Kirtland Country Club
Thirteenth hole, 370 yards; The elevated tee provides a striking view of the roaring stream and the short par four to its left. At 3,300 square feet, the pushed up green represents the smallest target on the course. Thanks to the skill of Green Keeper Chad Mark and his crew, the greens are guaranteed to be firm and thus it’s imperative to hit the fairway; otherwise, holding it is a real challenge. Ala the seventh, the green’s left to right tilt places a premium on hugging the side of the fairway where more trouble lurks.
Fourteenth hole, 425 yards; The fourteenth is the only hole on the course with less than six feet of elevation change from tee to green and it provides a respite from the stream. Having said that, a par here is elusive with out of bounds along the right having the desired effect of pushing golfers too far left. Similar with the seventh hole, the reclaimed back left portion of the green only opens up to those golfers that play down the out of bounds side off the tee.
Fifteenth hole, 505 yards; From a scoring perspective, the good news about playing in a river valley is that it typically yields a number of relatively level lies. Here too, after the tee ball clears the stream, the golfer is likely to draw a good stance/lie and he may well find the green within reach. However, the going gets more complicated as Alison routed the last eighty yards of the fifteenth up the base of the river valley wall. Angled from front left to back right, the green makes for a tough target to hit, be it with a three wood or wedge.
Sixteenth hole, 365 yards; Max Behr’s Ëœline of charm’ has been returned to this hole with the removal of trees on the inside of the dogleg right. Prior to 2007, trees helped guide/steer the golfer to the outside of the dogleg, from where the angled green opens up. Now, the greedy golfer sees the last eighty yards of the fairway as it climbs toward the green. What golfer isn’t tempted to bit just that little extra off the dogleg?
Seventeenth hole, 195 yards; Played across a valley, the green is the most heavily bunkered one on the course. Five small bunkers line its left side but it is the nine foot deep pit eating into the right of the kidney-shaped green that inflicts the greatest damage.
Eighteenth hole, 425 yards; What a pity it would be for this sterling nine to end with anything other than a unique Home hole. Thankfully, Alison delivers with a crescent shaped hole that wraps left around the rim of the river valley. The seventeenth hole and sixteenth green are on the inside of this dogleg left, literally one hundred and fifty feet (!) below. A draw over the brow of the hill that stays in the left half of the fairway sets up the golfer with the best approach angle to this green, which is guarded by a sole deep bunker front right.
One thing is for sure: the back nine that so mesmerized Gardner Dickinson still lives up to its billing as one of the great nine holes in golf. Just the walk itself is exhilarating, descending from the tenth tee into the river valley, crossing bridges on the next three holes and again at the fifteenth before taking the incline to the eighteenth tee. This is inland golf at its most rich potential.
Similar to the Cascades in Virginia, the more dramatic and scenic back nine overshadows the front. However, in both cases, it is a great mistake to underestimate the merits of the respective front nines. Regarding Kirtland’s, the pacing of the holes on the front is excellent with the fourth and fifth being the only consecutive holes that measure within thirty yards of each other (and that is deceiving as the uphill fourth plays much longer than its 415 yards and the downhill fifth plays shorter than its 385 yards). This highlights that a game at Kirtland is about variety, which is the true mark of all great courses. In fact, having spent weeks and weeks on-site studying the two nines, Nagle makes some interesting observations when he writes, ‘We had always heard that Kirtland had one of the best “member” nines in the country with its back nine featuring spectacular views and Alison’s use of the twisting Chagrin River. Happily, the challenge of the golf holes is every bit the equal of the scenic beauty which gives the back nine an emotional edge to those that play here. However, I must say the front nine never gives the golfer a break. Length of holes, severity of greens, elevation, and green alignment are continually challenging the golfer. Though it lacks the views presented on the back nine, the front has revealed itself to me as perhaps the greater challenge. The fact is simply that Kirtland is a complete golf course in all matters and that it is a great shame there is less of Mr. Alison’s work here in the States to enjoy!’
Alison’s talent for routing a course and designing holes that pass the test of time is nearly unmatched. If only more of his U.S. designs had been managed as well as this one at Kirtland, Alison would enjoy a greater reputation in this country. Regardless, with Hirono, Kawana, and Naruo in Japan, Royal Hague in the Netherlands, and Milwaukee and now Kirtland in the United States, there remains plenty of evidence that Charles Hugh Alison deserves a seat at the table reserved for the dozen greatest architects of all-time.