May 3, 2024 - Sports

10 best golf courses in the Cleveland area

Illustration of a pattern of golf balls on tees.

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

The Masters are behind us, and — with any luck — temperatures in the 70s and above are here to stay.

Why it matters: Golf is booming in Northeast Ohio and across the country. I've compiled a list of the top 10 public golf courses you can get to in an hour or less.

The fine print: This is a subjective list based primarily on course architecture, maintenance, amenities and value.

  • I'd love to hear your feedback, or recommendations for under-the-radar courses I may have overlooked!

10. Sugar Bush

Location: Garrettsville, ~50 minutes southeast of Cleveland via U.S. 422

Rates: $51 weekends after May 1/$35 after noon

Type: Public

Scorecard: Par 72, 6,571 yards

State of play: Described as "Nature's Best" by the Warren Tribune Chronicle and as a "hidden treasure" by course management, local architect Harold Paddock Sr. designed this gem, which opened to the public in 1965.

  • The eponymous Sugar Bushes serve as 150-yard markers on every hole.

Pros: Among the greatest values in the region; immaculately maintained; a premier fall destination due to the density of trees and elevated views; layout diversity — no two holes alike.

Cons: Off the beaten track — it didn't even crack the 150+ area courses in John Tidyman's 1997 "Cleveland Golfers Bible"; limited merch and equipment in the rustic pro shop.

9. Ellsworth Meadows

Location: Hudson, ~35 minutes southeast of Cleveland via I-480.

Rates: $46 weekday/$60 weekend

Type: Public

Scorecard: Par 71, 6,878 yards

State of play: The City of Hudson acquired this previously private property in 1997 and opened it to the public in 1999, with significant renovations occurring in 2003-2004 under Ohio rock star golf architect Brian Huntley.

  • Ellsworth demands both length and strategy off the tee.

Pros: Difficult without being unduly penal; a handful of holes that would be "signature" at other muni courses; legitimate range and short-game practice area.

Cons: Generally small and conservative greens; humdrum Par 3s; sluggish pace of play on summer weekends.

8. Brookledge

Location: Cuyahoga Falls, ~40 minutes south of Cleveland via I-480 and OH-8

Rates: Dynamic pricing (~$40-$60)

Scorecard: Par 71, 6,426 yards

State of play: An endlessly entertaining and often scorable course, this muni in Cuyahoga Falls always feels like it's shrouded in mist.

Pros: Challenging and diverse Par-3s; shortish, strategic Par 4s that make club selection paramount; recent tree and foliage maintenance that has opened up vistas and heroic alleys.

Cons: The frost-delay capital of Northeast Ohio; the clubhouse and pro shop will be closed until upgrades are complete.

7. Little Mountain

Location: Painesville, ~40 minutes east of Cleveland via I-90

Rates: Dynamic pricing (~$45-$60)

Scorecard: Par 70, 6,623 yards

State of play: Designed by renowned golf course architect Michael Hurzdan, this premium track features more bunkers than any public course in the region.

  • Jimmy Hanlin, the face of golf on local TV, is the director of golf here.

Pros: Routing and bunkering has the feel of a TPC-level course; speedy, undulant greens and green complexes; elite finishing hole; festive bar and patio area.

Cons: Uneven bunker maintenance; sad and overgrown driving range in a floodplain below the clubhouse.

6. Valley of the Eagles

Location: Elyria, ~30 minutes west of Cleveland via I-90.

Rates: $55 Monday-Thursday / $70 Friday-Sunday

Type: Public

Scorecard: Par 72, 6,941 yards

State of play: The 2017 gut job of the former Spring Valley Country Club has resulted in one of Northeast Ohio's premium shot-making courses.

  • Meandering fairways, streams, gorges and sloping terrain present new challenges on every hole.

Pros: Signage, clubhouse and amenities lend an aura of destination golf; intellectually stimulating hole design punishes lazy drives and a careless short game.

Cons: Pricey; modern routing with occasional long drives between holes; one of the most maddening courses to play when you're not striking the ball well.

5. Pine Hills

Location: Hinckley, ~30 minutes south of Cleveland, via I-71

Rates: $55 weekday / $70 weekend

Type: Public

Scorecard: Par 72, 6,572 yards

State of play: Lush and secluded, this local favorite, with some of the speediest greens around, is an ideal blend of old school and new.

Pros: State of the art maintenance and natural surroundings; memorable, dramatic holes with one of the best collections of Par 5s available; perhaps the hardest finishing hole in the region.

Cons: Pricey; after signature Par 3 No. 4, the rest are nothing to write home about.

4. Sleepy Hollow

Location: Brecksville, ~20 minutes south of Cleveland, via I-77

Rates: $48 weekday / $61 weekends (20% off with Bonus Rounds membership)

Scorecard: Par 71, 6,928 yards

State of play: Carved among the hills and forests of the northern Cuyahoga Valley, this undulant piece of property designed by Canadian golf hall-of-famer Stanley Thompson is as devilish as it is beautiful.

Pros: Prettiest opening vista in Cleveland golf; a rollicking back nine as rich and varied as most country clubs; phenomenal value with Bonus Rounds membership.

Cons: Can feel almost vindictive in its level of difficulty; greens so speedy and tilted that four-putts are common; staff that seems perpetually unable to process gift cards.

3. Manakiki

Location: Willoughby, ~25 minutes east of Cleveland, via I-90

Rates: $48 weekday / $61 weekends (20% off with Bonus Rounds membership)

Scorecard: Par 72, 6,643 yards

State of play: An elegant, historic design by famed golf architect Donald Ross, this masterful course sits on property once owned by Cleveland industrialist Howard Hanna and gets better each time you play it.

Pros: As challenging as Sleepy but less penal; prime-time bunkers; holes that feel traditional, but surprise and delight on replay; "canyon" holes that dramatically open and close the back nine.

Cons: Limited availability during summer weekends; vexing opening three holes; no range or practice facilities.

2. Fowler's Mill

Location: Chesterland, ~45 minutes east of Cleveland, via I-90 and US-322

Rates: Dynamic pricing ($46-$68)

Scorecard: Par 72, 7,025 yards

State of play: Designed by one of golf's most revered modern architects, Pete Dye, this Geauga County track was originally the TRW corporate course (a la Firestone).

  • Dye's trademarks and quirks — railroad ties, split fairways — are in evidence throughout.

Pros: Pound for pound, these are the best 18 public holes in Northeast Ohio, brilliantly seamed and sculpted through acres of natural beauty.

Cons: Though money has recently gone to repave ailing cart paths, the greens and sand traps need professional attention (and probably a couple million dollars) to properly restore.

1. Boulder Creek

Location: Streetsboro, ~40 minutes southeast of Cleveland, via I-480

Rates: $54 weekday / $75 weekend ($44 after 3pm)

Scorecard: Par 72, 6,885 yards

State of play: Cleveland's answer to TPC Sawgrass, this championship-level course with eye-popping holes everywhere seems to have been tailor-made for tournament play since it opened in 2002.

Pros: A supreme golf experience from soup to nuts. Hitting good shots here makes you feel like a pro with an honest-to-God "island green" and no housing developments encroaching on the natural splendor.

Cons: Some of the most excruciatingly slow rounds on record.


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