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AFC North: One Good Football Team, A lot of Great Golf Courses

By Shawn Nicholls, Contributor

StoneWater Golf ClubNEW YORK CITY, NY -- August is a great month for sports. The PGA Tour heats up with the anticipation of the season's final major. The baseball pennant races that weren't decided prior to the All-Star game start to enter the last leg. And tennis comes to New York City for an unforgettable two weeks.

But more than anything else, August marks a sense of relief for sports fans that crave competitive team sports, but hold an irreversible grudge towards professional baseball. Yes, August is the beginning of the NFL preseason, which can only mean that the grueling 16 game season is only a few weeks away.

Thankfully, as the beginning of the season gets closer, temperatures also start returning to tolerable levels, meaning that Saturday morning rounds of golf don't require gallons of water intake and three shirts. After all, what's better than a Saturday on the course and a Sunday at the gridiron? Frankly, not much.

TravelGolf.com is here to aid in the planning of your dream weekend. This week, we hit the AFC North with a ranking of the division's best golf cities, followed by our expert take on the way it will all play out come winter.

1. Baltimore

Bulle Rock Golf Course No one expected the Ravens to win the Super Bowl a few seasons ago, and when it comes to great golf, the city may also be an underdog. After all, with the Carolinas just a car trip south and West Virginia not far away, why go to Baltimore to golf?

Well, nearly 30 courses sit no more than an hour away from the middle of the city. And if you are unlucky enough to only have the chance to play one round of golf in Baltimore, make it at Bulle Rock. Home of this year's Maryland Men's State Open, this Pete Dye designed track is not cheap, with rates at $145, but it is worth the change.

Just down the road from Bulle Rock is the Beachtree Golf Club, a Tom Doak design, that may be the north's best minimalist track, as well as one of the most difficult in the Baltimore area. Fast greens and demoralizing fescue are just a few of the links course's demons.

A step below these two beauties in terms of price, but equal when it comes to quality and condition is Greystone, Baltimore's best municipal course, home to greens as smooth as astroturf before kickoff.

2. Cleveland

The home of the Browns, despite the town's long discussed blue collar image, is actually better known for its high quality, ritzy private clubs, than its all access public facilities. After all, the famous Firestone is just a drive away in Akron. However, as always, there are exceptions.

Take StoneWater Golf Club for instance. Nestled in the suburb of Highland Heights, the 7,000-yard plus track starts off wet and does not let up. Water, including lakes, ponds, streams, is an adversary on all but two holes, which makes for a pleasing visual experience, but may result in a hefty pro shop tab when you have to reload on golf balls at the turn. But that may be the only financial burden you incur at StoneWater, as fees are reasonable at only $50, including a cart, during the off season.

Of course, it is impossible to mention football in this region of Ohio without thinking about the Hall of Fame in Canton, a modest drive south of Cleveland. Picture this. A Saturday morning on the course, a late afternoon peek in at the legends of football, and then back to Cleveland for a night on the town, all in preparation for the next day's battle against the in state rival Bengals? Well, folks, that dream is a reality, thanks to the Tam O'Shanter Golf Club, which features two championship courses, including a Donald Ross design. A colonial clubhouse and great restaurant also join the rolling hills and great golf holes.

Oh yeah, and the Bengals come to Cleveland on September 15.

3. Pittsburgh

Olde Stonewall Golf ClubAt the forefront of golf in the steel city, and perhaps ahead of all other public venues in the state, is Olde Stonewall Golf Club. Located in Ellwood City, the track is not easy on the wallet at $135 a pop, but it is easy on the eyes. With sloping fairways and deep bunkers, it is a formidable challenge, but the surroundings, the beautiful clubhouse and the looming trees are as cozy as can be.

Closer to Pittsburgh International Airport is the Quicksilver Golf Club, which is also a popular candidate for best public course in the area, and has even been mentioned in the same breath as Oakmont Country Club, which, is like comparing Terry Bradshaw and Kordell Stewart, but still makes it a track worth checking out.

4. Cincinnati

While Ohio's other football city does not contain the abundance of golf options that exist in Cleveland or Columbus, Cincinnati is by no means a slouch in the course department. Take for instance the Walden Ponds Golf Club. Sitting northwest of the city, this tricky track was designed by Michael Hurdzan, who was named the world's best architect in 1997 by Golf World Magazine. Amid the various browns and greens that are commonplace in northern courses and the treacherous bunkers, sits Waldens Ponds' clubhouse, which was built in 1831.

Hurdzan also had a hand in one of the three great courses at

Shaker Run Golf Club, in Lebanon, Ohio, northeast of Cincy. Another of the more notable tracks in the area, up closer to Dayton, is the eleven year old Heatherwoode Golf Club.

Now, it is safe to wager that there is no correlation between a city's quality of golf courses and its football's team success. However, one could even go as far as to say that the better the golf courses, the worse the team, because, after all, they are hungry to hit the links in the off season. Here's a look at the way the AFC North should play out.

Projected Order of Finish

1. Pittsburgh - Minus a couple of special teams debacles, the Steelers would have been playing for the Super Bowl last year and not the surprise Patriots. And for the first time in quite a few off seasons, Pittsburgh was actually able to hold onto most of its free agents, so look for them to run away with the crown in this weak division.

2. Cincinnati - If the competition between Kitna and Frerotte for starting QB does not boil over into a full blown controversy, and as long as one of those guys can get the ball to newly acquired Michael Westbrook, the Bungles could be the league's surprise team.

3. Cleveland - If Butch Davis's Browns can keep their momentum from a season ago, and avoid being hit by bottles hurled by their own fans, they will finish middle of the pack.

4. Baltimore - The Ravens' list of lost players is longer than an eight-year-olds Christmas list, and the former champs should be no factor whatsoever.

Shawn Nicholls, Contributor


 
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