Sawmill Creek Resort
Sacks and clubs and rock and roll. If this is all your brain and body need, then you can scour the country for vacation sites, but you won’t do better than a trip to the comeback city of Cleveland, Ohio.
The sacks are frequently jammed with Indians and the seats with Tribe fanatics at Jacobs Field, one of the first wave of throwback stadiums to sweep major league baseball. For the first time in five years sellouts are not the rule, so seats can be had on game day. As for the music segment of your trip, the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame is no mistake by the lake. Coupled with “The Jake,” this attraction has breathed a fresh blast of vitality into what had been a stagnant city.
But the most pleasant surprise of all is about an hour’s drive down Erie coast west of Cleveland. Here, in the small town of Huron, lies one of the midwest’s finest golf resorts, Sawmill Creek. Its 18-hole championship course demands excellence in all facets of the game and provides glimpses of the region’s unheralded natural beauty.
The guest rooms are contemporary and comfortable. But it is the nerve center of the resort, Sawmill Creek’s Lodge, that is the real showstopper. In contrast to the hackneyed nautical themes one might expect from a lakeside resort, the pine-logged Lodge tastefully pays tribute to the culture of the region’s Native Americans.
Images and artifacts of the Native American lifestyle make a strong impression upon entering the resort’s lobby. It is no exaggeration to say that this is more than a reception area; it is a mini-museum. Articles like a beaded pouch that can be traced to the brother of the warrior who killed General Custer at Little Bighorn compel much more than a passing glance. Artwork depicting Native lifestyle roams freely through the lobby. “Tecumseh Falls,” a two-story-high stone wall with a waterfall, represents the Ohio natural wonder of the same name.
But you’re here for golf and you’ll be glad you are. Designed by Tom Fazio, Sawmill Creek’s layout presents several imaginative holes that will linger your memory long after your round is over.
The course starts off with a couple of well-carpentered, if unspectacular par 4s, which are designed to move play quickly along. The first of several great par 5s is the dogleg left third, whose fairway narrows imperceptibly, but dangerously, all the way to a green which allows peeks at Lake Erie through a smattering of multi-gabled condos.
The “Golfer Responsible for Property Damage” sign to the left of the tee box on the tight par 4 4th will give pause to pulling out your driver. A sharp dogleg left leading to a redan green will challenge approach shots. Proximity to the pin is crucial here, so better to rely on wedges than long irons.
Park your cart on a small bridge overlooking an inlet marina and march to the back tees on the par 3 5th hole. A creek runs down the entire right side of the hole, requiring that your drive hold its line all the way to the green. There’s a bailout area left, but the chip to the elevated and crowned green is quite delicate.
The other par 3 on the front nine puts the awe in awesome. It is 188 yards from the upper deck tees to an even more elevated green and en route your drive must travel over a pond, a 20-foot embankment and another couple of feet of bulkheading. What’s more this all-or-nothing tee shot plays into prevailing westerly winds. Driver, certainly, and it needs to be hit on the screws.
The back nine starts out similar to the front with straight, tree-lined par 4s that are somewhat permissive of erratic shots. But there’s a lot to be concerned about on the par 5 12th. 568 yards from the tips, this beautiful hole plays along a nature preserve to the left and a stone-banked lily pond presided over by weeping willows to the right. The green is a picture of tranquility, with a log-strewn pond lying just beyond its back edges.
The 13th is yet another magnificent par 3, which is all carry to the green, 171 yards away. If you plunk one in the drink, however, you’ll still be rewarded, particularly if you’re a nature lover and might enjoy spying a turtle colony mucking around the banks. Perhaps taking after the pond’s denizens, the extremely narrow green occupies the shape of a turtle shell, brushing shots off the putting surface that are not hit dead center.
The claustrophobic tee box on the par 4 14th is merely ten yards in width between trees and the chute barely widens until you’re 140 yards out in the fairway. As with most of the fairways, this one is bounded by loosely scattered red maples and red pines. Though not thickly wooded, you’ll be playing from your hands and knees if you happen to nestle by the trunks of one of the pines.
Another unnervingly narrow tee-shot comes from the 16th. Framed by ponds left and right and a swamp behind, you’ll want a camera and a portable tape recorder to capture the symphony of chirps from the redwing blackbirds and finches darting about the scenic wetlands.
This very pretty course does have a couple of slight demerits. There is no driving range, only a warm-up net by the first tee. And there’s precious little to see of Lake Erie, in spite of the layout meandering along its shores.
As a whole the course is quite remindful of our Montauk Downs: It plays alongside a large body of water which is palpable, but not manifest. The holes are highly distinctive and the terrain effortlessly includes creeks, ponds and elevation changes. The off-shore breezes, as at Montauk, can play havoc, particularly in the afternoon and Fazio’s routing is alert to nature’s caprices.
Of course, a stay at a top resort demands a top restaurant and Sawmill Creek delivers. The main dining room is called Salmon Run and features terrific filet mignon and excellent regional fresh fish like perch and wall-eyed pike. The entertainment is a real throwback with lounge bands performing top 40 circa 1978. You’d be excused for half-expecting Bill Murray to pop out crooning, “Star Wars, nothing but Star Wars . . . “
But isn’t a trip out of town about not just travelling to a different place, but a different time as well?