effort. While the name reeks of pomposity -- the sum total merits the highest of rightful billings as a scintillating layout.
Far too many courses that have higher ranking positions have gained such positions solely because of visibility from outside professional and amateur events. The Golf Club is truly private as in PRIVATE. I can remember my first visit years ago and having the good fortune in spending a good chunk of time with the illustrious Fred Taylor -- the famed Hall-of-Fame former basketball coach from Ohio State during the school's heyday years when Jerry Lucas and John Havlicek played for the Buckeyes. Taylor after retiring from OSU became the club's general manager for 18 years. Looking back -- my first time at The Golf Club was a meaningful intersection with two sports -- golf and basketball -- that I have long loved. Incidentally, when my round finished, I stopped inside the regal men's locker room to change clothes and low and behold Tom Weiskopf, the famed golfer and former Open Champion from 1973 was in a nearby conversation with the Mayor of Columbus.
Now, back to the golf.
The Golf Club is pure golf -- no distractions, no other sports or games deviating from the prime agenda. No invasive housing that often interferes with its cluttering grandiosity. The dictum of founder Fred Jones was simple -- the golf is THE only storyline.
One of the truly engaging aspects of the design is how well Dye handles the relatively flattish property -- the ultimate test for any architect because of the tendency in feeling the need to overplay one's hand with silly concoctions. Creating a freakish layout that truly stands apart from the land it occupies -- witness with what calls itself golf in Florida. That did not happen with The Golf Club. There are subtle insertions and the role of Blacklick Creek is superbly intertwined with such standout par-4 holes at the 5th and the majestic 6th -- one of Dye's most engaging holes ever created.
The par-4 10th and the par-3 11th respectively are good holes but take a clear step back from the others. That changes the moment you arrive at the 12th and continues right to the round's conclusion. The par-5 17th is devilish with its clear risk/reward equation. The finale is a quality two-shot hole that features a green protected by a small pond that's closer to the green than a preschooler is to his Mom on the first day of kindergarten.
The green complexes present a wide array of vexing riddles -- missing greens requires a well-tuned short game to escape unscathed. In short -- everything is earned.
The Golf Club stands out even more so given Dye's penchant for going into hyper overdrive with courses that would follow in the years ahead.
Much is rightly heralded with early Dye efforts at Crooked Stick, Harbour Town and Teeth of the Dog respectively. However, The Golf Club remains a virtuoso modern era gem and in my estimation is easily among the top 50 courses in the USA.
M. James Ward
The Golf Club appeals to fans of modern courses and minimalism. The first thing that strikes you is the size of the property. The driving range requires a long cart ride, but once there you're secluded on the pristine practice area.
Another great feature about The Golf Club is the men's locker room, which was modeled after Seminole. It is comfortable and the type of place you'd like to spend hours hanging out. The beef jerky, cookies, and bar inside are popular.
The course is surprisingly flat for Ohio, but Pete Dye carved a masterpiece out of it. The holes are tree-lined, but the fairways are generous. There is no doubt is has some of the best holes in Ohio. The greens are one of the big highlights, but the bunker work around the greens are as good as it gets.
In his book Bury me in a Pot Bunker, Pete Dye says, "When I began sketching ideas for The Golf Club, images of two golf courses built in the 1920s came to mind. Along with the Scottish courses and Pinehurst No. 2, the design features at Seminole and Camargo influenced many of the characteristics prevalent at The Golf Club."
A key design element of Pete Dye golf courses is his use of railroad ties. Their use here was while Dye was just getting started as an architect and still experimenting. Dye used railroad ties on the third hole like a teenage girl uses text messaging.
The par four tenth hole has an interesting design feature; it has a slightly raised green that prevents the golfer from hitting a bump and run shot to the hole. Many holes have raised greens; this one is only about a foot high and creates a grassy transition from the fairway to the green.
There really isn't a bad hole on the course, but the stretch of holes from twelve through sixteen are the most brilliant. The 369-yard par four thirteenth is a world-class hole that doglegs to the left off the tee. Dye made extensive use of sawed off telephone poles in the bunker right of the green. As with many great short par fours, it is a classic risk-reward hole where the further to the left you hit the ball the more you will be rewarded, but it also brings the flowery hazard to the right into play.
Like Garden City Mens Club, Pine Valley and Augusta National, the Golf Club is an all-male club. I came away with a very favorable impression of The Golf Club, and I think that these lesser known courses by Pete Dye such as this and the Honors Course in Tennessee surpass his better known courses such as Whistling Straits or the TPC Stadium course. Also, I'm getting too old to be beaten up by a golf course. The Golf Club is challenging but is easily the type of course you can play every day and not tire of because it is a great walking course.
John Sabino is the author of How to Play the World’s Most Exclusive Golf Clubs
The Golf Club is a wonderful lesser-known (in most circles) very private and laid back club near Columbus. When most people, including myself think of Pete Dye, they think of diabolical brilliance, that of a mad man whose sole aim is to torture golfers into submission. Or at least some watered down version of that statement. The Golf Club is anything but that, in fact, it's almost hard to believe Pete Dye designed this place. It's a great routing with tons of subtlety in a wonderfully quiet setting. The land is very gentle yet still excellent for golf. For me it wasn't until the par 3, 3rd hole that I saw my first visible hints of Dye with the railroad ties in the bunkers, multileveled bunkering and various visually intimidating features like the greens proximity to the water there.
I think this is my favorite Pete Dye course I've seen given how it follows the lay of the land and doesn't really go overboard anywhere. The strategy of the holes is far more subtle than simply all or nothing. I can agree with the review below stating it's quite an idyllic place for a game of golf. It's certainly in great contrast to the other courses I've seen in the area and belongs in the top couple courses in Ohio only taking the course into consideration. Add the other amenities, surroundings, clubhouse, amazing locker room etc then for me The Golf Club would vie for the top position in Ohio. It's a perfect place for a get together with a few buddies. In fact, The Golf Club in my mind wins out hands down as the place I'd love to hang out with my buddies and play and enjoy what's there away from it all more than any other places I've seen in Ohio. It's definitely a really special place. Jump on any chance to experience it!
The Golf Club was founded in 1967 by Fred Jones. Rumour has it that Jones wanted to get into Scioto but couldn’t get an invitation, so he decided to build his own club and hired a virtually unknown Pete Dye to design it…
Fred Jones had a vision and was not about to be deterred from it. The Golf Club was to be a private sanctuary in which his friends could play golf and cards whenever and however they wanted. He slowly acquired 400 acres, most of which was signed over to him on crumpled handwritten notes and napkins he kept in his pocket. When one of his friends asked him if he’d had surveys done on the land, he retorted, “Of course not!” In the end, he turned all his notes and agreements over to a real-estate attorney who put everything in order for him…
The Golf Club caters to its members. It’s available whenever a member wants to use it, seven days a week, 365 days a year. The club has 150 members. Why 150? “We only have 150 lockers,” is the stock answer…
A couple of Pete Dye’s signature design elements may have first appeared here: A coyote skull lies in a waste bunker on the second hole, and until recently a hangman’s noose hung from a tree near the 16th hole. The noose was removed after one of the grounds crew was mowing the grass close to the creek. His riding mower lost traction, slid down the steep embankment, turned over, and pinned him face down. He drowned in 16 inches of water. The noose was taken down out of respect…
The Golf Club is a difficult course, make no mistake about it. The fairways are tight, the greens are severe, and the terrain is rugged. Although the fairways and greens are in terrific condition, the surrounding woods look natural. I shot a 94, respectable for a tough course like this, and birdied Number 15. Larry Berle.
Former golf course superintendent for 17 years and had the luxury of playing here with two of my peers in 1985. What a gem. My drive being next to a cow scull...and on the 10th hole, thought 2nd shot was in water in front of green, but is was a 1-1-1/2 ledge 40' from green. Illusions. Then, going through forest and farmland coming to tee: looked like ocean and dunes!! It It did blend however. This is one of the most profound courses ever seen and played. Shot an 85 from white tees!!! Be careful....but one of the very best I've ever played.....