‘The Fried Egg’ Highlights Two Cleveland Metroparks Courses as National Candidates for Overhaul

On Tuesday, founder and writer Andy Johnson and managing editor Garrett Morrison posted a brand new list to their architecture-focused golf website, The Fried Egg.

Their story and list are entitled “America’s Great Remaining Golf Course Restoration Opportunities” with the sub-head “A Sweet 16 of Courses We’d Love to See Restored to Their Original Glory“.

The story references some milestone restorations recently completed by world-famous architects at golden-age golf courses like Pinehurst #2, Los Angeles CC, Yale, Oakland Hills. It then speculates on what other courses in America might benefit most from a full-blown return to the vision of their original architects.

Some of the courses that made the list of the 16 best restoration candidates are World Top-100 properties: Augusta National, Pebble Beach, Riviera, TPC Sawgrass, Bethpage Black, Eastlake.

But then a surprise: at No. 10 on their list is the Cleveland Metroparks’ Sleepy Hollow Golf Course in Brecksville, with a side reference to the Manakiki Golf Course as well.

Taken from the story:

10. Sleepy Hollow Golf Course (Brecksville, Ohio)

Original architect: Stanley Thompson, 1924

Between Sleepy Hollow, designed by Stanley Thompson, and Manakiki, designed by Donald Ross, Cleveland Metroparks is sitting on a gold mine. Sleepy in particular is one of the finest municipal courses in the U.S. despite decades of neglect. While Thompson is an icon of golf architecture in his native country of Canada, he has a relatively small profile in the States, so Sleepy Hollow could serve as a great, accessible introduction to his brilliance.

Aerial view of Sleepy Hollow Golf Course, Brecksville
An aerial view of Sleepy Hollow Golf Course in Brecksville, Ohio.

In addition to the story itself, there are a sizable number of comments on Twitter from golfers both local and scattered across the nation, all weighing in on Sleepy Hollow and Manakiki.

Local scratch amateur George Smiltins posted early on, “@clevemetroparks let’s do it! You already gave Acacia back to nature. How about bringing in someone who knows what they are doing and starting small at Manakiki or SH? Not every day you see your courses on a list with Augusta, Pebble, Riv…”

Hockey player Mark Brower weighed in with, “Sleepy is a perfect example of modern green speeds being too fast for golden age design. Playing it the day of the club championship with double cut and rolled greens was the least fun I had on a golf course all year.”

Clevelander @RickyLegumes said, “Please restore Sleepy and Manakiki! Cleveland could become a true destination of muni/public golf.”

Another Clevelander, Steve Fritsch, stated, “Cleveland Metroparks is sitting on a gold mine. Sleepy in particular is one of the finest municipal courses in the U.S. Would love to see @clevemetroparks be able to restore Sleepy Hollow & Manakiki to the original architects’ visions. How about it @CEO_CleMetParks? Doable?”

Robert Baker noted, “I would love love love love LOVE to see Sleepy and Manakiki fixed. Guy in the pro shop at Manakiki seemed to have no clue what I was talking about. It’d be nice if @clevemetroparks understood what they had…”

Claimed @PHXLivin, “Most people don’t understand the brilliance of Sleepy and Manakiki. They’re so good and metro parks owned. They could both be epic.”

On the flip side, a couple of Twitter commenters offered contrarian viewpoints.

Columbus’ @MarkInColumbo said, “I played Sleepy Hollow earlier this year and it was fantastic. You could have played an Ohio Am there the next day and I’m not sure over par wouldn’t win. And I played it wet. (Though trees need to be taken out on the par 5 on the back and the branch on 17 is absurd).”

Pepe Silvia commented, “I really don’t think Manakiki needs much work. Sleepy Hollow would be a major undertaking, as any real restoration would have to involve the canyon on 14.” (See this reference)

And local resident Pete Pappas, who plays Manakiki a lot, stated, “To the extent they can enhance original character of this classic course, yes. Kiki already has great turf and greens, tees for most players, and excellent variety and balance. The cart paths don’t bother me like a few others. And no way want to see any wholesale tree removal.”

Manakiki Golf Course
The 18th green at the Donald Ross designed Manakiki Golf Course in Willoughby Hills.

To his credit, The Fried Egg’s Andy Johnson understands and clearly states the realities of fully restoring a municipally-owned golf course.

“The problem is that many of these facilities are public-access and rely on green fees from daily play, so they would face significant business risk if they were to close down for construction. Private clubs that collect monthly dues from members find it far easier to rope off a few holes, or all 18, and carry out an ambitious master plan. The result is that many of the most tantalizing restoration opportunities left in American golf today are at public courses, often government-owned ones.”

Damian Cosby, Cleveland Metroparks Director of Golf OperationsWhen asked about The Fried Egg story and the resulting Twitter opinions, Cleveland Metroparks Director of Golf Operations Damian Cosby, PGA, took the ideas in stride — with one exception.

“I disagree wholeheartedly with the writer’s assertion that Sleepy Hollow has had ‘decades of neglect’. That’s just not true factually,” said Cosby. “I wonder if or when he has ever played the golf course personally.”

“I’m a big fan of classic architecture, a big fan of Stanley Thompson and Donald Ross,” Cosby continued. “We’re constantly aware of the historical nature of these properties when we’re making improvements, and we’ve made many in the last few years.”

“But as to the focus of their story, an all-out restoration to the original Thompson plans isn’t in the cards at the moment.”

Manakiki 10th green
The 10th green at Manakiki Golf Course.

Personally, as someone who has played both courses casually and competitively for many years, my own reaction to the idea that Sleepy Hollow or Manakiki should be “restored” to the original vision of each architect leaves me scratching my head.

If the calls are for a strict return to designs and construction looks from the 1920s, then my preference is no. Just because something was built a certain way 100 years ago doesn’t mean that going back to that look and feel is somehow better. Sometimes improvements really are improvements.

Trees grow. Land forms and maintenance patterns change. Equipment (both for playing and mowing) gets better. And both golf courses host significantly more rounds now than they did when they were first built, a reality that has to be considered.

Yes, it can be a good idea to review as many plans, notes and photos as can be found from the original designs and routings. (The Metroparks has rudimentary layouts believed to be from Thompson, and detailed hand-written plans from Ross.) If those design ideas make sense for a modern public course golf, and if the changes can be made affordably and without a major disruption to on-going play, then implementing them should be given consideration.

But in many ways, a lot of this restoration work has been done already. Over the last several years, Cleveland Metroparks Golf has removed many unnecessary trees and nearly all of the overgrown scrub that hampered play at both golf courses. They’ve reworked and rebuilt a number of bunkers. They’ve cleaned up the existing tee boxes and added a few new ones to lengthen both courses, which maintains the original hole strategies. Plus, they’ve added significant irrigation and drainage which has greatly improved conditioning.

More importantly, Superintendents Chad Lewanski at Sleepy Hollow and Bill Roeder at Manakiki have bettered the turf conditions of the fairways and greens during their time at their respective helms. The results have gotten to the point that these courses are tournament-ready just about every day of the season.

And let’s remember, these layouts and conditions are provided at 18-hole rates from $34 to $44 walking. A wholesale restoration would cost serious money, meaning those rates would have to go up.

Now, can these two golf courses be made even better still? Sure, of course. Nearly every golf course can be improved in some way, always, in perpetuity.

But those improvements should be made incrementally, just as they have been made for the last several years.

Because making incremental improvements has worked well for Sleepy Hollow and Manakiki. The public course rankings lists from America’s top golf magazines and websites confirms it. And so do its frequent players.

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