If this isn’t the hardest golf course in Ohio, I’d love to see what is.

Thunder Hill is an absolute beast from the tips (7,504 yards, 152 slope rating), a beast from the members’ tees (6,866 yards, 144 slope rating), and most likely a beast from the seniors (6,003 yards, 128 slope rating), where, to be honest, I really should play the course from next time if I want to keep $30 worth of balls in my bag for another round.  See, it’s not that Thunder Hill is just tight and narrow, or that it’s on an old fish hatchery leaving pot bunker sized lakes about everywhere your ball might land, or even that the greens are so severe that any putt not struck with the proper speed will require a chip to get back close…it’s all of that designed by a machoist who decided that every par 3 and par 5 should either be ridiculously long or ridiculously protected and every par 4 be short but have a tee shot that’ll make your knees buckle just looking out to the fairway.

There’s no way around it, Thunder Hill requires your finest effort.  If you don’t bring it or are spraying it, that fresh dozen of ProV1’s won’t get you to the turn.  Trust me…I know from experience*.

*only my dozen lost were a box of Callaway ix’s back when they first came out and a box of Srixon ZURC’s the next time until I realized that maybe, just maybe, 3w would be a better option off the tee in most cases.

Lets start at the beginning, shall we?

The first hole is a long par 4 dogleg right with water in front of the dogleg, daring you to cut it, and trees on the left.  Hit it left, you’re looking at AT LEAST a bogey.  Hit it right and you’re challenging deep rough, a deep, wide fairway bunker and the aforementioned water.  Say you hit it in the fairway…good for you*!  Then you have an approach shot that narrows to the point where it looks like you’re staring into a funnel with trees all around you, hitting into a green protected by tricky bunkers and a green that slopes hard from back to front.

*Every time I’ve been to Thunder Hill (at least 10 times), I’ve seen at least one member of the group in front be so intimidated by all the trouble they top it right into the lake in front of the tee boxes.  Without fail.

The 3rd hole is a bitch of a par 3 that has about a 100 yard lake from the front of the green to the end of the tee boxes.  It also has this annoying habit of not having a bunch of trees behind the green, despite the rest of the hole being completely treelined, and you have this wonderful clusterfuck of a wind tunnel that will no doubt send a wonderful 10-30 mph wind gusting into your face.  There’s water all in front, water behind about half of the green on the left that you can’t see from the tee and a steep, almost 90 degree face of rough behind.

I’ve hit two memorable shots here…one was a 7-iron from the members’ tees that was one of the best swings I’ve ever put on a ball, and the other a 4-iron from the 2nd farthest set that was exactly what I was trying to do.  Both times I came within a yard of having a damn good shot at birdie, both times I didn’t get my ball back.  In short…fuck this hole.

A word of advice…use that scuffed Nike Pro Distance you found during your last round that you didn’t hit into the woods.

There the 8th, a 550+ yard par 5 that’s a 3 shooter, no if’s, and’s or but’s.  You can’t hit driver because there’s a river about 20 yards wide sitting there at about 300 yards (and it’s a tight fairway), which wouldn’t normally be an issue except for the fact that the fucking fairway slopes hard towards the water.  Anything about 270 out is probably catching that ridge, and if you’re lucky enough to play it after a rainstorm, you MIGHT just be lucky enough to stay on the fairway.

But probably not…if the overgrown rough doesn’t catch it, the water will.  I’ve seen a buddy (a bomber) mash a perfectly drawn driver out there…I mean this thing was PERFECT.  We find the ball mark on the fairway about 310 yards out and then see a nice line in the dew and my buddy’s ball sitting up against this fucking rock in the river (a shitty range ball too…this guy is eccentric, for lack of a better term…he’s one of the most impressive ball strikers I’ve ever witnessed up close, a dude who only carries 11 clubs in his bag because he hits his 4 iron 230 and a putter with the grip shoved 45 degrees to the left.  If he ever focused and really practiced and worked his ass off, I have no doubt he’d have the game to play on a minitour.  Josh and AC…you know Todd).

Anyways, I’m rambling…say you find the fairway, then you have a severely uphill 340ish yards left with bunkers in the fairway where you’d love to lay up, long fescue on the left and a tree lined lake on the right.  Then you play a 3rd to a perched green with steep faced bunkers all around and nothing but trees behind, where you’d have to face a green that slopes hard from back to front.

Blah blah blah…bunch of really, stupidly hard holes…enough of this.

The par 3’s are fantastic.  Aside from the one already mentioned, there’s a 240 yard, uphill behemoth where one of my friends who’s probably one of the worst golfers I know nuked a 5-wood to about 10 feet (and 4-putted for a double), an extremely narrow, tree lined 170 yard classic and a green precariously perched on a peninsula.

The par 4’s are shortish, but extremely challenging.  They flow with the course…at first, they’re long and brutal and then become shorter, but narrower.  This course really fucks with your head, man, and nothing illustrates that quite like a couple of the teeboxes on the back 9, where you go to your tees and look around for the fairway because it seems like you’re completely surrounded by trees.  We all know Augusta’s 18th, with it’s tree line fairways that creates almost a red carpet effect on Sunday, well Thunder Hill takes that theme to the extreme, forcing you to hit through extremely tiny windows, trusting you hit a good drive, into narrow, tree lined fairways with water around all the landing areas.

Forget the rest of your game, if you don’t drive the ball well, with either a driver or 3w, you’re done for.  I’ve had some wonderful iron striking rounds at Thunder Hill and seen 90’s on the scorecard and a bag with only a couple balls left in there because I just couldn’t put it in play.  You can’t play that semi-controlled banana slice that you (read: me) call a “power fade” because it’ll hit a tree and you’re fucked.

When I say there’s water everywhere, I mean it.  There’s not a hole without at least one body of water and most of the greens and tee shots feature some sort of hydrogen oxygen mileau just waiting for your ball the minute you pick up your tee after a good drive.  It’s fucking obnoxious, man…I swear.  Even when you think you hit it into a bunch of trees, the second you drive closer, you see that and say, “oh hey!  Fucking great…a tree lined lake!  This is EXACTLY what I needed!”

A lot of courses brag that they’re the toughest course in the world, and frankly, I’m not well traveled enough to dispute their claims, but know this…regardless of ranking, regardless of pretige, Thunder Hill HAS to rank up there with the rest of the other supreme tests of pure golf.  The slope rating must be ridiculously high as the fairways and greens all feature extreme angles and severe drop offs and there are elevation changes everywhere, from a 100 foot drop off the 17th box to the par 5 detailed above that’s uphill save for a slick dropoff to the river in the middle of the landing area.

And it’s in that last sentence where we find the word that best describes Thunder Hill…extreme.  It seems that every element of the golf course is stretched to its very limits creating a course that creates a rollercoaster atmosphere.  I’m not sure if Thunder Hill is the hardest golf course in Ohio, hell, I’m not sure it even registers nationally, but if this is masochist golf, this is masochist golf done right.  Anyone can make a hard golf course, but to make a hard golf course that leaves you absolutely exhilarated when your round is done isn’t easy, but something designer Fred Slagle accomplished here.

After your round at Thunder Hill, you’re hurting, but you can’t wait to get back there and ride the rollercoaster again, and really, can anyone ask for more?  That’s why we golf.  That’s why we chase this little fucking ball around finely manicured lawns.  We relish in the accomplishments in the face of the most difficult tasks and we get inspired in spite of a lost ball.  I don’t care if Kiawah Island or Winged Foot or Oakmont has more acclaim, Thunder Hill is a fantastic course, at a fraction of what you’d pay the CADDIES at any of those places*.

So, anyone who wants to get their asses kicked, feel free to shoot us an email.  We’d love to show you around Thunder Hill and show you where exactly your ball went into the water.  Just bring an extra dozen.

*Thunder Hill has a terrible reputation and is a good hike outside of suburban Cleveland.  I say it has a terrible reputation, not because of the conditions (which are fantastic…great maintenance) or the distance (only 45 minutes and extremely easy to find) but because it’s just so fucking hard.  How much did we pay last time we went out there?

Get ready to pick your jaw up off the ground.

18 and a cart…$18.

(Thanks to golfclevelandohio.com for the pics)

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