The best public golf courses you can play in Columbus, Ohio

So you’re in Dublin, Ohio, for Jack’s event, the Memorial, which is conducted on one of the best golf courses in America and arguably Nicklaus’ best golf course. It’s tough to watch golf out there and not get the bug to play, but finding anything that measures up to private Muirfield Village will be impossible.

That’s not to say, of course, there’s not quality golf in the Columbus area. In fact, it may be a little underrated. There are more than a few good golf courses in the area — and some things to do as well — to put together a nice little golf vacation.

You could start or end with the Jack Nicklaus Museum to further get your golf juices flowing, grab a fairly authentic German meal, then hit the links. Here are a few suggestions:

Start with Virtues Golf Club

About 40 minutes east of Columbus in Nashport is Virtues Golf Club, ranked among the top 60 daily fees in the country and arguably the top public golf course in Ohio.

The course opened about 15 years ago to rave reviews and is one of Arthur Hills’ best designs. There are rolling hills, great views, impeccable conditions and holes that are just plain fun.

It’s also a bargain. When the course first opened about 15 years ago, there was so much demand that green fees ran north of $100, but today you can play it for $59 or less. Virtues also offers golf packages, hooking up with local hotels or the arboretum resort, Cherry Valley about 15 minutes away. And you can also pair your golf with another decent design, the Mike Hurdzan/Dana Fry-designed EagleSticks Golf Club in Zanesville. This hilly golf course has all kinds of cool angles, memorable par 3s and a very friendly staff.

Another club in the area worth checking out is Foxfire Golf Club, a 36-hole facility designed by Hurdzan and Jack Kidwell. The club, which is located just south of Columbus in Lockbourne, features two distinctly different golf courses — the Foxfire Course and the newer Players Club, where the par-5 eighth has the longest sand bunker in the Midwest.

Or check out Royal American Links Golf Club in Galena, just northeast of Columbus. The course pays homage to the seaside links of Scotland, which is also reflected in the architecture of the clubhouse. The biggest difference, however, is that this course has water on nearly hole.

And also, even though it’s private, it’s worth mentioning that if you can get on the Scarlet Course at Ohio State University, do it. Home of a Nationwide Tour event and perennial host of big-time college golf, this Alister MacKenzie course (renovated by OSU’s own Nicklaus in 2005) is all it’s cracked up to be.

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Columbus’ fine municipal golf system

One avenue worth checking out is Columbus’ municipal system, which is one of the better ones in the country, considering the size of the city. Columbus has six of them, including the superb Champions Golf Course, which is one of just three Robert Trent Jones-designed golf courses in the country.

In fact, the Champions Course is one of two RTJ courses in the municipal system. The Raymond Memorial Course, also a muni, was also designed by RTJ. And in case you’re curious, the third RTJ course in Ohio is the private Firestone Country Club in Akron, so they’re in pretty good company.

Located on the northeast side of town, Champions Golf Course is an upscale and challenging muni with its superb conditioning, hilly terrain, doglegs, undulating greens and mature trees. The 6,900-yard Raymond Memorial has a unique feature with its twin, par-3 holes, which are parallel to each other, allowing faster groups to play through slower groups if need be.

The four other courses include Airport Golf Course — designed by Jack Kidwell and Michael Hurdzan and located on the grounds of Port Columbus International Airport, where airplane patterns for landing and taking-off occur right above your head — and Turnberry Golf Course, another Hills design.

Turnberry has a links feel to it with heather grasses, deep bunkers and elevated greens. Kidwell designed the other two courses, Mentel Memorial Golf Course and Wilson Road Golf Course.

The Nicklaus experience

The Jack Nicklaus Museum, located in the heart of The Ohio State University sports complex in Nicklaus’ hometown of Columbus, is a 24,000-square-foot educational and historical facility.

It’s an opportunity to really get to know the remarkable career of the Golden Bear. The museum includes trophies, photographs and hundreds of other mementos from his career that included 20 major champions and 100 worldwide professional victories.

Besides the stuff on Nicklaus, there’s also an extensive exhibit on the Ohio State golf teams’ histories and the school’s turf program, a section on the Memorial Tournament and the history of the game and the other legends of golf going back to Scotland, Bobby Jones, Babe Zaharias and, of course, Arnold Palmer, just to name a few.

And finally, before or after you visit the museum, you’ll be undoubtedly hungry, so here’s a suggestion: Head over to Schmidt’s Restaurant and Banquet Haus in Columbus’ famous German Village. But you might want to get a small snack first. Because there’s almost always a wait, but it’s well worth it, just for the atmosphere alone, if nothing else.

A registered historic site, the restaurant is a trip back to Germany, although over the last 120 years, the traditional bratwurst, sauerkraut and other German dishes have taken on their own regional flair.

Of course, there’s plenty of beer to be had as well in this Oktoberfest atmosphere, where the help wears German costumes. While you’re waiting for your table or after dinner, be sure to stroll around the different shops in the area for a dessert item or a gift to take home.