Sunday, 4 December 2022

Visiting Cleveland


Cleveland - may be best known as the medical capital of the world?  Well maybe, maybe not. But no injuries were sustained in the writing of this article or filming for our You Tube channel - so we honestly couldn’t tell you whether that is right or not!


Cleveland is in the North East of Ohio and sits on southern shores of Lake Erie.   Canada is just the other side of the lake - not that close really, as Lake Erie is huge!!






Driving to Cleveland, near Akron is the beautiful unspoilt Cuyahoga Valley National Park.  A welcome break on the short journey to Cleveland to refresh and align in nature.  Being on the Cuyahoga River, peace is personified as the water passes in and around the park being interrupted only by the train noisily chugging into various stations for visitors to disembark and explore the park.


Naturally there are historical places to visit, Hale Farm & Village is one such place where buildings have been preserved dating back to pioneers days. A vague familiarity ensued with visions you see on television.   Clapboard structures, and large porches wrapping around the house embracing its warmth in one big hug.  Being a living museum there were people spinning wool and guides dressed in period costume offering tales of the buildings, the living conditions and the families themselves.  Happily this wasn’t done to excess, just enough to give you a feel and appreciation. 







In stark contrast we have Stan Hywet Hall and Garden, a clear display of wealth and good fortune. Amusingly to us, parts of this brick built house was modelled on a house we used to visit with our children with a picnic on our bikes sitting in the ground of Ockwells Manor.  A predetermined route takes you on a journey around Stan Hywet making sure you see pretty much everything.  Another source of amusement was, on hearing our accents the discussion soon turned to … wait for it… Harry Potter! 


The gardens were a delight though clearly taking inspiration from Italy, England and of course adding their own personality too.



Arriving into Cleveland we checked into the Kimpton Schofield Hotel.  On the surface of it, this could have been any business mans hotel, with Betts bar and restaurant to the side.  Despite its small reception area, the rooms were comfortable and a good size and surprisingly not that noisy even though we were in the thick of things in Cleveland city!  We loved the bathroom with it dual access centred around a shower in the middle.  Two basins, one either side of the shower was good way to use up a long space.  But maybe not so great when you share a toothpaste giving two options - splash through the residual water from the shower, or go around through the bedroom to the other door to retrieve it.  Good fun though.




It seemed every type of museum is in Cleveland, making it a place to satisfy all family members. Our first stop was to the Baseball Heritage Museum. A quick interesting tour then out on to the field at League Park- not as big as it looks on television, but just as impressive in other ways.



Little Italy springs up in many towns and Cleveland is no exception.  Lunch was at Maxi’s Restaurant and to be honest some of the tastiest Italian food Ive ever eaten.  Like a veneer ending carousel the food kept appearing  through those kitchen doors, one tasty dish after another, until we were ready to walk it all back off again!


Then onto the Cleveland Museum of Art.  A big imposing white building and a wonderful way to pay homage to the variety and diversity of art - we didn’t really have enough time to take a good look around, but it seemed every category, age and type of art was available for the curious.


The Cleveland History Centre was next and again a bit of a whistle stop tour.  First appearance is of the life-size carousel in the window.   Notably the lower floor was home to a large display of cars little boys and girls dream about.  From Morgan to DeLorean - all polished up, ready to go.


Next up the Cleveland Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.  A building over multiple levels going through the history of rock and roll.  Themed music aiding the transportation from one era to the next as you were dazzled along its route.   Cleveland is a rock and roll place in many ways, there are even large guitars dotted around the city, all telling a story.




That evening was one to remember as Steve’s first baseball game and it was a biggie with the Cleveland Guardians playing against the Kansas Royals to reaffirm their place in the play-off’s.  The atmosphere was electric as one interval followed the next and concessions of every variety was on offer.  During one interval instructions were given to stand and stretch out- funny, but on reflection, quite sensible as you’re sat on hard seats in the cold for a time!  Even though we may not know the rules or intricacies of baseball, the atmosphere alone carried us along for an enjoyable evening as the sun set in a spectacular fashion over the stadium.


As the sun set in the distance you could make out the former Ohio Bell, now AT&T, building.  It is rumoured to be the inspiration of Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, who grew up in Cleveland as the iconic Daily Planet skyscraper in the famous Superman stories.


A great end to a long but enlightening day.  Being country folk, Cleveland was growing on us.


After a good nights sleep, day two yield a breakfast selection in Betts, the cafe/restaurant in the lobby of the Kimpton Schofield Hotel.   A quick walk across the road to the Heinen building was an easy start.  We could see this building from our room and it spiked interest with its imposing stone structure and domed roof.  The inside of the dome with its coloured glass and a balcony circumnavigating it came alive with the bright sunshine outside.   Off the circular balcony, like an octopuses tentacles reaching, out was a wine selection from all around the world.  Downstairs were up-market shopping stalls skilfully displaying all manor of treats and more.






A quick scout around the West Side market and city farm - enough time to buy some jerky and embrace the sights and sounds of this bustling indoor market, before a hearty lunch at Lakes Brewery, a modern gastro pub style restaurant with really nice food.




Sadly the Metropark sailing experience was abandoned due to the high winds, so no scheduled walk and no getting into the boats on Lake Erie.  Instead we were given a lecture about the history of the art deco building and the organisation, which in that cold building did seem to go on a bit - but was interesting - in small doses.




By now we were getting quite cold, so a quick and sensible change of plan took us to West Bank Golf Club, and indoor centre for some golf on the simulators.  As we were golfers, this suited us all very well, that and the accompanying doughnuts gave us some rest time to reflect on Cleveland.


We took a divert to enjoy a weekend in Cleveland, but if you're going for golf, there are around 60 in the area, and of course more on the end Ohio Golf Trail





Our final dinner was at Mabel’s BBQ.  Famed for its BBQ sauces, we relished the hosting and cocktails served alongside a hearty BBQ selection.  Such a great final night in a large, almost industrial, restaurant built to entertain with its shared trestle tables.




 

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Cuyahoga Valley National Park @cuyahogavalleynps

Kimpton Schofield @theschofieldhotel

Baseball Heritage Museum @baseballheritagemuseumcleve

Cleveland Museum of Art @clevelandmuseumofart

Rock & Roll Hall of Fame @rockhall

Cleveland Guardians @cleguardians

Great Lakes Brewing Company @glbc_cleveland

Cleveland Metroparks @clevemetroparks – Sailing/Coast Guard Station

Mabel’s BBQ @mabelsbbq4th

West Bank Golf Club @westbankgolfclub – Indoor golf simulator

 


Saturday, 26 November 2022

Firestone Country Club - South Course, Akron, Ohio

 As we were in the area playing the Penn Ohio Golf Trail, we took an overnight diversion to Firestone.



Firestone is in Akron County and is very easy to factor in when playing the trail, although not part of it.  Arriving we were shown to our room - when I say room, it was one a few in a separate building - there were a number of these building dotted around the estate and each housed good quality, large rooms all within a short walk of the main clubhouse.


Our room overlook the North Golf Courses.  There are three 18 hole golf courses on site with building already underway to create a multi storey, Big Shots indoor fun driving range experience for all.  Arrival day was our main drone filming day.  Just as we finished filming the heavens opened - not just a gentle sprinkle but a torrent by the bucket load the water fell from the sky in a tropical rainstorm fashion.




Firestone golf as founded by Harvey Firestone of Firestone Tyres fame when he commissioned the park for employees.  The South Course was complete in the same year.  The Original Bert Way design was given a facelift by Robert Trent Jones in 1960 in readiness for the PGA Championship.  RTJ added a further 50 bunkers and 2 lakes and extended the course yardage to 7,400 yard, just as it is today.


We only played the South Course.


The iconic water tower, which itself resembles a golf ball on a tee, poked its head above the prolific trees as an omnipresent icon for all in the area.  In 1959 this 125 foot structure was completed - after the clubhouse was destroyed by fire.  Holding 50,000 gallons of water, the tower was drained in the 1990’s - however, the structure remains to this day as an iconic landmark and a nice reminder for Firestones groundbreaking history when bring golf alive on television.


It was an early start which exaggerated the cool morning dew as the sun reluctantly rose and eventually broke through the haze clinging to the ground, hanging over from the previous days rain.




Despite this atmospheric mist biting at our ankles, nothing else could dampen our spirits as we set off down the 10th hole.  It’s always a bit disconcerting when you start on the 10th, but fortunately, we had been able to do some filing the day before, so we’d got a good feel for the course layout.



Looking at the back of the score card, the course does look a bit ‘uppy downy’, but in reality when playing it, you really didn’t get that sense at all as the course guided you along its routing.  Slight dog legs left or right came into play but otherwise the course was reasonably straight - of course that didn’t mean we played it straight!


As the sky blued up and the sun started to lend some heat the course came alive.  Enhanced by the slight change in colour for the trees, this was fast becoming a course I could understand why it has such positive accolades.


Despite the wet ground underfoot, the greens rolled exceptionally well - and quick with just subtle, hard to read movements, they were in great condition. 



This course had the type of bunkers others would aspire to - nice soft sand of such good, easy to play quality.  An analogy that was shared by the fore caddy when questioned about the sand condition, he said, ‘the sand is less table salt and more Himalayan crystal salt’  Whichever way you look at it, the sand played consistently nicely.



The infamous 16th hole, Firestones signature hole.  With the equally iconic Arnold Palmer bridge which crossed over the dark water to the green.  This par 5 measured 465/667 yards with a 12 handicap.   With the approach shot having the stretch of water in play, there was no option than to just go for it, so we did - with mixed results.  Steve stuck his approach next to the pin, I stuck mine in the water!  Understanding now how this hole has been nicknamed ‘The Monster’ by Palmer himself and three time winner in 1957, 1962 and 1967. 








As we reached our half way point, the water tower came back into sight, signifying an end, or in our case, half way round the game.


The wide fairway theme continued into our second nine, wide fairways with trees embracing varying stages of autumn - large but not dense woodlands, the trees framed the fairways as if marking a landing strip.



Playing 18, a small plaque reminds us of Tiger Woods ‘Shot in the Dark’ 167 yard 8 iron at 825pm… That superb shot straight at the pin and an easy tap in, brings him the win, 11 ahead of the rest of the field at the NEC Invitational.



The enthusiasm and knowledge of our fore caddy made the day special, he expertly divided his time between us, yet seemed to be on hand for each of us, despite the scatter gun approach of our differing playing abilities.  A quality player in every way.


Hole three, a relatively easy par 4 of 323/442 yards carried a 15 handicap.  With it came more water upon which slight ripples were starting to form.  But over the water you must go to reach the green and this time I triumphed over Steve.  An arch bridge traversed the expenses of water as the white fluffy clouds fringed with grey went shooting by.  Even stood onto 4th tee, a glance backward give its own rewards for golfers to treasure with the reflective water, the bridge, the lush green course and trees and the blue and dotted white sky.


As if entering a fire station, the big bold numbers framed in red stood by each tee, simple - yet elegant. In contrast the almost black in colour of the wet tree trunks stood out against the vivid blue and greens of the course.  A kaleidoscope of colour to tackle your senses.


Little history making stories bring Firestone alive, but more than that, it appeals to all golfers, old and new.


Firestone still lights the fire for many golfers and is set to continue to do so for many more years to come.



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Saturday, 19 November 2022

Raintree Golf Club, Akron, Ohio

A huge imposing stars and stripes flag was wafting above the tree line, towering over and dominating the car park on arrival.

Guiding us through and into the clubhouse, which it has to be said did resemble a working mans cafe rather than a plush clubhouse, we were ushered into the pro-shop, to we had hoped, meet the manager.  Sadly it seemed the manager didn’t want to come out of her booth and greet us,  Although, through an internal window, she could see us, and we could see her.  She was alerted to our arrival via an internal call to which she responded by giving instructions to her colleague in the pro-shop.  The lady in the pro-shop was so friendly and helpful this bitter rebuff was lessened.







Raintree is a public course and looking at the course with the clubhouse behind us, it looked as good as any others with its clever usage of shade over the tee boxes from the overhanging tall trees, the striking green of the fairways and the complimentary planting.

With no ‘starter’ on the first, we were told to wander down and start playing.  As we were close to our tee-time this suited us anyway, so off we trot.


Once we were away from the clubhouse, the course took on a rather less appealing appearance.  The holes were invariably flat and uninspiring and as we’d caught up with the group in front of us we could see we were in for a long round.  It turned out, three groups in front of us were a four ball - three were walking and one was riding in a buggy - this group became the bane of the day with their extraordinary slow play which certainly lessened the enjoyment of our playing experience without compromising our course review.  




Bearing in mind there is a course for everyone and being more tolerant and charitable, it was a Friday afternoon and I’m sure being a public course, did get people finishing work early to go and play golf.  That said a course marshal would have made ours, and the groups around us who were also held up, better about being there.


So whinging done, what was the course really like?  


The greens were large and in amazing condition but, it has to be said the front nine didn’t inspire us, the fairways were patchy and seemed like they had seen better days.  Or in contrast, the fairway grass was so long the ball didn’t roll and was thick enough to be problematic too.

Although the sun was shining and it was dry, it was a cooler day.  Maybe the chill was enhanced by the waiting on every shot?  The 5th was the first hole with a little more interest with its sweeping fairway around a small pond to a narrow entrance to the green.  The water was in play for a few of the holes with the 7th again allowing for play over or around the water to a fairly guarded green - with an out of bounds lurking.




Just as we were about to lose the will to live, we turned and took on the back nine, vowing if it was the same, we’d cut our losses and walk in.


Hole 10, a par 4, 250/355 yards was a dog leg left of almost 90 degrees.  I know some don’t like such doglegs as it can spoil the big hitters drives, but it was actually a nice change.  The driving range on the right with little or not protection from any wayward golf balls ended up on the 10th .  This made it quite the lottery to find your ball, if you’d played safe to the outside of the dog leg.


Glad to say things did improve on the back nine, in fact it was as it it was a different course.  But it seems that whilst you’re starting to win in one way, you get knocked down again in another - the highway was really noisy on the 13th - so much so, I had to shout for the microphone - ok I did exaggerate the shouting and caused lots of giggles, but it was a real shame that the constant drone spoilt such a great hole.  This par 4 of 321/461 yards had a ditch guarding its approach to make it a little more challenging.  



Certainly the back nine was shaping up to be the stronger nine with the 14th also a nice hole cut in and around the long grass right.  Sadly the heavy rain had made the surface on the left a bit like a watery blister as it rippled underneath your feet.  Some cart drivers not paying attention (or not caring?) had churned it up as they happily sped along, seemingly oblivious the damage they were causing.





On the reverse of the noisy highway and the bubbly fairways we saw deer, red and black squirrel and a chipmunk (we think!) enjoying themselves as they happily shared this green space with the golfers.


The 17th was also a good hole and as the end was in sight, our spirits were lifted knowing this arduous game was coming to an end.  And end on a high it did, with the 18th being probably one of the better holes on the course.



A slight dog leg right off the tee with water at the front and right of the green.  A small stream dissected the fairway along its length, careful navigation to make the green in regulation is needed.  The large shaded green was nestled in a sunken hollow.   Such a nice closing hole.


And what of the club manager when we’d finished our game? - oh well, she had gone home.


Of the ones we’d played, Raintree seemed to be the poor relation of the Penn Ohio Golf Trail, that said, a good selection of golf course is always great to encourage more participation and diversity across the board.





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Saturday, 12 November 2022

The River Club, Johannesburg, South Africa


Sometimes, just sometimes, you’re given the opportunity to play a course that sticks in your mind for months afterwards.

The River Club in Johannesburg is one such place.

It is an exclusive golf club that is revered within the local golfing community, so when we were given the opportunity to play it, we jumped at it.  


So well hidden is it, that our relatives who have lived in that area for many years, weren’t exactly sure where it’s entrance was.  Driving past one luxury house after another, it was hard to believe that this course could even exist and how it could be as good as they say when in the middle of, to put it bluntly, a housing estate.


Once inside the grounds, a bit like the tardis, the area opened up leaving the houses behind in favour of crisp sways of green thoughtfully edged with striking contrasting planting.


The clubhouse is decorated in neutral and earthy shades which was a great backdrop for the photos, certificates and tasteful artwork on display  The inside sung in harmony within its surroundings as the eye is drawn through the building to the expanse of manicured green beyond.


Harry was our caddy, he was a little quiet to start with but soon cracked a smile at our antics and occasional good golf.  The first hole with its wide fairway and lush green grass - the shade of green a child would have chosen when drawing their perfect house; four windows, a door in the middle and inviting green grass all around.


Getting to test the bunkers on hole one isn’t normal something you’d be happy to share, but as they were fluffed up and the ball was playable in the not too soft sand, it’s one I’m happy to talk about - in fact all the bunkers we visited were the same even good quality.


So why is the River Club still playing on my mind all these months later?  It isn’t an old established course; the type that usually gets me excited.  It was actually established in 1967 by designer Bob Grimsdell - this is not even a course designer I know much about.  Rob O’Friel came in 1998 to do some upgrades, again not a name I know a lot about.  But despite The River Club not rated in the Top 100 (through choice), it is rated as one of the best in South Africa, so why?


To me the main one being, it is playable.  Often courses are designed to be played from the tips, with little regard given to all the tee box positions, I’ve known some clubs simply plonk forward tees somewhere down the middle of the fairway.  The River Club doesn’t do that, it seems to cherish and embrace all golfers of all abilities, giving each tee position a chance at some good golf yet doesn’t punish you if it isn’t quite right on the day.  It has balanced the risk and reward evenly yet is not a walk in the park, although with the green expanses, flowers and local birds, in other ways it did seem like a walk in the park!



Tee boxes were even, I know that sounds silly, but I cannot tell you how many tee boxes I’ve stood on, more often from the forward tees, and they have been like mini mountain ranges as you try to find your footing!


Sure it is in a rich ‘tropical’ setting with the river running alongside some of the holes, but it is also in the middle of Johannesburg, which seems almost a contradiction to the club and course offerings.  That said Johannesburg has changed in the 30 odd years we’ve been visiting.  As with most places, there are taboo areas but these are fewer and further between - they even have an open top bus tour of downtown Jo’burg! 


Whilst taking in this super course and enjoying all it could throw at us, with some mixed responses! the half way house came far too quickly.  Although it was on the 12th hole and past half way, it seemed like the blink of the eye and we were sat there enjoying drinks and a snack in the invitingly sculptured shade with windows through the overhanging canopies of the trees to the course.


On hitting onto the fairways, the bounce was fair - it wasn’t so dried up that the ball bounced for miles, exaggerating any wayward shot and punishing you unnecessarily.  On the reverse the fairways didn’t plug either - stopping the ball from any forward roll or gain.


Despite its location, there was barely any road noise, and no houses, that I can remember, overlooking the golf course either - it was as if an invisible barrier had grown around The River Club, a barrier only a select few could penetrate, but once through.…



When the large greens give some bite on the approach shots, then roll perfectly, whilst offering enough break to make you think about it, you know the greenskeepers took pride in their work.

Greenskeepers were plentiful - all diligently working at different tasks from tending the flora on most tee-boxes, to grass cutting, to the caddies making sure the bunkers were returned to the fluffy surfaces once again.



On finishing your round, the 18th green sits just below the clubhouse.  The large terrace of the clubhouse is dotted with tables and chairs and of course spectators for your approach shot on this final hole.  One side of the clubhouse was opened up to give the inside diners uninterrupted views of the course.  A small lake to the right of the  approach on the 18th green meant you could go over the lake, or play safe to the left.





The River Club gives choices.  I’m not talking about the amazing menu choices!  Choices whilst playing your game, choices that can give the rewards yet gently allow you not to become too big for your boots.


In all, a class act, and one we’d like to repeat at some time and importantly, definitely one we’d recommend.


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You can book your golf directly through the River Club.



Saturday, 5 November 2022

Trumbull Country Club, Ohio

 


There certainly was a rumble in Trumbull on the day we played with the grey skies threatening rain.

Trumbull Country Club is part of the Penn Ohio Golf Trail.  


Driving down the long driveway, into a welcoming neighbourhood setting with the course on the right and residences on the left.




Further along the driveway and the mock Tudor style (in places) clubhouse sitting comfortably in it surroundings behind a good sized practice putting green.  The flag pole proudly flying the stars and stripes alongside the state flag.



It has to be said that the clubhouse doesn’t reveal all until you venture inside and realise that this place is not only comfortable and relaxing but a place for all - golfers and non golfers alike.  


Families are encouraged to get involved and there is a nice, almost familiar atmosphere about the club.



After an incredibly hearty lunch and our first taste of the long discussed wedding soup*, we then had to try and play golf on a full stomach.  Not only that we had to race against the threatening rain looking menacing in the distance.


With the course undergoing new routing and a few more changes, you could go slightly awry due to the lack of signage. But a good course of action was to follow your nose, well, the cart path, so we did find our way around the course OK. This is only a temporary blip, awaiting new signage.



The first takes you away from the clubhouse on a friendly unassuming opening hole, which we both parred.  Now bearing in mind I was 0.5 and Steve 1.5, I knew today was an important match in the early days of our Penn Ohio series!


So off we trundle, or would that be Trumbull!   Keeping a watchful eye on the weather and playing the best we both could; whilst also assessing the course, taking photos and videos and enjoying this lovely established parkland (woodland in places) course.  


With roots dating back to 1915, Canadian course designer Stanley Thompson put his mark on this course alongside seven more courses in Ohio.  Not really a course designer I knew much about before this trip, it was great to see Thompson had adopted the traditional style of golf : playable if sensible!



Knowing sensible isn’t always my style of play, it remained to be seen what this game would bring, especially as the course was tight in places!  


Being a woodland  x parkland style course, playing off the 4th tee was like playing off bubble wrap, with its acorn potted tee box as you tried to get a good stance.  In many respects playing Trumbull Country Club was very similar to playing golf courses in the UK, and most probably why we endeared to it.


The 9th fairway dissects the entrance road in, but stood on the tee of the 9th, you don’t really get the feel the road is in the way or even in play.  A par 5 from the forward tees and a par 4 from the rest of the tee positions, there was plenty of space, so long as you were going forward and not sideways into the trees!  Crossing the road to the large receptive, but fairly flat green certainly showed the clubhouse in it’s full glory on the left.  All the greens were in great condition.



Maybe at this point we should have taken refuge, but looking down 10, it looked far too inviting.  A fairly straight par 4 with a little pond to the right of the tee, we decided to carry on, heading towards the darker skies, with our fingers crossed.



The 10th sits alongside the entrance road the course, as such the houses sat on the other side of the road and weren’t really in play.  Somehow we managed to put them (rather their gardens) in play as we found Steve’s golf ball in the front garden of one residence.  Gingerly walking across the open plan garden, we bought it back into play by placing it back on the fairway and carried on - quickly!


Got to say Steve wasn’t haven’t his best golfing moments on the back, and as
we’d halved the front nine, I wasn’t going to make it worse by “helping”






Hole 12, a lovely par 3 over water at only 101 yards forwards tees and 130 for mid tees, water in front and the busy main road to the right, the rain started to become a little annoying.  On the green in one and two putts made me the winner of this hole.  With a blob and the rain pouring down now, the game was over in more than one way for Steve.


We did actually tee off 13, but the rain got the better of us as we scooped up the balls and made a beeline to the clubhouse, sodden.


We stopped after playing 12 with the promise to return if we could find a gap in our schedule for the remainder of our trip.


Sadly we didn’t get that opportunity, so the win was chalked up to me and the Penn Ohio match now again all-square at 1.5 to 1.5


In summary, I wished we had got the opportunity to return, as playing Trumbull Country Club wasn’t just about the nice course.  It was about the whole experience; from the friendly welcome in the pro-shop, to the great food and club atmosphere in the clubhouse. 


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*Wedding Soup


Peculiar to Ohio and Pennsylvania, although it can be found in other places.

Wedding soup or Italian wedding soup is an Italian soup consisting of green vegetables and meat. It is popular in the United States, where it is a staple in many Italian restaurants

The name wedding comes from the Italian phrase minestra maritata which means 'married soup. ' Why is it married? It's the marriage of ingredients, and the resulting delicious flavour, in the soup! All wedding soups are going to have green vegetables and meat and as we discovered varies from one restaurant/household to the next!