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August 04, 2011

Maumee? Black Swamp? Six holes? One of the best ever

Posted at 3:08 PM by Gary Van Sickle | Categories: Top 100 Courses in the U.S. and World

MAUMEE, Ohio -- I hate to nitpick but there is clearly a course missing from every Top 100 Course list I've seen.

Naturally, I'm referring to the Maumee Sports Mall Par 3 Challenge Course located right next to the Ohio Turnpike in suburban Toledo.

Luckily, thanks to my network of inside connections, I was able to secure a tee time at the Maumee Sports Mall Par 3 Challenge Course on the Sunday morning of the U.S. Senior Open's final round. That, and the $6 greens fee, enabled me to be the only player on the course.

Sure, when most people think of Maumee, they think of its Great Black Swamp from the 1800s that served as a major deterrent to settlers heading West. The swamp was slowly drained during the latter half of the century, creating some good farmland before finally -- the ultimate achievement in landscaping -- producing this course.

The first obvious reason why it's a Top 100 Course is that it's next to a major expressway. No offense to the Indiana Toll Road but the Ohio Turnpike is a clearly one of America's Big Four Pikes.

Second, the Par 3 Challenge Course has only six holes. For ages, courses have been bound to the silly and perhaps outdated tradition of 18 holes, or even nine holes. Six is a far better number. If you really need 18, just go around three times. Or play three balls per hole. It still adds up to 18. It's almost spooky how that works.

Third, having shrewdly finagled my way to the first tee, I faced a monstrous 69-yard hole back into a devilish Ohio breeze. I played two balls, opting for a less traditional 12-hole score. Again, points for originality.

The greens were tremendous. As in tremendously bad. As in so tremendously bad they were fantastic. They walked the fine line between super-slow and unputtably slow. "They were slow," I said at the time. (I've always wanted to quote myself.)

They were beyond slow. They were hairy. It appears that the pin positions are permanent so if you pace it off and draw up your own pin sheets, they'll be good forever! I didn't see any old cup marks on the greens, although they might've been difficult to spot through the spongy thatch. However, based on how badly overgrown the lips of the cups were, I'd say they're permanent. More bonus points here for letting nature take its course rather than doing some artificial trimming around the cup to keep a fine edge. These cups were as ragged as Randy Quaid and proud of it.

But unputtable? Hardly, sir. On my second ball, I made a nice shoulder turn, a good knee flex and a nice follow through and holed a 15-footer for birdie. Yes, I agree with you, it was brilliant.

That is only the half of it. The Maumee Sports Mall Par 3 Challenge Course lives up to its name -- Challenge! Not only did that magnificent birdie putt navigate what was a reasonable facsimile of how I imagine Sherwood Forest must have looked, I had to stroke it between the ant hills. Ant hills, you say? Yes. Brilliant!

This is the final reason why The Challenge at Black Swamp (my suggested new name, which is considerably sexier and could possibly lead to a 50-cent price hike) is Top-100 caliber. When you combine green speeds that I'd estimate at 2.1 on the Stimpmeter with all-natural hazards created by hard-working insects, you've got a unique challenge.

I'm guessing that to maintain the greens in this way requires a lot of work. Most courses would carelessly mow the greens on a daily basis, or perhaps every other day. I haven't studied ant behavior, so I can't say with any authority how long it takes a fleet of ants to construct an anthill that's a quarter-inch high, but I'll estimate that it's got to be five days to a week.

That's got to throw a real wrench into the Maumee Sports Mall maintenance schedule. The superintendent (I'm using that term loosely here) must have to be careful not to mow too often and thus destroy the most ingenious design hazards I've encountered since I ran into Pete Dye's Volcanic Zits (well, that's what they look like) at his spectacular resort course in French Lick, Ind.

Rather than bore you with the details of the rest of my round -- the longest hole was an intimidating 111 yards, which forced me to carry two sand wedges and a putter -- I'll simply wait until my proposed reality show based on this round comes out.

Suffice it to say that I fired a sizzling 33 (probably the two-ball course record but I didn't check in the shop) while overcoming a parade of ants reminiscent of the award-winning 1954 movie Them! I'm sure you're all familiar with this classic, so no need for me to rehash the plot. "Giant ants" says it all.

Great course, great location, great conditions, great price. Plus, the history of Maumee's Great Black Swamp lurking in every direction.

In conclusion, I urge the national course-raters to correct their oversight and include The Challenge at Black Swamp in next Top 100 rankings. Let's fight injustice.

After this memorable and possibly historic round, I stepped into an adjacent warehouse building at the Maumee Sports Mall and watched a few minutes of a girls' summer indoor soccer game.

What's that? You're right. The Maumee Sports Mall probably is the greatest place on Earth.

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