COLUMBUS, Ohio - Airport Golf Course is a metaphor for the new age: congested, confusing, and loud. But don't let that scare you away from this course run by the City of Columbus. All you need to enjoy your round here is patience, a good map, and maybe a hardhat.
Airport wasn't designed with the new millennium in mind. This Jack Kidwell-design opened in 1966, smack in the middle of peace and love and all of those good feelings that you have to reach deep for when you miss a two-foot putt.
Kidwell did a nice job designing the individual holes, and Golf Digest named the course a 3-Star Award Winner for 2000-01. Airport is also a steal of a deal at $17 to walk on the weekend.
But there is the little problem of Airport's next-door neighbor - specifically, the Port Columbus International Airport. The golf course is right on the flight path - so much so that a row of landing lights cuts through the heart of the course. You're just as likely to hear the screaming of a jet engine as you are to hear someone screaming, "Fore!"
If having planes cruise overhead isn't a problem, you'll be fine. But if noise bothers you, it won't be enough to wait until after a plane passes to hit your shot.
First of all, there are a lot of planes; you'll be waiting on shots all day, tempting the group behind to start bombing you. Also, Airport sits along Hamilton Road, a busy access route to the airport and I-270. You can hear cars on eight of the holes, and there are many "clever" people yelling "Fore!" as they drive by.
Airport is a popular course despite all the noise. It hosts between 45,000 and 50,000 rounds a year. It also has the reputation of a beginner's course, but that's not entirely true.
It is short - 6,228 yards from the blue tees and 5,839 yards from the white. It's par 70 with just two par-fives, and the whites' rating of 66.6 and slope of 104 won't help your handicap at all. But veteran golfers can enjoy their rounds too, because of Kidwell's ability to build variety into each hole.
For example, the par-four 13th is 380 yards from the blue tees. The par-four 14th hole is 378 yards, and yet the holes are nothing alike. The 13th is the number-one handicap hole. Water runs along the right side of the fairway until the hole doglegs sharply to the right. Down the left side are dense woods "protecting" Big Walnut Creek. If you try to carry the water on the right, you'll have to drive the ball 280 yards, so most golfers lay up with whatever club they can hit straight. Your second shot will be over the water. On the other side of the pond, trees line the right side of the fairway and a steep-lipped bunker on the right protects the green.
Despite being just two yards shorter than the 13th from the blues, the 14th is completely different. The only water is the creek, and it's out of play to the left behind that dense line of trees. There are trees along the right side of the fairway as well.
The fairway is straight and easily hit with a three-wood, but the actual landing area for a good drive is down the left side. That's because a large tree hovers front and right of the green, waiting to waylay any approach that tries to get past. Meanwhile, the left side of the green hugs the treeline. To get between these overprotective trees, the actual target for any approach above 10 feet high is probably only 20 feet wide.
Two holes, almost identical yardages, yet completely different holes. Kidwell deserves kudos for his ability to fashion such interesting holes in what could have been a morass of similar shots.
Unfortunately, Kidwell didn't have much land to work with, and he lost some of that space to the landing lights. The only two holes that don't run parallel to at least one another are the seventh and the 12th. The rest run mainly in two clusters of straight lines, which means stray shots could rain on you all day.
The ninth and 18th holes share the same large teeing ground near the clubhouse (and consequently, near the road), and landing planes are likely to pass just a couple of hundred feet over your head as you hit your tee shots.
Kidwell's creativity gets lost in confusion when you try to figure out where to go in the middle of the golf course. The sixth tee, for example, is a par-five with its tee box sitting beside the other par five, the 449-yard 16th.
Both holes head the same direction, and the faded tee-box signs are hard to see from a distance. Since this is where the landing strip cuts through and golfers are milling around from the fifth, 13th, and 15th greens, it's easy to get confused.
If you had to pick a par-five to play, though, pick the sixth hole. It's not a true par-five - 458 from the blues, 392 yards from the whites. But the tee shot is framed by trees on either side of the fairway, giving the hole a secluded feeling (which is nice after the confusion of finding the tee in the first place). The challenge on this hole is the second shot, which plays uphill to a blind green. Not only can't you see the green, you can't even see the 100 yards of fairway sitting in front of it. And since the hole is so short, you have to be sure the green is clear because you can reach it in two if you hit a high fade.
Be careful, though. The green is small, and it's well protected by strategically placed trees on the right side and a bunker on the front left. Just to the left of that bunker are another line of trees and an immediate, sharp drop to the creek. Any ball left of the bunker will be a goner.
The most interesting par-three is the 156-yard 12th. The shot is simple if you can hit the ball straight, but much like the green at number 14, an overhanging tree protects any flag on the right. The creek and more trees hug the hole all the way down the left side, leaving you with a tunnel of foliage to traverse.
The perfect shot here is a high fade, but the key word is perfect - if you miss to either side, you'll have to scramble to make par (after you scramble to find the ball). You won't get a good lie on the tee, either; this part of the course stays in the shade all summer, and grass doesn't grow well on the tee.
Everything at Airport suffers from the lack of space. The snack bar is pleasant but unspectacular. The practice green is small, and there's no driving range unless you'd like to hit wedges over the road into the airport (this is not recommended).
Despite all that, you can have a good time at Airport, but the course would definitely benefit from a few changes. For example, there are only a few sprinkler heads marked with yardages. You'll spend much of your round trying to find the modest concrete markers at 200, 150, and 100 yards.
The course could also be rerouted to eliminate the confusion in the middle of the course. A less drastic move would be to post directions and touch up the tee-box signs so they could be read from a distance.
There are a lot of reasons to avoid Airport Golf Course - the planes, the cars, the organization of the holes near the landing strip - but those reasons are outweighed by the opportunity to play Kidwell's design. His dexterity in designing each hole deserves to be experienced at least once. Besides, you really haven't lived until you've looked up at the belly of a 737 and counted the rivets.
Airport Golf Course
900 N. Hamilton Road
Columbus, OH 43219