New Albany Links Among Top New Courses of the Year

By: Mark Leslie

New Albany Links, a public golf course in New Albany, Ohio designed by Barry Serafin, proves that thoughtful and inventive earth-moving can produce a golf course at a competitive price and still garner national attention, according to its developer. "We're pretty happy about the ranking," developer Ray Graves said about Golf Digest's selection of New Albany Links as one of its Top-10 Best New Affordable Public Golf Courses for 2001. "We tried to keep the $50 green fee in mind when building the course. We were able to keep the construction costs down to $2 million. In central Ohio the competition is fierce. There are a lot of really nice upscale tracks here, and what you do in building a course translates into how much you need to charge."

Graves, who is president of four golf courses and built New Albany Links with his Columbus construction firm, Legends Golf, said that in recent years golf developers "have largely ignored the Wal-Mart and K-Mart golfer and built to attract the Nordstrom and Marshall Fields golfer. Frankly, most golfers can't afford to play those places day by day. Barry designed a great course and at an affordable cost. I think if this design was on the ocean or had mountains as a backdrop, it could have been ranked even higher than ninth place. The raters did a good job looking at it hole by hole and not at the surroundings."

New Albany Links is a cornerstone of a 600-home development, the first phase of which is being built by Toll Brothers. "This is a great golf course," agreed head pro Brent Ernsberger. "It's a challenging, spectacular layout and really forces a lot of different shots. Plus, the course conditions for our first full year of operations made it seem like you were playing a five-year-old course. The greens are L-93 bentgrass and are fabulous. But the best thing is, there are no two holes alike."

Ernsberger said Serafin's design, with mounding, water and 88 bunkers, "almost gives you a true links feel, which is not something you get in this area often. One wide bunker on the first hole stretches 70 to 80 yards. Another, on the signature 12th hole, snakes 110 yards along the fairway."

Serafin credits his working relationship with Graves with the success of New Albany Links. "We worked together on the design and strategy," he said. "Having his involvement in it brought it to another level. Here is an owner who has been in golf all his life, plays golf and knows what golfers like and enjoy.

"As both an owner and builder, Ray was even more involved directing bulldozers, overseeing irrigation . . . The links style of the course actually evolved during construction. And because he was the builder, we had no problem doing it, moving that extra dirt that I might not otherwise have done."

The design brings wetlands, lakes and bunkers into play. "On each shot," Serafin said, "even when standing on the tee, you have to look at the hole to see where to hit it so you are set up for the next shot. You don't automatically grab your driver on a par-4 or par-5. You need to look at the strategy of the hole. You might want to go with a 3-wood or 2-iron."

The USGA has given the 7,004-yard course a 73.6 rating and 133 slope from the back tees. As Graves said, "It's a tough test of golf. But we have a lot of youth play. It is home to New Albany High School and we work a lot of with other local schools, like Grandview High."

Ernsberger added that Otterbine College, which has finished runner-up in the College Division II National Championships the last two years, hosted its invitational at New Albany Links this last season, and the course has been selected as a venue for the collegiate amateur tour held by the Big Ten and Mac Conference this summer.

Serafin is no stranger to national accolades. The Players Club at Foxfire in Columbus, to which he added nine holes, is rated among the 2001 Best Places To Play in North America. And he has three other designs listed by Golf Digest as Places to Play Chapel Hill Golf Course in Bangs, The Links at Echo Springs in Johnstown, and Liberty Hills Golf Club in Bellefontaine. His Widow's Watch Golf Course in Lexington, Ky., hosted the 1999 Lexington Open on the TearDrop Golf Tour.