“This place is pure,” said Rob Labritz when he arrived at Firestone Country Club for the Senior Players Championship in July. The PGA Tour Champions competitor and Director of Golf at GlenArbor GC in Bedford echoed the opinions of golfers at all levels when they visit the storied club in Akron, OH.
Firestone is a unique golf destination in many ways. It’s a private club with over 1,000 members, yet it welcomes stay-and-play visitors much like a public golf resort. It has three golf courses adjacent to one another, yet each one plays differently, so the challenges are never the same during your stay. Firestone is also where Tiger Woods has won eight times, a tie for the PGA Tour record for most number of wins in the same tournament.
And yes, you can play and stay there among a fascinating collection of photos chronicling the club’s history of professional events starting in 1954 with the Rubber City Open. Firestone has hosted the PGA Championship three times on the South Course, which has been the site of over 70 professional tournaments.
The roomy accommodations are designed for foursomes and the dining options are top-notch. Choose La Vetta Italian Chophouse for an elegant but laid-back meal or the 1929 Grille for more casual fine dining. Whatever you do, don’t skip the infamous Cream Pie. Jack Nicklaus reportedly once sent his private jet to get thirty of them for an event at his club in Columbus.
Firestone CC is a pure golf resort, as Labritz said. It’s heartedly recommended that you stay for three days so you can take on each of the three courses. Here’s the suggested order of play for your stay.
Tom Fazio’s namesake 2002 design is a remake of the original Robert Trent Jones, Sr., course which opened in 1969. Even at 6500 yards, par 70 with a 71.0 rating/128 slope, it’s pretty golfer-friendly with wide fairways and expansive greens. The two par-fives on the back nine are birdie opportunities worth going for, and the only water in play is on the 18th hole where a meandering creek guards the green. You’ll need a forecaddie to spot some blind landing areas, though, as well as to direct you aim to the right part of each green, not to mention helping you avoid three- or even (gasp!) four-putts. Pause after you putt out on the 13th green to take in the view from the highest point in appropriately-named Summit County.
Tiger may have won eight times on this course, but then, he’s Tiger. This RT Jones, Sr. redesign (1960) of the original course that opened in 1929 has every challenge a championship track can have. Narrow, tree-lined fairways, deep bunkers, heavy rough, small greens (seven with false fronts!), water, elevation changes…it’s no wonder Arnold Palmer called it a “monster” when he took a triple-bogey on the 16th hole in the PGA Championship in 1960. That hole, by the way, is one of the great risk-reward par-fives in the game. It’s 667 yards from the tips (590 from where humans tee off), but there’s a speed slot in the fairway that puts you in the “go zone” if you find it.
The South Course has monster length. From the tips (blue tees), it’s 7400 yards. Unless you’re a tour-level player, forget it. The more playable white tees stretch to 6500 yards with a par of 70 and 71.8 rating/125 slope.
Speaking of Tiger, he hit his famous “shot in the dark” at 8:30 p.m. on the final hole of the 2000 WGC-NEC Invitational to win the tournament by eleven strokes. You can try the same shot from the commemorative plaque in the right rough—just make sure you take your swing in total darkness like he did!
The North Course is pretty. Pretty and mean, that is. The picturesque layout rises from a valley where water makes for beautiful photos but intimidating golf shots on half the holes on the course. You’ll get your first taste of it on the second hole and face it twice on the last one. There are significant elevation changes, too, as well as solid walls of trees lining many of the fairways. The course is long as well. At par 72, the blue tees measure 6,700 yards with a 73.1 rating/130 slope. To score, you’ll need to hit the short grass off the tee to stay out of tree jail and/or avoid a watery grave.
Firestone CC is easy to reach from Westchester via direct flights from LGA to Cleveland, where you’ll be met by the club’s shuttle service for the 40-minute ride to Akron.