Great Golf at Ohio State Parks
Tee off at one of the Buckeye State’s enjoyable park courses
While the Ohio State Parks offer a vast array of outdoor recreational offerings, the Buckeye State is also the home state of Jack Nicklaus — the Golden Bear — the greatest champion golf has ever had. And fittingly, golf is another kind of outdoor fun offered by the Ohio State Park system. There are high-quality 18-hole courses in four very different and very beautiful locations to woo golfers. To make visiting and playing even easier, all four parks also have full-service lodges for overnight stays.
Maumee Bay State Park Lodge
Wildly popular year-round, Maumee Bay State Park Lodge enjoys a marquee location right on the shore of Lake Erie. The golf course here was designed by legendary Ohio-based Arthur Hills, past President of the American Society of Golf Course Architects and responsible for nearly 200 courses worldwide, including several World and U.S. Top 100 layouts. While many courses are built on as little as 200 acres and surrounded by houses, this one sprawls through a stunning 1,850 acres of pristine and protected wetlands in the park, along Ohio’s northern coastline. Hills took advantage of the Great Lake setting to fashion an homage to the classic Scottish oceanfront links courses, and the result has been repeatedly ranked as one of the nation’s best value golf courses — it never costs more than $45 per golfer. Four sets of tee boxes cater to all abilities, from the shorter reds at a very manageable 5,221 yards to the daunting tips at just fewer than 7,000, enough of a test for even the best golfers. Maumee Bay has full practice facilities, instruction, clubhouse, and rental equipment.
The largest of Ohio’s many State Parks, Salt Fork has amazing hiking, horseback riding, and its centerpiece, a nearly 3,000-acre lake welcoming all modes of watery fun. The rolling golf course is set high in a hilly area of the park, with dramatic elevation changes and impressive vistas as it climbs in and out of forested valleys. While the three sets of tees stretch to a seemingly benign 6,056 yards, the course plays significantly longer thanks to uphill approach shots to nearly every green and the omnipresent challenge offered by gravity and the laws of physics. Claiming 18 “signature holes” because of the rugged, rolling, and unspoiled terrain, it has earned a Four-Star rating from Golf Digest’s travel guide, Places to Play.
The 2,237-acre Deer Creek State Park is set in the heart of Ohio’s agricultural country and built around namesake Deer Creek Lake. Its golf course was opened in 1982, and is known for its smooth, manicured bentgrass greens — the finest putting grass on earth — and long U.S. Open-style fairways of plush bluegrass lined with impressive mature trees. Designer Jack Kidwell used a generous 350 acres to create a fun and challenging course with a pastoral setting that never lets you forget you are playing in a park after all. Reflecting the park’s lake theme, there are 10 ponds on the course, and all four par-3s feature water hazards. Even the dry holes are long and lined with sand bunkers. It is the longest course in the Ohio State Park System, with four sets of tees from 5,703-7,119 yards.
Punderson Lake has a marina and beach, and the park has hiking, tennis, and even archery, but golfers will want to head straight for the fairways. Designed by Jack Kidwell, who also did the sibling course in Deer Creek State Park, this par-72 layout is the oldest in the state park system, dating to 1969. It is also what golfers call “sneaky long,” playing a bit tougher than even the hefty 6,941 yards from the tips suggest, by keeping the par-4s medium while making most of the par-3 and par-5 holes extra-long, where most players will feel it more. The course is built on scenic and otherwise pristine rolling terrain, with superior bent grass fairways and greens. The eighth is the memorable signature hole here, starting with a stiff downhill drive from an elevated tee box to a narrow, tree lined, dogleg fairway. If this works out, it is followed by an approach shot over a pond on the green. For a different type of challenge, Punderson is also home to one of the top disc golf courses in the state.
For more information on Ohio State Park Lodges, visit ohiostateparklodges.com or call 800-282-7275.
For more travel experiences available from Xanterra Parks & Resorts and its affiliated properties, visit xanterra.com/explore.
Written by: Larry Olmsted
A former Gold & Silver medal reviewer for Golf Magazine, and editor of “The Golf Insider” travel newsletter, Larry Olmsted has written on golf and travel topics for two decades.