Regardless of your location in the country or perhaps even around the globe, you may have heard the name Longaberger. The Longaberger company has been turning out world-famous baskets for 70+ years. Their office is even shaped like a basket.
(Note: as of 2016, Longaberger was sold and is now known as The Virtues Golf Club. Much of the article remains the same, but some URLs were updated.)
In 1998, Longaberger commissioned a golf course from architect Arthur Hills. The Longaberger traverses up and down unusually hilly terrain and offers breathtaking vistas, huge elevation changes, and a challenge to golfers of all skill levels… though higher handicappers may want to stay away. From a few locations on the course, you can even see the building shaped like a giant basket!
Longaberger Golf Club is not about the baskets. The owners didn’t copy Merion’s wicker basket flags nor are the tee markers little baskets… though they should have been. The golf course may have been funded by money earned from making expensive woven baskets, but the golf course is all about golf.
Golf courses that charge upwards of $100 or so must provide three things to golfers, and all must be good to great: amenities (practice/warmup areas), course design and layout, and conditioning.
If you can find a nit to pick in Longaberger’s conditioning, sir, please invite me down to play your home club in Augusta, GA sometime soon. Longaberger was in immaculate shape when I played it. The fairways were lush, the rough was juicy, and the greens were smooth. The bunkers were well raked, the water hazards and course boundaries clearly marked, and the tees flat.
Longaberger is one of the best maintained courses I’ve seen. During my round, I found a lone groundskeeper working near the second green. “On what?” I inquired. Turns out some of the regular guests were complaining that the run-up area just short of the green was playing softer than on other holes, so he was taking measurements and adjusting the sprinkler nearby to supply a tad less water to the area.
That sort of attention may have earned Longaberger their world-class reputation in basket making, and it goes a long way on the golf course as well.
Beyond the course itself, the golf club has a short game practice area, a large, triple-tiered driving range, and two practice putting greens, all in excellent shape.
Normally I try to find at least something negative to say in order to provide a sense of balance, but I draw a blank when the topic is “Longaberger conditioning negatives.” Sorry. <grin>
Layout and Design
Arthur Hills has a disputed reputation among golf course architecture fans. I’ve enjoyed many of his courses, often over courses by higher reputed architects like Pete Dye or Tom Fazio. His designs have struck me as sensible, enjoyable, and equitable. It’s no easy trick to build a playable golf course: everyone is awed by a Pete Dye course, but high-handicap golfers often don’t have a great chance of shooting a great score, regardless of how much Alice Dye may have gotten Pete to soften some features or provide run-up options.
Most of the Arthur Hills courses I’ve played are quite playable for golfers of all skill levels. Longaberger, however, may not be one of those courses. Small misses to some of the greens can result in difficult up-and-downs. Though the fairways play wide (or are contoured to help you contain your tee shots, adding effective width), the approaches to the greens are often not “run-up” friendly, and many holes have some very “bad spots” that should be avoided. Though the width at Longaberger provides a better player a few angles here and there, you’ve got to be good enough to play to those angles, and to exploit them. The higher handicapper may just find himself playing from lies in the rough with the ball two feet above or below him all day.
From the Black tees, Longaberger measures measures 7,243 yards. Move one up to the Gold tees and you’re still tested over 6,856 yards. Most golfers will be happy from the Blue tees (6,498 yards). Every tee box tests the golfer who chooses correctly.
Longaberger rests on some of the hilliest terrain Ohio has to offer and makes much from it. The routing wanders up and down every slope on the property without getting tedious (admittedly, the mandatory carts help). Despite the massive elevation changes, the course features very few if any blind shots.
Though Longaberger has a few weaker holes (namely the par threes), they’re weak mostly in comparison to their fellow holes. From the Gold tees, Longaberger’s par fives measure 530 yards (downhill), 546 yards (uphill), 510 yards (slightly downhill), and 484 yards (flat). The shorter par fives are each protected by water short of and/or right of the greens, while the uphill hole plays to a meandering fairway that requires three solid shots.
The par threes are the weaker set of holes on the course. The fifth (188 yards) plays across a large gorge to a plateau green. The ninth, easily the best of the bunch, plays only 169 yards across a pond to a tilted, peanut-shaped green, much like the 12th at Augusta National. The 12th measures 181 yards and the 14th, set against another gorge, 187 yards. The yardages may seem roughly the same, but I hit the following clubs to each of these holes: 6-iron (188 yards), 4-iron (169 yards), 3-wood (181 yards), and 7-iron (187 yards). The reason? The prevailing wind – a stiff westerly wind – was up on the day we played, and it dramatically changes the nature of each of the holes. If the wind is down, though, I can understand being tired of hitting your 185-yard club to three of the four holes.
As with virtually every course, the par fours at Longaberger are the strongest holes. With the sheer numbers advantage, the ten par fours are able to display a much deeper variety. Longaberger’s two-shot holes range in length from 329 yards (the uphill sixth) to 461 and 454 yards. The former is the 13th and is likely unreachable with a strong prevailing wind for all but the longest of hitters. The 18th is the 454-yard hole, and it too plays uphill.
The course begins with a unique par four (a shortish 389 yards, uphill) that has a large tree right where you’d like to land the golf ball and a deep, narrow green for your short approach. Subsequent holes ask for draws and fades, long-iron approaches to large greens and flip wedges to smaller, undulating greens.
The tee shot at the 429-yard eighth (below) plays uphill to a fairway that is slanted nearly 30 degrees to the left, then downhill to a peninsula green. Clearly the safe play is up the right-hand side, but that makes the hole longer, and it’s already into the wind. The temptation to find the left side of the fairway – or, on calmer days, to aim across the field and left of the trees at a strip of fairway there – is strong.
Longaberger’s par fours and fives feature wide fairways that don’t dictate any particular strategy off the tee, leaving that up to the golfer. They’ll receive fades or draws, though many times one shot shape is preferred. The wide fairways can be rather deceiving as the green complexes are contoured so as to prefer one shot shape from one side of the fairway.
I could go on about Longaberger’s diversity of holes. Each of the 18 holes here truly offers a unique challenge, appearance, and test of your golf game. I’ll try to reign it in here to talk about something I mentioned briefly before: the wind. Longaberger’s first five or six holes may trick you, but the remaining twelve holes are exposed to the wind. A calm day in southeastern Ohio is a two-club wind, so on days when the wind is actually blowing, Longaberger offers a stiff challenge. Again, I don’t often hit 181-yard 3-woods and 187-yard ¾ 7-irons in a span of three holes, but I did at Longaberger.
Bang for the Buck
Longaberger’s rate structure is among the simplest I’ve seen, so this won’t take too long. Golfers can play March 30 to May 10 for $79, which includes all-day play Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday. May 11 through October 2 the fee is $99. In late fall, October 3 to November 4, the cost is $89. A $50 replay rate is available and juniors 17 and under can play for only $35.
All fees include a GPS-equipped cart, a sack of range balls, and a personalized bag tag at the completion of your round.
As I said earlier, a course that costs about a hundred bucks needs to meet three criteria to be worth the greenbacks. It must have great golf amenities and extras, a great course, and great conditions. Longaberger meets all the expectations in this range. It’s a classic, playable, and enjoyable golf course in tip-top shape and with excellent practice facilities, a well-stocked pro shop, and courteous staff.
Longaberger is a joy to play. As I said, I’m a big fan of golf courses built in the classic style: find good land, find the good holes among them, allow the player to play his game, and make the course as enjoyable as possible for golfers of all skill levels.
Arthur Hills and Longaberger have succeeded in spades (and baskets).