Teeing up a new challenge Featured

7:00pm EDT February 25, 2004
A new season brings a brand new challenge to area golfers, particularly those on the West Side looking for a top-quality course without breaking the bank. Grey Hawk Golf Club is set to debut July 4 in Lorain County's LaGrange Township.

Grey Hawk, which began taking shape last May, is a welcome addition to the West Side, which has a shortage of premium courses. The 7,100-yard, par 72 layout from the design firm of von Hagge, Smelek and Baril uses dramatic bunkering, extensive mounding and 10 manmade lakes to turn nondescript farmland into an eye-catching 18 holes.

"It was flat as a pancake," says D.J. Keehan, manager and a co-developer of Grey Hawk Golf Club. "We probably moved a million cubic yards of dirt."

Using the soil removed to make the surprisingly deep lakes, lead architect Mike Smelek managed to get elevation changes of up to 40 feet. On the West Side, that passes for mountainous, and it adds the challenge of choosing the right club when hitting into an elevated green or from a raised tee box.

"Our goal was to create a challenging course for low handicappers from the back tees and something less punishing for high handicappers," Keehan says.

The addition of some 700 trees over the next two years won't exactly turn Grey Hawk into a parkland course, but it will help complete the transformation from farm to links.

Among local golfers, Grey Hawk will bring immediate comparisons to Avon's Red Tail Golf Club, which was designed by Robert von Hagge, whose firm designed Grey Hawk. A lot of dirt was moved at Red Tail to provide elevation changes and fairway mounds that reward slight mis-hits and penalize more egregious errors. However, wayward shots at Grey Hawk will benefit from a wider golf corridor so that offline shots have a much better chance of staying in play.

Grey Hawk also features more water and sand than its cousin, perhaps most remarkably at the short par 4 third and the par 3 11th.

At 306 yards from the middle tees, No. 3 might look drivable on the scorecard. But once on the tee box, you will quickly realize a sea of sand surrounds an island green; just as quickly, you will return your driver to the bag in favor of a mid-iron. A well-struck short iron from the fairway will leave a good chance for birdie.

No. 11 poses a similar challenge, but with more penal consequences. This true island-green par 3 is reminiscent of the famed 17th at TPC at Sawgrass -- though with the welcome addition of stacked-stone walls rather than the ubiquitous railroad ties. It even sports a strategically placed pot bunker -- as at Sawgrass -- that will gobble up insufficiently aggressive tee shots intended for back left hole locations.

The most demanding hole on the course -- and a good candidate for the signature hole -- is No. 7, a 550-yard par 5 that is reachable in two if you have the length and the guts to challenge the lake that hugs the left side of the hole from tee green. If you do feel up for the challenge, don't forget about the creek that meanders in front of the green.

Grey Hawk promises a premium golf experience at a middle-of-the road price, with a round running just $48. With each hole featuring at least four tee boxes -- and many sporting five -- the course will offer a yardage suitable to any game.

The course is the centerpiece of Durham Ridge, a 272-home residential development that will feature 66 duplex units, 117 detached cluster homes and 89 single-family homes, including estate lots.

Grey Hawk will be the latest in a series of premium courses to open in the Greater Cleveland area in the last few years.

Here is a brief look at two other notable "new" courses.


Boulder Creek
This challenging course, opened in stages during 2002, takes advantage of its hilly terrain and namesake rocks to produce a memorable 18 holes, featuring numerous doglegs and tight fairways.

Among its notable holes is the 364-yard, par 4 11th, where a long iron from the elevated tee is your safest bet to avoid the trees lining both sides of the fairway. From the bottom of the hill, you'll face a mid- to short-iron shot across a lake to a narrow, elevated green. Hit it high if you hope to stop it on the carpet.

Perhaps the most memorable shot you'll make is at the par 3 17th. Playing from an extremely elevated tee makes club selection critical, all the more so when you are staring at an island of green surrounded by a sea of blue. A bunker in front of and two behind the green can help mis-hits avoid the water, but as a rule, you'll prefer someone else have the honor at this hole.

If you haven't played Boulder Creek yet, you'd better get their soon. Despite having his course listed No. 8 on Golf Digest's 2004 list of best new upscale courses, owner Joe Salemi has vowed to close the course after this season. Salemi, who designed and built the course, has been fighting for nearly two years with Streetsboro officials over zoning 85 of his 325 acres at Boulder Creek.

Salemi wants to build 191 single-family homes; current zoning rules allow for only 164 home sites.

If Salemi does close Boulder Creek, it would be a great blow to daily-fee golf in Northeast Ohio. With no more training than reading the books and walking the courses of famous architects, he built a top-notch course that would be sorely missed.

Rates: Weekends, $68.75 with cart, dropping to $49 after 2 p.m.; Monday-Thursday, $58.75 with cart; Friday, $63.75. www.bouldercreekohio.com

The Links at Firestone Farms
You'll have to drive halfway to Pittsburgh to tee it up at The Links, but it should prove well worth the effort. Ranked as the 9th-best new affordable course by Golf Digest magazine just last month, the Links at Firestone Farms winds its way over the rolling farmland of the original home of Harvey Firestone.

At 7,207 yards from the tips, it will challenge low handicappers -- with a course rating of 74.4 and a slope of 136 -- while five sets of tees give plenty of chances to shorten the course to your skill level.

Uniontown-based Brian Huntley, who previously worked with renowned architect Arthur Hills, designed the course. Huntley has designed a number of challenging courses in Ohio, including Norwalk's Eagle Creek Golf Club. Water comes into play on about half the holes, and the numerous bunkers are as strategic as they are beautiful.

Rates: Weekends, $42, dropping to $32 after 2 p.m.; weekdays, $32. www.linksatfirestonefarms.com