Dating back to before the Great Depression in America, there were a good number of folks going around building golf courses. The term "Golf course architect" was still quite new, but men like Alistair MacKenzie, A.W. Tillinghast, Perry Maxwell, and William Flynn are just a few of the names who were traversing the country constructing some of the most well-known clubs that exist today. Donald Ross probably got the most engagements, with around 400 courses credited to him. Names like Willie Park Jr, Charles Alison and George Thomas built their share of masterpieces. However, the architect who has possibly created the greatest cult following of late is Seth Raynor.
Raynor, an engineer by trade, began his career in golf by assisting C.B. Macdonald with the construction of National Golf Links of America. His work impressed Macdonald so much that he was given the responsibility of overseeing construction of all of his courses from then on. In building their golf courses, Macdonald and Raynor would typically build replications of some of what they considered the greatest holes in golf, which were mostly found in Europe. These re-creations have become known as "templates," and are found in every Macdonald/Raynor course still standing. As Raynor become more and more proficient at his craft, he would take on many engagements on his own. Camargo Club would be one of these, and actually would serve to be his last, before he took ill and died of pueumonia in 1926. While he was responsible for laying out the design, the construction was completed after his death, so unfortunately Raynor never got to see the finished product.
Beyond being tremendous golf courses that are generally extremely fun to play, one similarity that the vast majority of Raynor courses share is their exclusivity. He built very few public courses, and the private ones tend to be haunts of old money blue-blood Americans (there are exceptions). Camargo is definitely one of these. Situated in posh Indian Hill, Ohio, an upper class suburb of Cincinnati, Camargo is a collection of multi-generational families in many cases, not necessarily the area's wealthiest and best known-celebrities. The largest exception to that rule in recent memory might be Neil Armstrong. I guess if you've walked on the moon, they'll make an exception for you! In many cases, Raynor clubs are golf clubs only, with limited amenities beyond a course and a clubhouse. Camargo actually doesn't follow that formula, as there is a swimming pool and tennis courts. In the past, there was also a polo field, and trap shooting was eliminated only recently. However, in driving by the club, you'd never know it was anything other than a small local golf club. It truly is as understated as you'll see for a top 100 golf course in the world.
I certainly knew about Camargo, but it took a while to get a good lead to play it. The best man in my wedding works in Cincinnati and is a member of a different club in the area. He lives less than four miles from the club and drives by it every day, but he lived in the area for nearly 20 years before he'd score an invite. Therefore, I was giddy when he sent me a text message in June of 2020 saying that couple he met through his job had invited him to play and asked if he wanted to bring a friend along. I certainly wasn't going to say no to that offer!
When we arrived at the club, we immediately knew that this would be a bit different than most experiences--largely because this was the year of COVID-19. Camargo had a member test positive for the virus a day before we played, so they were tightening up some of their rules, beginning that day. That would mean masks inside the clubhouse and locker room as well as individual carts for each player. Not a huge deal, but driving your own cart is a little different and takes away from a bit of the social aspect of a round. However, at least we were allowed to play, so I wasn't going to complain. After dropping our clubs with the bag staff, we'd head with our host in to the very small locker room to change shoes and take a quick walk around the clubhouse.
#16, "Maiden," Par 4, 420 Yards
Aiming it down the right side of the fairway will avoid a bunker that encroaches on the landing area on the left side. A large bunker lays in front of the green on the right side. It's not right on top of the green, but it's large enough that you'll want to take it into consideration.
#14, "Leven," Par 4, 390 Yards
While the sweeping dogleg tempts you to try to hit it down the right half and cut the distance, the leven bunker that obscures and obstructs the right side of the green makes a long drive down the left half of the fairway the preferred line.
#12, "Channel," Par 4, 415 Yards
After the Short, it's back to another longer par four. A drive down almost down the tree line on the right is the ideal play. Left won't kill you, but it just leaves and longer and tougher shot into the hole. The fairway sort of splits as you get close to the green, with bunkers running diagonally from right to left toward the green. An approach shot into the green from the left actually has to account for the bunkers more than one from the right.
#5, "Eden," Par 3, 179 Yards
Camargo is known for having a tremendous set of par fours. Many think it's the best collection of Raynor's template par threes (Eden, Biarritz, Short, and Redan), if not the best collection of par threes...period. I'm not sure I'd go as far as saying that they're the best set of par threes in the world, but they're undoubtedly really good. The fifth hole is the first of them, and as with all Eden holes, is a replica of the 11th hole at the Old Course at St. Andrews.
#18, "Home," Par 4, 422 Yards
After botching the 17th hole, I was limping to the finish at Camargo, which was too bad because I had been pretty steady up until then. The drive on the final hole plays out of one of the tighter tree-lined corridors on the course. However, once you get bast those, it opens up quite a bit. The mowing lines of the fairway/rough take a straight hole and actually make it feel like it bends a little--too to the left and then back to the right. However, it's still a straight hole. Bunkers are on either side of the green, but a run-up is very possible to get on the green and finish strong.
The practice area at Camargo is across the street from the pro shop, clubhouse, and golf course. We loosened up a little, but it was a hot and humid morning and it wouldn't take many swings to get the muscles loose and a sweat going. We headed back across the street to hit a few putts and then would walk up to the first tee to get things started. Camargo is not a long golf course, but with a par of 70 and several hills that can restrict roll in the driving area, it plays longer than the card suggests. My buddy is a bit longer and better than I am, and he wanted to play the tips, which are the Gold Tees. These Gold Tees play to 6,659 yards and a slope and rating of 136 and 72.1. While that rating is a couple shots over par, we'd give that a go. The Blue tees in front of that play to 6,361 yards, which is probably closer to what I'd usually play for a par 70 course, but it never felt horribly long and worked out fine from the Golds. I'll quote those below:
#17, "Road," Par 5, 544 Yards
Everyone knows of the famous Road Hole at The Old Course. The famous 17th hole at St. Andrew's requires a drive over a hotel, and then a long approach into a green with a devilish pot bunker short and a road long. There are some great holes that Raynor built around America to pay homage to that famous hole--this isn't really one of them. However, it may or may not have been his fault, as this hole was originally a par four, with the prior 16th hole being a par five. The pars/holes were changed by William Jackson, who handled the finished touches of the club's construction after Raynor's death.
#15, "Redan," Par 3, 192 Yards
There are probably instances where modern technology has rendered some Redan holes less interesting than they once were. The object here is to set a green diagonally away from the player from right-to-left, favoring a draw that lands on the right front of the green and takes the slope to the back-left of the green, often where the pin is placed. Generally, a very penal bunker stands on the straight line to the pin. With how long and high the big hitters can hit their iron shots today, there are probably some players who will take the direct line and get away with it. However, what fun is there in that?!? Honestly, I didn't think this was one of the best Redans I've seen, but it's still very solid.
#4, "Narrows," Par 4, 454 Yards
The first three holes at Camargo aren't terribly difficult and can get you off to a good start. However, on the fourth tee, you're faced with your first major challenge in the form of a long par four. The hole bends to the left and bunkers flank either side of the fairway from around 100 yards out, until the middle of the green on your approach shot. So, if your second shot can't make it all the way to the putting surface, you'll need to make sure you keep it straight. An open front of the green will allow for a run-up shot,
#13, "Cape," Par 4, 369 Yards
Keeping it to the left of the tree is the line for most players. Going over the tree requires about a 300 yard carry to reach the fairway. From the fairway, it's a pretty easy pitch into a green with bunkers on either side.
#8, "Biarritz," Par 3, 227 Yards
Of the four common template holes built by Seth Raynor, two of them require fairly specific shots. The Redan is probably most demanding of a particular shot-type, with the Biarritz a close second. To get the full experience, you'll usually have to hit a fairway wood or long iron. The green will always be flanked by bunkers on either side, with a large swale either in the middle of the green, or just short of the green, with two plateaus short and long of the swale. The hole was built for a long club with a low trajectory to land short of the swale, disappear into it, and then reappear in the back level. It's really fun when you get it right. Some courses maintain the front plateau as green so that the pin can be short of the swale or even in the swale, but these holes are intended to have a pin in the back section.
After holing out of final putts, we put our COVID-19 face masks on and went inside to change back into our street shoes. From there, we were fortunate enough to have a wonderful lunch with our hosts. Sitting on the patio at Camargo is one of the more peaceful and civilized experiences you can have in golf. It really does feel like there is nothing else going on in the world for the time you're there. I had a wonderful time at Camargo and am very thankful to our hosts as well as my buddy who invited me to come along for the ride!
My Quest to Check Off Golf's Best Experiences
#11, "Short," Par 3, 140 Yards
The third of the one-shot templates is the Short hole, generally requiring a pitch into a huge green, surrounded by trouble. In many cases, a "thumb print" is in the middle of the green to add interest to putting and make you hit a precise shot, even though the greens are generally large. Speaking of large greens, as you've seen, the greens at Camargo are massive--4.5 acres in fact making each green about 1/4 acre, and thus the size of a standard city lot. Try to take that into account when you're putting in your living room. The assistant pro in the shop said that only Chicago Golf Club and National Golf Links of America have larger greens in the United States. While this makes them relatively easy to hit, it also really lulls you into hitting average shots. I find it especially difficult in chipping around the greens. I'm used to hitting chips that make it only the green by only a little and then run toward the hole. With huge greens, you often have to carry the ball much further onto the putting surface, which is just something that takes getting used to.
#9, "Bottle" Par 4, 432 Yards
Rounding out the opening nine is a long par four that bends pretty hard to the right and ends up back at the clubhouse. Hitting it over the bunker and cutting the corner is the perfect play for longer hitters, but miss it a little right and you risk landing in a treed area and being blocked on the second shot. Pull it off and you'll shorten the distance of this hole significantly.
Type your paragraph here.
#7, "Alps," Par 4, 427 Yards
One of the more memorable holes at Camargo--at least among the non-par threes. The drive is fairly non-descript, and even the approach doesn't seem terribly exciting, with a mound that crosses the fairway in front of the green. However, when you climb up that mound and the green reveals itself, you see how cool a green complex this Alps hole has. Over the mound are two hidden bunkers and a squarish punch bowl style green.
What the clubhouse lacks in size, it makes up for in class and charm. It exudes history and time spent in and around the clubhouse is a peaceful and dignified experience.
#3, "Plateau," Par 4, 320 Yards
After playing over the valley on the second hole, the third plays over the same valley in another direction. It's a great vista, and a fun hole that is probably driveable for the longest hitters. Even for shot hitters, it's only a pitch into a well-protected green with bunkers nearly all the way around, with exception of the right front portion. As with most Raynor courses, the bunkers at Camargo are generally flat-bottomed with high faces. They're tricky to escape from if you're not used to them.
#10, "Long," Par 4, 441 Yards
One of the best parts about traveling around and playing some at of America's best courses and clubs is seeing some of the unique touches that exist here and there. At Camargo, one of the unique touches was the service at the turn. Instead of walking to a halfway house, a member of the wait staff comes to you as you walk toward the tenth tee to take your order. It is then walked back our to you on a tray. Honestly, it was a little awkward seeing an orange Gatorade being walked out on a tray by a white-gloved waitress, but it that's the level of service you get at Carmargo! The tenth tee if in view of the patio, where members and guests might be having lunch and watching you take on arguably the toughest hole on the back nine. The tee ball leads to be long and the landing area is fairly tight and a little awkward to hit. Being too far to the right off the tee may require you to carry a bunker to get to the green with the left side of the fairway leaving a better angle.
#2, "Valley," Par 5, 529 Yards
With only two par fives on the golf course, the longest holes at Camargo fall on the second and second-to-late holes. So, take advantage of this one while you can, because you won't see another par five for a long time. The second hole bends hard to the right and nearly a 90 degree angle. A driver runs the risk of rolling through a fairly narrow fairway with a bunker protecting the inside corner. Left of the fairway is out of bounds and the last time you'll see Shawnee Lake Road before the course turns to the South. From the fairway, it's a long shot over a valley of fairway into a squared off green with bunkers protecting the lay-up area. Going for it in two is actually the safest and smartest play if you hit a good drive.
#6, "Knoll," Par 4, 368 Yards
A drive over the hill and down the right side of the fairway will provide the best angle into the green. From the left side, you'll possible have to carry a greenside bunker that protects the left half of the green. From the right side, you'll have a pretty clear line though. While the green, like all greens at Camargo is a large target, there are deep bunkers waiting if you miss it.
#1, "Out," Par 4, 390 Yards
The opening tee ball is right in front of the pro shop window and an assistant pro was practicing on the putting green, so it was a bit of a nerve-racker. However, it's also not a very demanding shot with no fairway bunkers and a pretty wide landing area. The largest problem would come from tee ball hooked to the left, as O.B. and Shawnee Run Road lay on that side. While the hole plays fairly straight, the fairway actually meanders a little to the right, so the longer your drive goes, the more right you'll need to play it. On the second shot, the concept of "don't go left" happens again, as the left side of the green is flanked by a large and deep bunker.
The Golf Bucket List