I’ll state from the start that my review of Grand Oak is a bit biased as it is now my home course. While I have more than a dozen public courses closer to me than Grand Oak, I chose Grand Oak for the following reasons: First, it has all the facilities a golfer needs, while remaining modest. The clubhouse has enough room to have a small dining area and quiet pro shop; but the deck outside is wonderful to watch golfers come in from 9 and 18. There is a putting green, short game practice area, and a range. Secondly, the staff is wonderful. The head pro, Mark Martin, is very personable and always make you feel welcome. The rest of the pros, greenskeepers, and rangers are also friendly and make you feel at home. And finally, the course is interesting.
Built in 1989 by Dr. Michael Hurdzan, Grand Oak has a decent variety of holes. The first couple of holes start out fairly mundane. 1 is an uphill par 4 where the player must stay in between the trees on the tee shot. The fairway tightens the more you go up the driving area. 2 represents a good mix of par 5s. Two of which, including #2, are certainly reachable in 2. To get home in 2, the a tee shot to the right side of the fairway is ideal, though both will work. The fairway is plenty wide for the layup, but what’s the fun in that. Those that choose to get home in two will need to make sure they don’t do too long. Anything right and long is death down the hill. Short left isn’t bad, but not the easiest up and down either.
By the time you get to the approach area of 2, you see the other side of Grand Oak… huge hills! The par 4 3rd is a testament to that. A blind tee shot will likely result in a blind second shot for all but the longest hitters. The green slopes from back to front and can make for some tricky putts.
If there’s one negative I have about Grand Oak, it’s the similarity of the par 3s. Only 6 stands out from the rest. The other three (4,12,17) are at least a club downhill. 12 and 17 (pictured) even have the same ridged, bell-shaped greens. At 4, the player needs to watch the wind and their spin. I’ve spun balls from the back of the green almost to the front fringe on full shots.
5 is a hole you either love or hate. And you’ll probably lean towards hate the first time you play it. Clearly a hole where local knowledge comes into play.
The drive doesn’t require too much thought, although if you go too long on the layup, there is a lateral hazard in play. Going for the green in 2 isn’t very realistic. Your second shot will be mostly blind. Put your shot about 100 or so yards outside the green.
Going for the green, if the pin is in front, hit about 20 yards short of the green. If pin is in back, aim towards the front. The fairway rolls down to the green which will run shots that way. The green is small enough as it is; add the OB immediately left and back, and no good right and you’ll see why I told you to play short and let it roll 🙂
Skipping ahead a couple of holes, 8 is one of the better holes on the course. Most will take fairway wood off the tee, but driver isn’t out of the question. The approach shot is tricky as the green is narrow, but long. 9 is a shorter par 4 where birdies are possible. The real defense is at the green sloping back to front with a ridge separating the green. Getting on in regulation is no guaranteed par.
The back 9 immediately gives the player a decision to bomb it or lay up. I always choose bomb it, though one must contend with OB right. Lots of bunkers protect this hole off the tee and on the approach.
11 is the signature hole at Grand Oak Golf Club, and deservedly so. The fairway is wide and drops 80 feet, so bombs away! There is OB all along the right side, so faders may need to beware. Most players can get home in two if they can hit it over the “Grand Oak”. Green has a couple ridges which can make for difficult putts.
The par 3s on the back 9 are nearly identical copies of one another. Downhill, over water, bell shaped green. Moving on…
14 (will provide a pic soon) is another great hole, on par with 8. A mid-length par 4, the player must split the trees with their tee-shot. Anything in the woods means a sure pitch out. The fairway runs out about 100 yards from the green into a lake, so the drives can’t go too far. Second shot obviously must carry the lake. Another narrow and long green makes 2 putts difficult if you find the wrong section of the green.
15 should be a birdie hole every time. The sign on the hole even invites players to make some birdies. Although uphill and blinded by mounds, the hole is only around 270 and the fairway is quite wide. Bomb it up the hill and get up and down for bird. If the pin’s in front, a birdie is a must. If the pin’s in back, birdies may be a bit trickier.
The last par 5 is identical to #5 in a few ways. Not too much to worry about on the drive, but the hole is very difficult to get home in 2. The player needs to put the ball in the right spot for their third shot, which usually means hit it to the bottom of the hill. Anything less than 100 out will probably contend with an awkward shot of a downhill lie and hitting left towards trees.
The home hole’s wide fairway shouldn’t present golfers much problems, but bunkers and water right need to be kept in the player’s mind. An uphill approach on the 2nd must be carried to a pushed up green. Not as much contour in this green as its neighbor at #9, but expect some backspin.
Although I do see walkers at Grand Oak, they’re usually East Central High School’s golf team, or people in great shape. Front 9 would probably be easier than the back. Walks from 11 to 12, 12 to 13, and 17 to 18 would be pretty rough. Max rate is $45 on weekends, which isn’t bad for what you get. Course is usually in great shape despite lack of irrigation. For those that like fast and firm, come late in the summer after a week or so without rain. You’ll get plenty of run on the fairways.
Are there better courses in the Cincinnati area? Yes. However, I can’t say they all have the charm of Grand Oak. You can usually get out on the weekend and not have too many people in front you. The staff is great and it’s fun to unwind after a round on the deck. You can have your crowded Park District and CRC courses; I’ll stick with Grand Oak as long as they’ll have me.
OINK Rating – 4