It may be an exaggeration to call one of the highest points in northeast Ohio a Little Mountain, for it is only about 400 feet higher than Lake Erie some five miles away. The name actually came from settlers in the late 1700s, because from one spot in particular (now the 17th tee), they could see Lake Erie. So the name stuck.
The 300-acre tract some 30 miles east of Cleveland was characterized by rolling land bisected by 60-foot-deep stream corridors eroded into the land since the last glacier. The area was mostly tree covered, soils were thin, interspersed with overlaid shale rock. The land had a sort of untouched feeling to it, even though years ago it had been cleared and farmed, then allowed to re-grow into forest. It served as a hunting and shooting preserve for its last owners.
A local engineer had done a residential golf course plan for the property, and on the basis of that plan the project had been surveyed and deeded. When we got involved, lots were already being sold and some golf course corridors had been cleared. As the golf course superintendent wasn’t comfortable with the tightness of the plan, he had suggested the owners get a second opinion, particularly with regard to the closeness of golf holes to house lots. The other designer had apparently applied an older safety standard for housing separation that today is not considered safe. So we were hired to salvage the course.
Golf course safety is the number one planning issue in our firm. We spend a great deal of time studying and applying practical safety guidelines. The challenge at Little Mountain was that the course was on too small of a piece of land. It was trapped between the deep, legally-protected creek valleys, an already-plotted-and-constructed road system and already-sold housing lots. We convinced the golf course developer to hold back some home lots to allow for a proper golf course. We had to dramatically change the original routing, yet get it to fit into areas already cleared as fairways.
We routed it so that most fairways border the deep creek valleys on the left side of the holes. That makes Little Mountain fun to play if you slice or fade the ball, which most average golfers do, while highly skilled golfers find it a bit intimidating, especially if they can't control a right-to-left shot. That's the way a great golf course should play.
But the sheer drop-offs on the left of several holes are just one feature. Equally interesting are the series of ponds and creeks created in the natural drainage passageways that supply the irrigation pond. As the land had great contours, the course has a nice balance of uphill and downhill holes. We accented these features with thoughtful bunker placement, producing a strategic-concept course that offers lots of ways to play each hole.
There are many people important to this project who, for various reasons, came and went. Two mainstays throughout were Tom Scheetz, the course superintendent, and Jimmy Hanlin, the director of golf. Tom had previous construction experience with us as an assistant superintendent at StoneWater, on Cleveland’s east side, and Jimmy had been at a resort that had recently added a golf course. These guys constantly solved day-to-day problems that could have slowed or delayed the project, and lent their ideas and expertise during construction and grow-in. They faced countless problems, from major storm damage to coordinating sub-contractors to occasional weak financing. The finished course testifies to how well we all worked as a team.
The course now has a new owner who sees the real potential for the course and is already instituting improvements thought too costly by the original developers. Little Mountain literally rises above most other golf courses in this golf-rich region of Ohio. I predict, someday soon, it will do so figuratively as well.