As a resident of Ohio’s largest city, I occasionally lapse into undermining the wherewithal of residents in cities of less than 750,000. For example, my hopes driving out to Zanesville Country Club were less “I hope that the original green contours of this Donald Ross design are still evident” and more “I hope that the membership is healthy enough to keep this from becoming a subdivision in the next few years.”
Therefore I was pleasantly surprised to find that this design, 90 years later, has not had its putting surfaces reduced to pancakes! Quite the opposite! Although I unfortunately played after an aerification, the 3D nature of these greens reflected what I’ve always assumed to be true of a Ross green (see note below). Among my favorites were the consecutive Nos. 8 and 9. The former, a mid-length par three, is guarded at the front by several bunkers. This makes the back inviting and the constructed punchbowl backboard makes it even more so. This requires a downhill putt however, which makes a par less than guaranteed (my up-and-down after laying up short of the green, while cowardly, made me feel like I knew what I was doing). The following par four, rather long, fortunately featured the pin on an altar in the back-left of the green, a demanding target during a match.
(A note...Donald Ross archives at Tufts University includes this Zanesville description, verbatim: “Charles ‘Chick’ Evans was the golf course architect and Donald Ross also collaborated on the project.” This order-of-emphasis on the design is not sourced by Tufts online, but shouldn’t be swept aside. Indeed, Ross had slowed his production down quite a bit by 1931. That said, the noted amateur player Evans only participated in the design of a few courses, and the only 18-hole, solo design to his name has recently closed. If he was the prime architect at Zanesville, which would be his only Ohio project, the wisdom of Ross was well-received and his advice well-heeded).
The longer fours and the latter par fives are the highlight. “Joe’s Run” serves as a focal point for Nos. 2 and 4. Technically, you shouldn’t really be bothered by it on the beautiful tee shot during the former; the creek is far to the right and the ideal approach angle means contending with the bunker on the left. The waterway hugs the left side of the doglegged No. 4, however, and is very much a concern for those looking to score. It struck me as a less severe version of the current fourth hole at Inverness (which admittedly did not have a creek to its left until reconstructed by Andrew Green in the past decade).
No. 13 is a fun and reachable par five (516 yards), with a blind tee shot over an infinity crest that tumbles down into a welcoming fairway. The second shot will be long if one wants to gun for the green, and complicated by the tall backing wall of a bunker that fronts the green. One must make an ambitious, all-carry shot to reach. Admittedly, this ridge also complicates the view into front pine placements on short third shots. No. 15 may be too short (496 yards) but it surely makes a difference during member tournaments. Aggressively downhill, even a tee shot in the rough may tempt the long hitter to play for two. Joe’s Run fronts the green and may admonish the unwise.
No. 17 was my favorite hole: a long par four (443), where the primary defense lay right in the middle of the fairway. A small valley moving from away from the player left-to-right offers a shorter approach to those who can get to its other side. Those who come up short will be left with a blind shot from down in the valley. Some may opt to lay up short from the tee and play for the green in three...especially if their opponent is in bad shape after the first shot.
This is not to say that Zanesville is a step back into the preserved Golden Age. I located a historic aerial from the ‘40s and my eyes widened at just HOW good No. 17 had been. The fairway has shrunk, with rough now growing at the strategic point where the far right of the fairway once traced the valley. Trees have appeared and bunkers have disappeared (or lost their shapes and personalities, potentially during a Hurdzan/Serafin project many moons ago). The usual Golden-Age-a-century-later rap sheet. The greens, while still fine specimens in 2021, could use some enlargement.
It’s probably wishful thinking to hope that a club like Zanesville will find the money to bring in even a “small-name” renovator, a la Kevin Hargrave at Columbus Country Club. For now, it remains an admirable members’ course. There’s a great architectural heartbeat and, unlike the human body, there will always be the opportunity to cut the cholesterol later as long as it we keep it alive today. Ohioans should not overlook it.
Date: September 24, 2021