Illustration by Alix Ayoub

The Green Mile

Editor’s Note: Three months ago, long-time (614) Contributor Steve Croyle pitched his idea of a Municipal Golf Crawl, a marathon of city-course golf, dually prepped as a fun writing exercise and a bonding experience amongst the magazine’s writing team. Three months later, through a unfortunate conflicts in scheduling (we didn’t want to, he still did) Brave Young Croyle embarked on the journey alone, carding 55 holes solo. This is his story.

It had to be the dew. That’s what I told myself as my first shot of the day, at Turnberry’s seventh hole, careened into a pond to my left. I didn’t count it—not even as a mulligan. Dew. My next shot, the official first shot of my golf marathon, didn’t serve me much better. I overcompensated for the pond and sent the ball too far to the right. I ended up having to break out the pitching wedge to cover the 90 yards I had remaining to the pin, which meant that I bladed that shot and screamed the ball right over the green on to an uphill lie in the rough on the other side. The first chip was a joke. I drove the club head into the ground and bumped the ball forward about five inches. I corrected on the next shot, but drew too much back swing and the ball hopped well past the hole settling onto the fringe about 30 feet from where I wanted it. Four shots—not counting the carp killer I started off with. Four shots, to get me onto the green, where my golf game really starts to stink up the place. I hung an ocho on my card.

It was a hot day, that first Saturday in May, and while my friends were sucking on mint juleps in preparation for the Derby, I was nursing a hangover from the opening ceremonies of Craft Beer Week. The snowmen I built did little to cool me down, nor did they keep my company as I made my way west, visiting each of Columbus’ Municipal golf courses. That’s six courses, by the way. One of them, Wilson Road Golf Course, is a charming executive nine-hole course, but the other five are formidable 18-hole gems that are as good as any you’ll find in Central Ohio. 

Columbus has these courses because most of us, with our brewery t-shirts, cut off shorts, and Teva sandals, wouldn’t be permitted at the private courses around town.

Municipal courses might see more than their share of rounds because they’re quite a bargain, but they are exceptionally well maintained. Each club has a PGA pro, a superintendent, and a crackerjack greens-keeping team. Other services are rendered by volunteers who trade a few shifts of general course assistance for some free rounds of golf. These are people who love golf, and take special pride in the courses their city owns and operates. These are tremendous resources for Columbus. Robert Trent Jones designed three golf courses in Ohio. Two of them, Raymond Memorial and Champions, belong to the City of Columbus. The third is this little place up in Akron where they hold the Bridgestone Invitational every year.  

Turnberry is out in Pickerington, which is confusing to anybody who doesn’t understand Columbus’s history of suburban acquisitions. It features a variety of challenges with several holes on the back nine running along Blacklick Creek. Mentel Memorial, which is still called Bolton Field by old timers, is a similar situation on the west side. Both courses offer more of the traditional midwestern pastoral gold experience. The courses are challenging without being punitive, and they feature rolling landscapes that aren’t particularly extreme. Mentel Memorial is the place for those who like to grip and rip. The monstrous par fives are wide and deep. The course card tells you there’s a chance to shave you’re score but they only seem to remind me that my fairway woods leave a lot to be desired. 

In the city proper we have four courses. It’s easy to dismiss Wilson Road because it’s a nine-hole course, but on a weeknight you can’t beat walking a quick nine for a few bucks. It’s better for honing your golf game than a bucket of balls at the driving range, and the course has some interesting features that make for a surprising challenge. It shares a plot of land, and a greens-keeping team with Raymond Memorial, the cornerstone of the city’s portfolio. Raymond is one of the busier courses in the state, and it’s easy to see why it’s so popular. It’s long for being an older course, but it definitely puts one in mind of a Scottish links course. The sand traps have a dune-like feel to them, and the course is mostly open, although there are a few holes that force you to contend with some mature trees.

Airport Golf course has long been one of the city’s most popular courses. It’s a great bargain, it’s conveniently located, and there’s something cool about watching the planes come and go as you drill shots into the water. Big Walnut Creek borders the course on the North and the East. While it’s not really supposed to be in play, plenty of weekend warriors manage to soak their balls in there. Airport looks like a fairly easy course to tame, but it’s got a few holes om the back nine that can fill your card with extra strokes. Those big trees down by the creek sometimes seem to reach out and knock shots down.

Champions is the course Columbus has that could humiliate a lot of Muirfield’s finest golfers. That’s not a slam on Jack’s course, mind you, it’s just to say that Columbus does have a world class course that could humble some big egos. Champions is on the banks of Alum Creek and features a fairly sharp change in elevation that plays heavily into a couple of holes. One of which, 13, might be one of the more imposing holes in Central Ohio. You start off on an elevated tee, and start feeling frisky because it looks like the driver is in play. Problem with that is the hungry woods to the left, and a pesky creek to the right. The smart play is to break out a five wood and park the ball in the fairway. You need a clean, flat lie to get back uphill to the elevated green. Remember how I said the other courses weren’t punitive? Champions wasn’t part of that conversation. I don’t even want to talk about what Champions did to me, or my ball inventory.

I learned a lot of valuable lessons over the course of my 14-hour marathon. One, is that you can’t golf the city’s courses in a day. That much was explained to me when I first reached out to the city. The second lesson I learned is that the people who run these courses, are wonderful people who love the game of golf and believe that the city is offering something special. They are part of that resource and you should get out there and enjoy it. This city is growing, and the temptation to hand property over to developers for bags of cash is going to increase with each passing year. The best way to make sure the city continues to preserve these treasures is to go out and appreciate them. 

I also learned that I’m a terrible golfer.

Well, that was just reinforced, but I did learn that I’m not alone.

Everywhere I went, people were rotating their hips, dropping their shoulders, and sending their shots into the neighboring far way. It seems to me that the only thing that isn’t par for the course in these parts is par, and that’s just fine with the people who run these courses. A city like Columbus doesn’t operate golf courses so it can cater to scratch golfers. Columbus has these courses because most of us, with our brewery t-shirts, cut off shorts, and Teva sandals, wouldn’t be permitted at the private courses around town. These courses are here for us, the regular schmoes who buy our clubs at yard sales, and who fish extra balls out of water hazards while looking the one we just lost. These courses belong to us, the people who make snowmen in the summer.

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