By: Jeff Lyttle
Scioto Country Club in Columbus, Ohio, will forever be indelibly linked with one of the greatest golfers of all time: Jack Nicklaus. It was, however, another great—Bobby Jones—who put Scioto on the golf map.
Jones came to Scioto’s then par-5 18th hole in the final round of the 1926 U.S. Open needing a birdie to win. His tee shot at 18 was perhaps his finest stroke of the tournament. “I hit that last drive with all I had,” he would later say. Writer O.B. Keeler paced off the gargantuan drive at 310 yards, leaving Jones just 170 yards to the green. As the crowd, which included Joe Turnesa, who had just finished his round with a heroic 10-foot birdie putt to recapture a share of the lead, fell to a hush, Jones’ 4-iron finished 12 feet behind the hole. Jones two-putted for birdie and walked away with his second U.S. Open.
Co-founded in 1916 by Samuel P. Bush, grandfather of George H.W. Bush, Scioto was an unlikely site for America’s most important championship. Although Donald Ross counted Scioto among his greatest designs, not many people knew about the relatively new club before the ’26 Open.
Five years later Scioto hosted the third Ryder Cup Matches. The U.S. and G.B. had split the first two matches, so the 1931 meeting was seen as the rubber match as the Ryder Cup grew in importance and popularity. The U.S., led by player-captain Walter Hagen, won 9–3. Scioto would host major in 1950, when Chandler Harper defeated Bob Toski, Lloyd Mangrum and Jimmy Demaret in successive matches on his way to the PGA Championship.
But the summer of ’50 was significant at Scioto for another reason: It’s the year 10-year-old Jack Nicklaus took up the game, under the tutelage of Scioto pro Jack Grout. Young Jack took to the game quickly, shooting 74 at the age of 12, breaking 70 one year later.
Nearly every hole at Scioto has a “Nicklaus hit it to here” or “Jack carried this creek” story. During an exhibition match in the spring of 1963. Nicklaus drove the green of the 380-yard 7th.
Scioto’s original design was considered classic Donald Ross: Greens quietly and artfully tucked into the terrain, approaches featuring gentle contours and a lay-of-the-land routing. Premiums were placed on strategy and course management.
Nonetheless, as Scioto approached its 50th year, members decided the course needed a facelift, despite the objection of those who argued that the historic value of Ross’ design outweighed the maintenance issues of the low-lying greens. Dick Wilson updated the placement of Scioto’s bunkers, lengthened and expanded several tees, raised and recontoured several greens, and reworked the problematic eighth and 17th holes.
Many great courses have been built in Columbus since Scioto opened, including Alister MacKenzie’s Scarlet course at Ohio State University, Pete Dye’s The Golf Club, Nicklaus’ Muirfield Village, and the exclusive Tom Weiskopf/ Jay Morrish gem, Double Eagle. Despite such renowned company, Scioto has not lost any of its prestige.