Around the Cincinnati area, there have been a few private courses who have been opening their doors slightly ajar to allow outside play. Beckett Ridge Country Club in West Chester and Snow Hill Country Club in New Vienna are full out semi-private now; meaning, they take public tee-times. Other courses, such as Bel-wood Country Club, are opening tee-times up through various Web sites.
Hamilton Elks is another private club that is offering tee-times online; in their case, through golfnow.com. It is a good facility for golf as it contains 27 holes in all. 18 of these are one of the area’s three Donald Ross courses (built in 1925), along with another 9 designed by Michael Hurdzan in 1995. The deal is the round is supposed to be a “membership preview” round. I didn’t receive any kind of sales pitch when I went to play. Unfortunately, they did send me first to the Hurdzan 9, which meant I only got to play 9 of the 18 Ross holes.
I played the Blue (Hurdzan) and Red (Ross) nines when I played. The Red 9 was clearly the winner. The Blue 9 is fine, but nothing really inspiring. I did like the downhill par 4 8th, which the player must navigate through a couple of fairway bunkers to a green protected front and left by more bunkers. Everything else was fine, but not memorable.
I got my first taste of Donald Ross golf playing the Red 9. This 9 was significantly more interesting and I can see why Ross has so many fans. You start out on the seemingly harmless downhill par 4 1st. The tee shot is fairly straight forward, although the range on the left is a definite no-go. Up by the green, you get your first view of what Ross is famous for: pushed up greens and deep (sometimes hidden) greenside bunkers.
The par 3s on the Red 9 were very good. Hole 3 is not a long hole (145 yards). Any pin on the right side of the green forces the player to take on the deep bunker on the right. An intimating hole from the tee, this is no guaranteed par. The longer par 3 5th may be even better. The player can see the large green, but an elevated hill on the right side completely blocks the view of a bunker right. Great use of the land here.
There’s true genius at the par 5 8th. The tee shot is not overly difficult. The true challenge comes at the end
The green is protected by three bunkers left, back, and right, but none are visible from the approach area. A seemingly open target is better protected than the player thinks.
The red 9 ends with a par 4 that I can only describe as a roller coaster. There are three different rolling hills. Depending on where you hit your tee shot, the approach may be completely blind, or completely open.
I didn’t get to play the white 9, but from what I saw, it was of similar quality to the red. I hope next time I visit, I will get the opportunity to play the Ross 18. My sources tell me the place doesn’t get a lot of foot traffic on weekdays, so your best bet to play the Ross 18 is probably to come during the week or bring a foursome.