By Mike Dojc
Akron Ohio is best known for birthing NBA superstars LeBron James and Steph Curry and getting rubber goliaths Goodrich, Goodyear, General Tire and Firestone off to the races. But for fans of a proverbial good walk spoiled, those bona fides trail a few strokes behind the City of Invention’s standing as the home to one of the Buckeye State’s most prodigious golf bastions.
Firestone Country Club, a Midwest beauty that has played host to pro golf’s top shelf ball strikers for over seventy years, has opened its exclusive doors to the public. If you stay on property, you’ve scored playing privileges. Packages starting at $1,000 per person for a one-night stay that includes two rounds of spectacular golf.
For those bitten by the golf bug, the opportunity to tee off on the South Course, a mettle tester that has staged three PGA Championships, played host to the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, and is currently the site of the Bridgestone Senior Players Championship is worth the price of admission alone.
There are 54 holes of golf on the property plus a public course next door, perfect for squeezing in a late afternoon emergency 9 if the goal is to pack in as much playing time as possible.
The storied South Course, originally designed by Bert Way, and then given a makeover by Robert Trent Jones Sr. in time for the 1960 PGA Championship is steeped in golf history. The current home of the Bridgestone Senior Players Championship has factored large in the careers of the GOATs of their respective eras, Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods. The signature hole known as the “The Monster,” a 667-yard par-5 behemoth that was given its ghastly nickname by Arnold Palmer after the King carded a triple bogey on it.
Nicklaus made his PGA Tour debut at Firestone at the 1958 Rubber City Open when he was still a sophomore at Ohio State. The Golden Bear came out hot firing opening rounds of 67-66 and was just one back of the lead before a third round 76 took him out of contention. He’d still finish tied for 15th, not too shabby for an amateur.
Jack would be back in 1962 for the World Series of Golf, a tournament that brought together the year’s major winners to duel it out. Golf’s “Big Three” tangled during the inaugural edition of the WSOG with Nicklaus defeating Arnold Palmer and Gary Player. He’d go on to win the esteemed exhibition on four more occasions and also topped the leaderboard at Firestone at the 1968 American Golf Classic and the 1975 PGA Championship. Winning seven times at a single venue was a PGA Tour record at the time.
Staying at Firestone is a rite of passage for Tiger Woods super fans who are well aware of the umpteen records he currently holds. Firestone brought the best in the big cat who batted .500 on these famous fairways notching 8 wins in his 16 appearances at the country club with 7 of those W’s piling up during an 11-year span from 1999-2009.
The most famous of Tiger’s victory parades at Firestone was the 2000 “Shot In The Dark.” A four-hour plus rain delay put a damper on the final round of the WGC-NEC Invitational and it was pitch dark when Tiger and his playing partner Hal Sutton arrived on No. 18. Woods was sitting on a 9-stroke lead but legions of diehards stuck around and remained glued to the action. This was during the height of Tiger mania and no one wanted to miss history in the making. Spectators flicked on lighters as if they were at a rock concert to help illuminate the circumference of the 18th green as Tiger made his approach from 167-yards out. The pin itself remained shrouded in complete darkness. Since he forgot to pack night vision goggles in his bag, he could only take dead aim by relying on his memory of its placement. Still Tiger still managed to stick his ball two feet from the hole and tap that in for birdie. Book a twilight tee-time and hit approach shots at 8:25 p.m. from the historical marker if your group is down for a re-enactment.
While the other two tracks’ tournament trophy cases may be dwarfed by the South Course, these are no second fiddles. The gorgeous lake strewn North Course designed by Robert Trent Jones Sr. and the links-style West Course plotted by Tom Fazio around the perimeter of the South Course are absolute must plays. Many guests, myself included, end up ranking these as their faves after experiencing the trio.
Walk in the footsteps of giants in any of the 29 dorm-style rooms connected to the men’s locker room — Nicklaus, Palmer, Trevino and Watson actually stayed in these clubrooms when visiting the Firestone. Perks include being mere steps from the driving range and practice green and there is a “secret” door connecting the locker room to the 55th Hole Bar where you can chill out with a choice cocktail on the balcony while enjoying a sweet view of the South course. Dining options are only a chip shot away with the 1929 Grille, Legacy Pavilion, and the soon to open La Vetta Italian Chophouse all onsite. The club’s legendary bean soup and crunchy cream pie topped with toasted pecans and coconut are truly top of the leaderboard.
If sharing shower facilities with club members is a non-starter there are a myriad of on-property villas appointed with all the creature comforts you’d expect in each guest room. The common areas, perfect for group getaways have a mancave vibe with poker and billiards tables, a big screen and comfy couches to catch the game. There’s also a full kitchen and Firestone is happy to stock it with munchies and beverages of your choice.
The Pro Football Hall of Fame (2121 George Halas Dr) is just 15 miles away in Canton. Dripping with NFL nostalgia, gridiron history comes alive in exhibits that relive hard hitting Super Bowl throwdowns and pay tribute to athletic excellence. One of the highlights of the 118,000 square foot facility has to be the gallery of bronze busts of inductees where you can gaze directly into the eyes of the greatest players to ever play the game.
For fanatics who live and breathe football, if you’ve got enough people in your party, consider splitting the cost of a behind-the-scenes VIP Tour. This historian guided white-gloved experience is $2,000 for groups of up to 20 people and gets you up close and personal with player helmets, jerseys, cleats, draft cards and other HOFer artifacts. Tell them your favorite teams ahead of time and they’ll tailor the tour.