Tag Archives: Stephanie Wei

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.


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Scottsdale Courses Impress Press Horde at Xona Media Golf Classic

“Your list is crazy,” a shuttle bus driver told me the other day. “Where are the desert courses? Why no love for the sun-kissed layouts where emerald-green turf meets burnished waste, where white-sand bunkers tease your redlands buttes, where … excuse me, Terminal Four! …  Southwest, Delta, Frontier … Please check for personal belongings ….”

The shuttle driver, like most critics of the Top 50, was strong on imagery but weak on evidence. Several of my highest-rated courses are on desert or desert-like sites, including Jim Engh’s Redlands Mesa, No. 27 and Medicine Hole, No. 38,  Desmond Muirhead’s Mission Hills, No. 44, and Schmidt-Curley’s Southern Dunes, No. 50.* If you broaden the definition of “desert” to include other mauvaises terres, you could throw in arid and mountainous Castle Pines, No. 37, and the two prairie courses, Prairie Dunes, No. 6 and Sand Hills, No. 19, where bobcats and bison run wild.

*Several other Top 50 courses are situated in cultural wastelands, but I’m not counting those.

Superstition Mountain Country Club

Superstition Mountain's range gets an A-plus from media golfers. (John Garrity)

Furthermore, my “Seasonally-Adjusted Top 50,” which is available only to pay-service subscribers, is riddled with desert courses. That’s because today, on the 11th of December, Scott Miller’s Cholla Course at We-Ko-Pa Golf Club in Scottsdale, Az., is way, way better than Minnesota’s Interlachen Country Club, which is riding out a blizzard expected to leave a foot of snow on the ground. Similarly, the Prospector Course at Superstition Mountain Golf & Country Club, which has hosted Champions Tour and LPGA events in the past decade, is a far better course at this minute than Donald Ross’s highly-esteemed East Course at Oak Hill Country Club.

I know this to be true because I have just returned from four days of cutthroat competition at the Xona Golf Media Classic in Scottsdale, Ariz. Staged annually by a consortium of desert CVBs, golf clubs and local entrepreneurs, the Media Classic attracts more than a hundred of the game’s top writers and broadcasters to a four-day melee with local club pros, club managers and professional magicians.

Chuck Garbedian

A tip of the Bushwood hat from celeb golfer Chuck Garbedian. (John Garrity)

The intent of the organizers was clear: to promote Scottsdale as “The World’s Premier Golf Destination.” The intent of the invitees was just as clear: to play desert golf by day and to party by night at the Xona Resort Suites, a four-pool facility adjacent to the luxurious Fairmont Scottsdale Princess Resort. While not a celebrity tournament, per se, the Media Classic afforded lucky passersby glimpses of Golf Channel’s Brandel Chamblee, GOLF Magazine’s “Travelin’ Joe” Passov, Sports Illustrated’s Gary Van Sickle (with his touring-pro son, Mike Van Sickle) and legendary Milwaukee broadcaster and college golf coach, Chuck Garbedian.

I’ll relate some anecdotes from this year’s Media Classic in a future post, but first I need to share this offer from the Scottsdale Convention & Visitors Bureau. Clicking on the link will take you to a web page offering three free golf trips for two. The free packages include a three-night stay at the Xona Resort Suites, three rounds of golf at one of Scottsdale’s award-winning courses, two 60-minute spa treatments at the Spa at Four Seasons Resort at Troon North, dinner for two at The Capital Grille, and your choice of one of 7 other tourist attractions, such as the Phoenix Zoo, the Out of Africa Wildlife Park or a hot air balloon ride. For additional details, visit www.scottsdalegolfgetaways.com.

I’d say more, but my laptop is running low on bold-face type.

Stephanie Wie at Kapalua

Bunkered! Stephanie Wie in Kapalua's "Garrity Bunker."


Top 50 on TV: Nothing this week, but I recently received this photograph of golf blogger extraordinaire Stephanie Wie in the notorious “Garrity Bunker” on the tk-ranked Plantation Course at the Kapalua Resort, Maui. (Stephanie is the small, white object stranded in the sand.) The photo was taken during the blogger’s recent round with longtime Kapalua golf titan Gary Planos.

The Garrity Bunker, as most readers of the Top 50 know, was added to the Crenshaw-Coore Plantation Course in its rookie year after I struck a formidable tee shot up the left side of the thirteenth fairway during a round with Planos. “Wonderful drive!” Gary burbled at the time, only to eat his words when we discovered that my ball had bounded through the fairway and off a cliff. Thoroughly embarrassed, Gary whipped out his cell phone and called Ben Crenshaw, telling the two-time Masters champ, “You need to take a second look at the thirteenth hole. A big hitter just drove one straight up the fairway and over the edge.”

Stephanie Wie in bunker at Kapalua

Yes, it's Wei. (Note treetops behind Garrity bunker.)

The rest, as they say, is history. Crenshaw installed a big bunker to contain bombers like Tiger Woods, Dustin Johnson and Bubba Watson … a bunker named for yours truly. “We’re going to install a plaque there someday,” Gary tells me every time I return to Kapalua to cover the Hyundai (formerly Mercedes) Tournament of Champions. He adds, “We’re still working on the wording.”

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