By David King
If you polled most golfers about what they expect out of a golf course, you would probably get similar responses: true greens, well-kept fairways and great views. It’s rare that a course can check all the boxes — and believe me there are a lot of boxes to check. Firestone Country Club in Akron, Ohio, might be one of those great destinations that have it all.
My experience started with a short 45-minute shuttle from the Cleveland airport to Firestone, where I was immediately hit with the beautiful views around the course. Check that box. Riding up you had views of all three courses at Firestone. With bags checked and a quick lunch at the “1929 Grill” in the clubhouse it was off to play the first course, the Fazio.
There was a great driving range, putting green and chipping green available for us to warm up on prior to hitting the Fazio. Each foursome in our group was also given two forecaddies which is a standard for all members at Firestone. Upon arriving at the first tee of the Fazio I already knew this was going to be a real treat.
The Fazio, once called the West course, was built by Tom Fazio in 2001. It is a links style course that spans 6,663 yards and plays around the perimeter of the South course. The fairways are slightly wider than the South’s, and greens that roll true and fast, another box checked. The layout is what you would expect, with large oak trees lining the sides and separating the holes. Along with a few well-placed bunkers and low elevation changes the Fazio plays very fair. This course will reward you if you play a great round but can still allow for those who struggle to break 100 to enjoy themselves. The Fazio was an enjoyable course, one that I felt would be a great home course for any skill level of player.
Following an amazing round on the Fazio, we then went on to a casual cocktail hour and dinner .at the new restaurant located at the clubhouse called “La Vetta,” a more upscale option that offers fine dining with appetizers like marinated olives and entries such as brown sugar brined pork chops. The meals are prepared by an executive chef who was cooking in the Middle East for the better part of a decade. I personally enjoyed the goat cheese stuffed dates with crumbled pistachios and honey drizzle. But if there’s one thing you must try, it’s the crunchy cream pie, so good that Jack Nicklaus would send his private plane to Akron to get about 30 of them to keep at his home. I have to agree with Jack on this one. The pie is worth it.
With two restaurants and a grill between the seventh hole of Fazio and the 12th of the South, there is no shortage of good eating at Firestone Country club. Another check in the box.
After our great meal we were taken to the 18th hole of the South course. This is home for what is called the “Shot in the Dark” that was made by Tiger Woods, the 168-yard shot of faith to the green that would land and end two feet from the pin and secure him his win at the 2000 NEC Invitational. We all lined up to take the same shot from the same location and roughly the same time — although it was not as dark. Needless to say none of us pulled off what Tiger did but it was a fantastic experience and reminder of all the rich history of the club.
From there it was time to retire for our first night. We were staying in the clubhouse, upstairs in what could only be described as a sort of dorm area setting just off the locker rooms. Each person had their own room, a half bathroom and shared a locker room-style shower area with individual stalls. The dorms had a gym, along with a great lounge area with four large screen TVs and a full service bar with cigars, wine and your favorite top-shelf spirits. It was truly a unique experience that would be great for an out-of-town guest or small group looking to stay on site and focus on the courses.
The following morning, we were slated to take on the famed South Course. Designed to be a championship course from the beginning it has hosted more than 70 professional tournaments and was dubbed “The Monster” by the great Arnold Palmer. The King may have sold it short. The South is nothing short of a fire breathing-dragon.
On first glance you will see a links style course that seems similar to the Fazio and not intimidating looking in any real sense. But looks are deceiving. The immaculate greens and fairways are beautiful but the journey forward from hole No. 1 can be ugly for the uninitiated. The first thing you will notice are the well-placed bunkers that are a factor from any tee box. The second, are the narrow fairways, that even if you’re lucky enough to hit, the carpet-like purity of them will let your ball roll gracefully into the deep stuff.
This course isn’t for the faint of heart, but it really should be played by everyone. The South Course is perfect. The fairways are like hitting off mats — if you can stay on them — and the rough is a dark green abyss of ankle-deep fescue. I truly loved this course no matter how much it beat me up at times. But much like the Fazio, if you can play well it will reward you.
I enjoyed this long 7,400-yard course from the first tee shot and down through one of the longest par fives in the game at No. 16. The walk was long, the journey was a battle and I was grateful to have a personal caddie to help me along the way. I would play this course every day for the rest of my life and never think twice, it’s that good.
It was hard to walk off the South course after No. 18, I was ready to go at it again. But it was time for a quick lunch again at the 1929 Grill and then off to visit the nearby Pro Football Hall of Fame that afternoon. You might wonder what golf and pro football have to do with each other.
But after arriving and realizing how close the Hall of Fame was and that Firestone and the Museum have a close working relationship, it made sense.
Both work hand in hand to host their guests from out of town during major events. And this week the Hall of Fame pros were to be coming to play Firestone during the “Enshrinement Week.”
After touring the Pro Football Hall of Fame we returned to Firestone and relocated from our rooms in the clubhouse to villas just off the South course. Overlooking the 18th hole of the South course, the country-style building hosts more than a dozen rooms with common areas on both sides. The Villas serve to be a place for large groups, or families looking to have a nice, secluded area to relax while off the links. The common areas sport full kitchens, pool tables, table top games, and even cornhole for outside. There is no shortage of entertainment.
We enjoyed a catered meal prepared by the executive chef and his staff from the clubhouse. Brisket, ribs and cajun shrimp with all the sides – and, yes, even crunchy cream pie. The food was great and fridge came well-supplied with your favorite drinks, both alcoholic and non-alcoholic. The Villas have a large balcony off the second story of all the rooms so you can walk out to and view much of the entire country club.
The night came to a close with us playing a fun round on their second practice putting green set up with nine putting locations. It was a fun way to enjoy the evening and get a little practice in for the next day’s adventure.
On the final morning of the trip, the tee time was for 8 a.m. and the course to be conquered would be the North Course. After a challenging run on the South Course you would think you might be in for a relaxing 18 on the North. But you might be in for a surprise.
Surrounded by lakes and streams this course is probably the most scenic of the three. Highlighting the true beauty of Firestone there is no shortage of photogenic views. The course was built in 1969 by Robert Trent Jones Sr. and was rated in the top 100 of modern courses by Golf and Travel Magazine.
While Fazio and the South tend to be fair and forgiving, the North can punish your mistakes quickly. The water hazards are definitely a factor, and not just for great views. The greens at No. 16 and No. 17 are engulfed in the lake. Hit the shot right or left and you may be going for a swim. The North course also has the highest elevation changes of the three, with uphill and downhill runs that make hitting the greens even more challenging. Get your wedges ready; it’s likely you will be making a few greenside flop shots.
Add all those factors of elevation and water, then you have the deep fescue rough and well-placed bunkers to deal with. In my opinion the North course was the hardest to play, the most challenging of the three in that it gave you little and took everything. I quite enjoyed the bout I had with the North. It left me battered and bruised, asking for more. I would place the course on my monthly rotation in a heartbeat.
If you’re a player looking for a good challenge, the North course is it. Of the three It checks all the boxes: perfect greens, fairways, challenging, and excellent views. Just make sure you bring an extra sleeve of golf balls for those water hazards.
After the round on the North and taking in one last glance of those views the trip was coming to an end. One last lunch before hitting the shuttle back to the airport. From the time I first set foot in that clubhouse to when I walked off the North Course It was an excellent experience. The staff at Firestone were unbelievably great, hospitable, and caring. The facilities were as good as the courses themselves. And the golf was everything any player could ask for. I think it is safe to say Firestone Country Club checked all the boxes for this golfer.
I was sad to have to go. It is not every day you get to experience such a level of greatness. But anyone can, and with very reasonable member rates, and vacation packages this can be something you can experience too. And I hope you do. Firestone Country Club in Akron Ohio should be on every Golfers bucket list. However I warn you. You may just fall in love and never leave.
David King is a freelance writer, photographer and videographer in Atlanta.