Review: Kirtland Country Club

Information:

  • Willoughby, Ohio
  • Private
  • C.H. Alison (1921)
  • 93rd best classic course in the US (Golfweek)

Up until last year, I hadn’t heard much about the Cleveland golf scene. Let me tell you, we are all missing out. There’s Stanley Thompson, Pete Dye, William Flynn, Donald Ross, A.W. Tillinghast and more all within greater Cleveland—and we’re not even touching Akron yet!

Let’s not forget Charles Alison, who is the man behind Kirtland. Thanks to a couple friends, I had heard great things about this golf course and sought out to play it when I went to Cleveland last October.


The opening hole at Kirtland is a dogleg left around a bunker complex. 424 yards, it’s a mid-length par 4 to open.

Right from the first approach, you get a sense of how big this golf course is. Alison was known for huge bunkers, greens, fairways and contours. Spoilers: they’re all here.

The 2nd doglegs to the right, again around a bunker. A little longer this time at 467 yards, par 4.

Cutting the corner gives you a shorter club in, while keeping it to the outside corner gives you a better look up the mouth of the green. Pick your poison! The topography in the fairway can create a ton of interesting lies, making this hole much harder than just the scorecard yardage.

The third is a wonderful par 3 over a pond. 164 yards, it’s shorter, but well guarded by a pond short, three bunkers left and one short right.

The fourth is a fairly straight forward par 4 at 415 yards. A big bunker left awaits the weak slice, while left might flirt with the road (and O.B.).

If you’ve heard anything about Kirtland, you’ve likely heard about the intense back nine and maybe just a bit about the front nine. While the back is more flashy, the front is no slouch. Often relying on Alison’s green complexes on the first nine, the green complex here shows that with some huge tilt to the left.

The fifth is what I would consider the first very good hole at Kirtland. 404 yards, it’s not overly long, but there’s enough trouble off the tee to get yourself jailed.

Ideally, with the hole sloping to the right, you want to keep your tee ball to the left. A big bunker is right there, which leaves you down on the right. There can be a few interesting lies down there, complicating the hole.

Playing over the same pond as the par 3, 3rd, the par 3, 6th is longer at 203 yards. A big bunker short makes this an all-carry hole. If the flag looks tiny in the photo below, it’s a good indicator of the scale. I said it earlier, but Kirtland is a massive golf course.

I got some pretty big Hirono vibes from this hole. Aside from the differences in bunkering style (this is because Hirono is built in similar style to Pine Valley and Kirtland is, well, not), it’s fun to draw parallels between the same architects body of work.

Photo credit: Golf Advisor

The 7th is a short par 4 flanked by the road on the right. 382 yards, it’s a good change at birdie.

A bunker left, as you can see above, pinches the driving zone. Between that and the road right, it can be a challenging tee shot. Getting it in play is key.

The green seemingly falls off all around. With a short iron in hand, you shouldn’t have issues (can’t say I didn’t though!). The fairway bunker hides the green side bunker short left.

The 8th is the first of two par 5’s at Kirtland, and is routed over some wonderful land. A blind tee shot, O.B. lurks on the right, it’s fairly short at 535 yards.

As you walk over the hill, you can see the wonderful topography.

As you can see, a bunker on the left is in the layup area. The green wraps around the bunker on the right, and features some great movement. I’m a fan of this hole.

Continuing with some really good land, the 425 yard par 4, 9th is routed magnificently over land falling off to the right.

A drive up the left might get a flat lie, but anything right of left-centre will almost entirely be from a hanging lie into a green angled to the right. This, to me, is the most underrated hole at Kirtland. Exceptional!

Making the turn, you tumble way down into the Chargin River river bottom. The 525 yard par 4, 10th is likely on the short list for the most fun inland tee shots to hit in the world.

The fairway begs for a fade, while the approach suits a draw thanks to the bunker short left. You see it from above, but in the fairway it can be difficult to judge where the left bunker begins and the middle bunker ends.

The 11th is an exceptional golf hole. 225 yards, it’s a strong par 3 with the river running up the entire right side.

The 12th continues a wonderful stretch of holes with the 449 yard par 4. Working its way ever-so-slightly up the hill, it plays a bit longer than the yardage listed.

Entrance from the left is preferred with the bunkering guiding you that way. Anything above the hole here is not ideal; the green slopes hard to the front right.

After everything big—big greens, bunkers, fairways, contours—you move to the 13th, which offers a nice change in scale. They say good things come in small packages, and the 371 yard par 4 13th is proof.

It’s anything but easy, however. The fairway slopes hard to the right, and with a fade lie it can be difficult to get clean contact. The small green is devilish with lots of subtle movement.

The 14th is another mid-length par 4 at 425 yards. Moving gently to the right, you don’t want to go right.

A fade off the tee is preferred, while a draw into the green is better. Alison’s balance between wanting the golfer to hit fades & draws is exceptional, and even more when you think about draws are harder to hold on greens, while fades typically get a few yards less off the tee. This combination makes holes play more difficult than the yardage listed.

The green complex itself slopes to the right, making anything on the lefthand side difficult to get close to.

The 15th starts the gradual climb out of the river bottom back to the clubhouse. 537 yards, the second par 5 is guarded by the river running down the right.

There’s some good micro undulations in the fairway to give you a funky lie for your layup (or if you’re going for it in two!). The green complex is perfectly tucked into the hillside, with three bunkers green side and one short in the layup area.

The view of the uphill third shot most players will face:

The 16th is a great short par at 365 yards. Bunkering on the inside corner, this hole slings hard up the hill and to the right.

It almost has a cape hole feel to it, where it’s a “bite off as much as you can chew” tee shot.

From there, the approach shot plays entirely uphill to a skinny green.

The penultimate hole at a tough par 3 at 195 yards. To a green cut into the hillside, 5 bunkers left and one right guard this green. It’s a bit more narrow than the rest, other than maybe 13 & 16, but there’s still a bit of room. Getting it all the way back can be difficult. There’s some good movement in this green to the right as well.

A closer look at the green complex left and what waits for balls left of the green:

Finishing off, the 18th is a 425 yard par 4 doglegging left. Anything that misses left is dead down in the valley. It’s a blind tee shot—buckle up!

The green complex, as you’d expect, is better attacked from the left hand side. A big bunker short right guards the green, while short of the green could potentially run back some 25 yards.


Kirtland is a wonderful treat with a lot of really good holes. Is it Top 100? Maybe not. Doesn’t mean it’s not an exceptional golf course. I’d say this is a must play, and no tour without America would be complete without Cleveland. I would certainly return to Kirtland—it’s as enjoyable as just about anywhere.

One thought on “Review: Kirtland Country Club

  1. The new bunker work looks great, better than before.
    Also, there was an inclinator (moving tram) that took you from
    17 to the 18th tee, from your photo’s it looks removed ? can you comment ?
    or if this is your first time there, maybe it wasn’t pointed out to you.
    Great old clubhouse eh ? great golf-historic place.

    Eric Gersonde
    GolfWeek Magazine Course Rater
    Birmingham, Michigan

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