Doomed Ohio Course Cracks Top 50

“Minerva Lake at No. 50? What am I missing?”

The reader who asked those questions could have been speaking for me. Minerva Lake Golf Club, a 5,497-yard, par-69 Harold Pollock-designed track in Columbus, Ohio, broke into the Top 50 seven weeks ago, replacing Trump Doonbeg of County Clare, Ireland. I had never heard of Minerva Lake, much less played it, so I called Professor Charles Eppes at the California Institute of Science. “Yo, Eppes,” I said, “what’s the scoop on this Minerva track?”

Van Sickle Minerva 18th

Gary Van Sickle attacks the par-3 18th at Minerva Lake Golf Club. (John Garrity)

Predictably, he rattled off a string of data points and then went off on a tangent about polynomials and “asymptote,” whatever that is. (Charlie is not a golfer, and, quite frankly, his Top 50 algorithm flies a foot or two over my head.) Winding up, he said, “You’re the golf guy. Go play it and find out for yourself.”

That made sense, so this morning I played hooky from the Memorial Tournament (at 58th-ranked Muirfield Village Golf Club, Dublin, Ohio) and played a quick and pleasurable 18 at Minerva Lakes. My playing companions were Wei Over Par columnist and blogger Stephanie Wei and Sports Illustrated senior writer Gary Van Sickle.

Minerva Lake 18th

The par-3 18th at Minerva Lakes. (John Garrity)

I should say at the outset that I am a very demanding critic of golf grounds. In past columns I have found fault with Pine Valley (“Too sandy”), Furnace Creek (“Too hot”) and Ft. Meade City Mobile Home Park Golf Course (“Too awful for words”). But I found Minerva Lakes to be better than its surprisingly high rating. Arboreally blessed and criss-crossed with not-too-penal creeks, the property takes full advantage of ravines, ridges and other natural features. Van Sickle, America’s most-decorated course rater and a former Top-50 staffer, found just the right words when he described Minerva Lakes as “not the goat ranch I was expecting. It’s a classic course that will make you think of A.W. Tillinghast or C.B. MacDonald. Short, but fun from start to finish. Terrific par 3s, too.” Wei was equally impressed, stopping from time to time to Snapchat with her social-media followers.

So it pains me to report that Minerva Lake, which opened at 35 cents per round in 1931, will soon close for good, a victim of encroaching development. Three of the original holes were lopped off decades ago, and now the land is worth more as — well, as anything.

Never mind that a teenage Jack Nicklaus shot a course-record 65 in 1957.

And never mind that the property was once part of Minerva Park, a turn-of-a-different-century amusement park. “The 1897 casino could seat 2,500 people, drew some of the best-known acts of the day, and housed an orchestrion that cost a third as much as the building itself,” wrote Jeffrey J. Knowles in a 2005 history of the course. “There was also a zoo, dance hall, ball diamond, bowling lanes, bandstand, picnic areas, boat docks, museum, steam-driven carousel, wishing well and the Shoot the Chutes water ride.”

Minerva Lakes

Gary Van Sickle and Stephanie Wei gave Minerva Lake several thumbs up. (John Garrity)

Sounds quaint — but no more quaint, apparently, than a 5,500-yard parkland course in an age of 350-yard drives and 75,000-square-foot clubhouses. “I almost wish I hadn’t played it,” I told professor Eppes in a follow-up call. “Yesterday, Minerva Lake meant nothing to me, but now I’m going to miss it.”

“Interesting,” he said. “I may have to adjust the algorithm.”

You, on the other hand, may have to adjust your travel plans to play this sweet little course before it closes. Green fees range from $13 (weekday senior) to $20 (holidays/weekends) with tee times taken seven days in advance. But pay heed to the terse message on the club’s web site: “Minerva Lake will be open through Monday, July 4 2016. After that date, the course will be closed permanently.”

So sad. Minerva Lake remains at No. 50 and will — by executive order — retain that position for the remainder of its existence.

5 Comments

Filed under golf, Uncategorized

5 responses to “Doomed Ohio Course Cracks Top 50

  1. TBuggy@aol.com

    Hello John, I’ve always enjoyed your Top 50 articles and “Minerva Lake at No. 50” is no exception. I’m somewhat of a golf historian, at leas on a local level here in Dutchess County NY. To quote the Blues Brothers, “I’m on a mission” to determine if one of our county clubs is the oldest continually operated golf club in the United States. Two years of research haven’t provided a documented answer but I haven’t given up yet. The club very likely won’t make your Top 50 golf-wise but it has some fascinating history that you might enjoy. The attached PDF file is a page from a book I’ve self-published recently – The Golf Courses of Dutchess County. Tom Buggy

  2. Bets

    Thank you so much for your article and approval of our wonderful course. I have played so many rounds at Minerva Lake… and my women’s league is still playing every Monday night until – ugh – the developers move in. So very sad.

  3. John, thank you very much for the positive review of Minerva Lake. I’ve run the web site for them for several years, and crafted the “terse” message about the closing. Believe me, we all feel pretty terse about the situation. They’ve had several close calls in the past with housing developments, but this time it’s for real. I grew up on the course, and my father and I have had the first tee time on Sunday mornings for over a decade. It’s more than nostalgia that keeps us coming back, though, as the course has always proven to be the toughest “short course” challenge we can find.

    I’m glad to hear you all enjoyed it. Along with Jack’s 1957 scorecard and other memorabilia, your article and cracking the top 50 will serve as one final testimony of Minerva Lake’s legacy.

  4. Tom Weicht

    I live not far from Minerva , and it has been my go to course for years. It will be missed.

  5. Sad sad thing to see a classic muni like Minerva Lake go, thanks for adding to your top 50

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