|Grey Hawk goes
from flat farmland
to golf masterpiece
By Jason Stahl, Staff Writer
April 28, 2004
LAGRANGE, Ohio (April 28, 2004) -- Golf course architects often say that designing a golf course is similar to painting -- you start with a blank canvas and go from there. But sometimes the land golf courses will be built on has incredible aesthetic features that already put most of the picture on the canvas.
|Let's get one thing straight right away: the land Grey Hawk Golf Club was built on didn't have any such features.
"What we had to deal with was old farmland that was very flat," says Grey Hawk project architect Mike Smelek of the prestigious golf course design corporation von Hagge, Smelek and Baril. "There was one little area of trees in the middle of the property and a ditch that drained some of the water but wasn't pretty to look at. So our challenge was to take an average piece of ground and create 18 holes of golf that were unique and distinct from one another."
To say this was a daunting task would an understatement the size of Tiger Woods' Nike endorsement check. I mean, imagine if someone gave you a knife and asked you to make Roseanne Barr look like Julia Roberts. I'd already be a fifth of the way through a bottle of Jack Daniels at the clubhouse bar.
|But von Hagge, Smelek and Baril is a design firm known for such world-class tracks as Doral Country Club, La Costa Resort and Spa, and the TPC at The Woodlands. If anyone was up to the task, it was them.
So how do you create your own uniqueness on a property that is not inherently unique? "You create your own topography," Smelek says. And that means moving a lot of dirt - 550,000 cubic yards, to be exact. The first gouge was taken out of the earth in fall of 2002, most of the course was planted in 2003, and this year the semi-private upscale course expects to greet golfers with open arms on July 4.
The course in many ways resembles another von Hagge, Smelek and Baril design down the road -- Red Tail Golf Club in Avon. Both feature copious amounts of bunkers, water and mounding, the kind of stuff that can lead golfers to walk off the course gibbering madly after having deposited their clubs among the fishes. But Smelek prefers to see these hazards from a different perspective.
"From a strategic standpoint, we use mounding and bunkering and water as descriptive signals," he says. "Their job is to tell players when they're standing on the tee the type of shot they need to hit. Where's the ideal landing area? Is there an opportunity to take advantage of the hole? Sometimes signals will tell you the direction a hole turns or tell you to hit away from a certain feature or, if you challenge that feature, that you can be rewarded."
Those features are also created for aesthetic purposes, and often times orientation is everything. For instance, the par-4 12th hole of Grey Hawk plays south and features grass bunkers on its left side for a reason.
"That series of grass bunkers works on that hole because the sun rises in the east in the morning and the bunkers create that light and shadow that you see," Smelek says. "If the hole played north, you'd hardly notice those features."
Grey Hawk is part of a residential community, but thanks to the purchase of an additional 30 acres of land at the outset of the project, no golfers will have to worry about being chased off private property by a yuppie brandishing a Swiffer mop.
|"Ideally, in a residential golf community, the one thing you don't want is housing on both sides of every hole," Smelek says. "The way it worked out is that we don't have a single hole with housing on both sides. And there is a nice, big green space between the course and the residential areas."
According to Smelek, Robert von Hagge was one of the first golf course architects to design an island green. Those linksters who fear water might want to close their eyes here: von Hagge's fondness for the feature is represented by Grey Hawk's par-3 11th hole. But don't blame Smelek and his design team.
|"In the original design, we weren't going to go with the island green but just make it a peninsula," Smelek says. "The owners (developers), however, asked for it."
High handicappers needn't worry, though. As you move forward on the tees, the angle to the green changes so that you can take advantage of mounding behind the green that serves as a backstop. Smelek feels overall that the course is designed with golfers of all skill levels in mind.
|"The widths of the corridors between the houses and the golf course that we suggested were for safety and playability, but that allowed us to create a course that at times can look intimidating," he says. "But the fairways are generous, and there is a great variety of pin placements on the greens. There are some places where you have to hit the ball in the air to advance it (the island green), but to compensate for that we have four tees on each hole."||
Grey Hawk Golf Club
Designer: von Hagge, Smelek and Baril
Length: 6,947 yards
Amenities: 6,700 sq. ft. clubhouse with full-service restaurant and bar, lockerrooms, bag drop service, driving range, short game practice area, and 15,000 sq. ft. practice putting green
Web site: greyhawkgolf.com
Phone: (440) 355-4844
|One has to wonder how much those tee areas will help when there are 85 sand bunkers, including enough sand to fill Miami Beach surrounding another island green on the par-4 3rd hole of 341 yards. After a few holes, you might wonder whether you'd be better off sitting at the top of a tree taking it all in like the resident grey hawk that calls the course home. But at the very least, you'll get your money's worth and feel like part of the country club set for a day.|
|Brand new Grey Hawk flies high over the rest
By Jason Stahl, Staff Writer
August 16, 2004
|LAGRANGE, Ohio (Aug. 16, 2004) – When you finish your round at Grey Hawk Golf Club, you may find yourself quoting one of the lines from the movie, Animal House: "Thank you sir, may I have another?"
In the movie, the line is said by pledges being paddled by older fraternity brothers during an initiation ceremony. Playing Grey Hawk won’t hurt any less because of the immense challenge it offers, but you’ll be begging for more because of the stunning beauty of each hole.
|Robert von Hagge of von Hagge, Smelek and Baril, the golf course architect corporation that designed Grey Hawk, was quoted as saying that "the average golfer only spends 13 minutes in an entire round hitting a golf ball, so he better have something nice to look at." With such a design philosophy, it’s no wonder his firm was able to create a work of art in this little farm community in northwest Ohio.
Grey Hawk has all the characteristics of the other von Hagge course in the area, Red Tail Golf Club in Avon: mounds, grass bunkers, gigantic sand bunkers, lots of water hazards. The difference is that while Grey Hawk is part of a residential community, there’s far more room between the houses and the course than at Red Tail.
|So far, the feedback from local golfers has been very positive.
"This is a great course," says Mike Stanic, a 20-handicapper who quips that he was a 12 until joining Grey Hawk. "It has intimidating views, but it’s very playable for the high handicap if you don’t take the tempting but risky shots."
|What also helps the high handicapper is that most hazards on each hole are on the left side, playing away from the typical golfer’s slice. As descriptive signals, which lead architect Mike Smelek calls them, those hazards scream, "Hey, don’t hit the ball here" to hackers from the tee. But little good that will do for those who have no idea which direction their shot is going to go.
"The course is very challenging, but I think you could play it three times a week for an entire season and never get bored with it" says Rick Ginebaugh, an 18-handicapper who manages to squeeze in 30 rounds a year despite being in the air a lot piloting jets for Continental Express. "It plays very different from one side of the fairway to the other, with the bunkers and water coming into play depending on where you end up. The grass bunkers on No. 12 are something you don’t see very often on courses around here. In fact, I can’t think of another course that has any at all.""
|Forget the grass bunkers, Grey Hawk as a whole is a course unlike any other in the area. No detail was too small for the von Hagge team to ignore. Looking back down the fairway from each green, one can see the results of the painstaking earth shaping that was done here – the fairways have subtle ripples in them like water, so it looks as if they’re moving. Beach bunkers on various holes flow straight into water hazards, giving the course a coastal feel.Thrill seekers will love the third hole, a 328-yard par-4 with a green surrounded by a continuous bunker. Ironically, it doesn’t come close to being the toughest hole on the course, unless of course you’re totally inept at sand play.|
|That honor goes to hole No. 7, a 549-yard par-5 guarded by water allalong the left side. Off the tee, linksters have to avoid hooking the ball into the water or slicing into deep woods on the left. Even if you manage to safely lay up on your second shot, you must negotiate a ravine that turns in front of the green and more water lurking to the left of the green that will gobble up any errant approach shots. No. 7 is regarded as the start of Grey Hawk’s own "Amen Corner," with Nos. 8 and 9 offering a stiff challenge as well. The 388-yard par-4 No. 9 is Grey Hawk’s own version of Harbour Town’s "lighthouse hole," except you aim for distant grain silos that the bulldozers left untouched.Five tee placements truly do make Grey Hawk friendly to all golfers. Not only do they make the course playable for shorter hitters, the tees are positioned so as to make some holes less intimidating. For instance, if you hit from the grey tees on No. 5, a par-3 of 177 yards, your ball has to carry water all the way to the green. If you tee off from the whites, however, the water almost doesn’t come into play.|
Forget whether you’re a scratch golfer or not – people should just play Grey Hawk for the beauty. If you’re going to embarrass yourself, you might as well go out in style. You won’t believe you’re in Ohio when you play this course – think South Carolina or Florida. And unlike some courses that promise to deliver a "country club" experience, Grey Hawk delivers with a mammoth clubhouse that features a spacious locker room, top notch pro shop, patio seating overlooking the 18th hole and a five-star eatery run by a chef who used to own her own restaurant in the trendy Tremont area.