Made in America is a theme you hear about more than once during dinner with Tami Longaberger, the CEO of Ohio-based Longaberger, a company that made its name selling baskets but became a tourism destination and vast empire build upon U.S. manufacturing.
Tami's father, not much of a golfer himself (she remembers him coming home one day without his clubs – he'd thrown them in a river), saw the busloads of women coming to shop and watching baskets being manufactured at his factory about an hour from Columbus, Ohio. Figuring all those women (and they estimate a quarter of a million would visit a year) had husbands who might prefer to golf than to shop, and with a basket fortune waiting to be spent, he set out to build Longaberger Golf Club.
For golfers everywhere – with wives and without – it's a good thing Mr. Longaberger had that vision.
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Spread across a massive 350 acres, Longaberger Golf Club is grand in every aspect, even before walking to the first tee.
The sprawling clubhouse that overlooks the rolling property sets the tone for the day. It's the most upscale rustic building you'll ever step foot in, with soaring ceilings and phenomenal views, of the landscape, especially at sunset.
Then there's a practice facility that dwarfs any this golf nut has seen. Multiple short game areas and a multi-tiered grass driving range should offer a hint of what's to come. Space is in abundance at Longaberger.
Pick any synonym you'd like for big and it will apply to the golf course Arthur Hills built on property Mr. Longaberger purchased virtually sight unseen. Without any parallel fairways, every hole feels like it's the only one on earth. And thanks to vast, wide fairways, massive bunkers that frame shots as much as they impact them and epic green complexes that offer pure putting surfaces and require true imagination, Longaberger is a challenge that won't leave you feeling beaten down at the end.
The trend in golf, especially modern golf, is to build long, longer and longest courses. Longaberger is no slouch, stretching past 7,200 yards from the tips. But unlike some designers who feel they need to penalize harshly, Hills – a world-renowned architect based in Toledo, Ohio - works his magic subtly. Yes, a poor shot will require extra effort to get back into position, but one bad swing typically won't ruin a hole. In other words, he'll make you try to bomb your driver, but if you're slightly off, you'll be facing a few extra clubs into the green, rather than finding your ball at the bottom of a ditch.
Hills' design is also remarkable in how little earth he moved in the construction of Longaberger. The layout feels natural and flowing, and it's not surprising to learn that only 390,000 cubic yards of dirt were moved, with 220,000 of that to build the tees and greens.He took what the land offered and sculpted golf onto that terrain, and the result is a tough, yet enjoyable round of golf that will rank among the best in the country. In the 2011 Golf Digest ranking of "Greatest Public Golf Courses in America" Longaberger lands No. 56, ahead of such big name Tour venues (and even some major championship hosts) such as PGA West, Pumpkin Ridge, The Links at Spanish Bay and Las Vegas destination course Cascata.
Once the round is over, Longaberger's spectacular clubhouse becomes the star. It pulls off the impossible by being massive and cozy at the same time, rustic yet upscale. Thanks to those stories-high ceilings and lots of woodwork, it takes on the feel of the most luxurious cabin you've ever stepped foot inside.
A full service locker room as you would find at a private club awaits, and a dining room with sunset views you'd expect to see photoshopped onto a postcard is there for your enjoyment. As for the food, it shines. One dish sure to delight is the grilled fresh scarlet snapper, with a light sauce of olive oil, tomatoes, garlic, spinach and green olives, served over perfectly cooked al dente linguini. It got two thumbs up all around the table. Given its place in the heartland of the nation, you also can't go wrong with steak, with several on the menu, including a chef recommended Delmonico served with a house special steak butter.
Longaberger built its name through its baskets and the millions of women (and some men) who flocked to central Ohio to watch the handiwork of their factory workers through the years. Just as strong as their brand of home goods has been, for a golfer who has played the course, it will be hard to hear the name Longaberger and not think of that wonderful Arthur Hills design rolling through the hills of Nashport, Ohio. It's likely not on your current bucket list, but take this advice: It should be. Find a reason to get to Longaberger, it's classically grand golf built in the modern era and is sure to rank among the best you'll ever play.
Where to stay
Longaberger Golf Club is located just under an hour's drive from Columbus, Ohio. The best hotel option is the Cherry Valley Lodge in Newark, Ohio. Once you step inside, you'll realize exactly why they call it a lodge. Hearty wooden beams, a large common area and interesting design makes Cherry Valley warm and comfortable. Many rooms include a separate bedroom with a living room, kitchenette and a large bathroom with whirlpool tub.
The property also features a beautiful garden, managed by a staff arborist, with running fountains and a peaceful place to have a drink in the evening, or dinner on the patio. With a water park, workout facilities and a business center, Cherry Valley Lodge is ideal for golfers on a getaway, business travelers or families.
While you're there
A fun and entertaining round of golf awaits at EaglesSticks Golf Club in Zanesville, Ohio. While it's short (6,500 yards from the tips that plays shorter than that), the holes are interesting and thought provoking. EagleSticks effectively walks the fine line between quirky and exciting, with sharp elevation changes, player-friendly fairway mounding and some really strong par 3s. EagleSticks has garnered its own accolades, including a one-time spot as the top ranked public access facility in the state of Ohio in Golf Digest's 1994 listings, and remains in the Top 10 Ohio public courses today.
EagleSticks and Longaberger offer the "9-star package" which bundles a round at each course and an overnight stay for well less than $200. The deal is named after the remarkable 4.5 star rankings of both EagleSticks and Longaberger.