PATASKALA, Ohio -- In an interview with TravelGolf.com, golf course architect Dr. Michael Hurdzan stated that the two primary design goals Hurdzan/Fry Golf Course Design are "to make golf fun for non-competitors" and "to make golf affordable."
At Cumberland Trail Golf Club outside of Columbus, Hurdzan has achieved both goals.
Despite encroaching housing development on the front nine, Cumberland Trail -- which measures from 7,205 yards down to 4,925 yards, depending on which of the five sets of tees one plays -- represents a tremendous value and an enjoyable challenge for golfers of all levels.
Trademarks of Hurdzan designs are generous fairways to facilitate play off the tee, and large greens with numerous possible pin placements, including a couple to taunt even tournament-caliber players. According to PGA Professional Michael Wesley, "You can be a little loose with tee shots on the front nine. But you need to be careful on the greens. They're fast and smooth. Overall, it's a pretty good test of golf."
It is an unfortunate fact of life that many of today's golf courses are built as part of larger residential developments. Cumberland Trail, which opened in September 1999, is no exception. And although Hurdzan/Fry has striven to keep homes, yards, and even an elementary school out of reach of most golf shots, there are a good number of holes -- especially on the front nine -- where one feels a wee bit hemmed in. Still, the joyful voices children on the playground on the other side of a safety net on no. 13 makes one feel pretty good about the world.
The proximity to housing means that OB is never completely out of reach (especially if you're more than just "a little loose" off the tee). The dreaded white stakes come into play on nos. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 13, 14, and 16. On the bright side (for us masochistic types, at least), water holes are even more numerous, numbering fifteen in all. So even though the layout snakes through a few neighborhoods, it also traverses some wilder tracts of land. The greens in particular belie the suburban setting: Without exception, each is tucked neatly into hardwood groves or behind gurgling brooks.
Take for example the stretch of holes from the fifth through the seventh. On no. 5 (569 yards, par 5), trouble awaits on both sides of the fairway, which is narrow by Hurdzan's standards. With water left, sand right, and a wide, shallow green fronted by two deep bunkers, this would be a very pretty hole without the surrounding houses. No. 6 (200 yards) is a gem of a par 3, with water on three sides of the expansive green. Club selection can vary widely here, depending on where the pin is cut.
No. 7 (435 yards, par 4) is one of those holes golfers either love or hate. It's a favorite of the staff, but one local golfer called it "the worst hole in central Ohio." Although the latter assessment may have been a touch harsh, the tee shot does indeed present myriad choices. And you know it's going to be a funky hole when your threesome chooses 5-wood, driving iron, and rescue club off the tee. However, a wise choice of weaponry puts you in position to shoot the relatively narrow gap through the trees and over a gully to the narrow, deep green.
No. 7 epitomizes one of the charms, and strengths, of Cumberland Trail: It's a thinking-person's course, especially from the tees. One cannot simply pull driver each time and flail away. For example, on the 553-yard 12th, the best play is a long iron or fairway wood, leaving a long second over the wetlands that will swallow up the big drives of players who don't pay attention to the yardage books on their carts.
Although the preceding course tour has dwelt on the front nine, it is on the back nine where Cumberland Trail really comes into its own. The housing thins out, and the woods and wetlands serve to isolate one hole from the next. Some of the drives from green to tee are practically adventurous. One of the strongest holes is the 525-yard 16th, a true risk-reward short par 5 where the pond to the right of the green has likely killed more eagles than power lines have.
A unique quirk of the golf course is that the front nine sits across the county line from the back, and, curiously, county law prohibits alcohol sales and consumption on the front nine. So you can get a good solid front side in before you get all boozed up, for a change.
Mike Wesley emphasizes that Cumberland Trail Golf Club seeks to offer guests a private golf club experience. The extremely amiable staff specializes in hosting group outings, customizing their services to fit a pair of foursomes all the way up to full-field events of over 128 players. One of the highlights of any visit is the food, including "the best half-pound burger in town."
Course conditions and amenities -- beyond the tasty burgers -- do indeed stack up to some country clubs. The large, barn-style clubhouse is inviting, and the practice areas are spacious and well-kept. Course conditions were excellent, apart from a goodly number of old ball marks on the greens. Nevertheless, the putting surfaces were some of the fastest and firmest in the Columbus area, and a real challenge to hold with anything but high, soft approaches.
Cumberland Trail offers metro Columbus golfers one heck of a lot of golf for the modest green fees. There is trouble, but there are ways to avoid it, especially if you can think your way around the course. There are forced carries over water off the tees, on lay up shots, and on approaches, but there are plays available to mitigate the potential damage a miss-hit can cause.
The only drawback to the layout are the homes, condos, and schools lining portions of the wide fairways. But thanks to the dedication of Hurdzan/Fry to their design philosophy, one would be hard-pressed to find too much fault in such a playable, enjoyable, accessible design.
October 3, 2002