NFL football and golf: A look at the courses of the AFC North

Fall, of course, is for football. But it's also terrific for golf. The leaves start to change, the weather cools and the courses generally often look their best. Of course, if you're not a big football fan, game time is often the best time to play.

But if you are a fan, and your team is playing the early game on Sunday, schedule an early round, follow the round with a couple of cold ones in the clubhouse and watch the game.

Of course, the ultimate would be following your favorite team to away markets and taking your golf clubs. So with that in mind, we've broken down the NFL by divisions. Here's a look at the AFC North and where our readers are recommending that you play.

Baltimore Ravens

Top rated on Golf Advisor: Certainly Baltimore and the Washington, D.C. area have plenty of good golf courses between them, but if you stay on the Maryland side, you won't be disappointed, according to our readers. Among the most popular is the municipal Northwest Park Golf Course in Wheaton, Md., which features an 18-hole Ed Ault design as well as a shorter nine-hole layout.

Another popular choice is Blue Mash Golf Course and Laytonsville Golf Course, both in Laytonsville, Md. Blue Mash is an Arthur Hills design that readers gave four stars despite some drought challenges in summer 2015. Other popular choices include the University of Maryland Golf Course, a 1955 George Cobb course that Bill Love renovated in 2008, and Renditions Golf Club in Davidson. Renditions is a tribute course with holes resembling those on Amen Corner, Oakmont and the island hole on the PLAYERS Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass, just to name a few. The 6,700-yard Wetlands Golf Club in Aberdeen and Bay Hills Golf Club (another Ault design) in Arnold also scored well with readers.

Close to M&T Bank Stadium: Just five miles northeast of where the Ravens play is Clifton Park Golf Course, which opened in 1915. This 6,000-yard municipal course was designed by Gus Hook, and while it isn't overly difficult, you can't beat the background of the Baltimore skyline and Clifton Tower, where John Hopkins himself once stood with his telescope, searching the horizon for one of his many merchant ships. You also can't beat the price, which tops out at $35 for 18 holes.

Cincinnati Bengals

Top rated on Golf Advisor: Cincinnati is on the Kentucky border, separated by the Ohio River, with Indiana on the west, so quite naturally there is a lot of golf variety in the area. On the eastern edge of the city, for example, is the Arthur Hills-designed Legendary Run Golf Club, which rated at nearly four and a half stars among our readers. A little farther east in the town of Batavia is a local favorite, Stonelick Hills Golf Course, a 7,000-yard championship layout that readers rated at nearly five stars.

Just north of Cincinnati is semi-private Hamilton Elks Country Club, a classic Donald Ross course rated at more than four and a half stars. In 1995 Hamilton Elks expanded to 27 holes with a new nine (the Blue Course) by architect Michael Hurdzan. Another popular layout is the William Diddel-designed A.J. Jolly Course in Alexandria, Ky., just south of Cincinnati. Or head west just over the state border into Indiana to play the highly rated Grand Oak Golf Club in West Harrison.

Close to Paul Brown Stadium: Just five miles north of the stadium is Avon Fields Golf Course, a municipal that opened in 1924. It isn't long -- just 5,000 yards -- but it's plenty of golf and plenty convenient. Plus it's really affordable and very family friendly. You can play nine holes, in fact, for just $12.50, perfect for a morning nine before a noon game.

Cleveland Browns

Top rated on Golf Advisor: Cleveland is arguably the best city for public golf in Ohio with several courses not only rated highly by Golf Advisor but recognized as best in state as well. Among the offerings are several classic courses: Sleepy Hollow Golf Course, for example, is a Stanley Thompson design some 20 miles south of downtown in Brecksville.

And then there's the Donald Ross-duo of Hawthorne Valley in Solon and Manakiki Golf Course in Willoughby Hills. Best of all, these courses are also fairly affordable. Other highly rated layouts in the area include Shale Creek Golf Course in Medina; the 27 holes at Fowler's Mill Golf Club in Chesterland; Grantwood Golf Course in Solon; Chardon Lakes Golf Course in Chardon; Fox Creek Golf & Racquet Club in Lorain; and Fox Den Golf Course in Stowe.

Close to FirstEnergy Stadium: There's not much in the way of golf near the stadium (but there are plenty of other things to do such as the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum next door). The closest regulation course is another Thompson design, so it's certainly worth the 11-mile trip west of the stadium to Fairview Park and Big Met Golf Course, which plays around 6,500 yards from the tips. Big Met, by the way, is right next to Little Met, a 2,500-yard nine holer, also designed by Stanley Thompson. So if you're looking for a sub-two-hour round in the morning, this would be a great choice.

Pittsburgh Steelers

Top rated on Golf Advisor: Get to Pittsburgh in the early part of the season before winter starts to creep in, and you've got plenty of great choices for golf. Golf Advisor readers had high marks for plenty of courses in the area, including QuickSilver Golf Club, which is less than 10 minutes from Pittsburgh International Airport. The mid-priced, 7,000-yard championship layout has played host to numerous qualifiers as well as mini-tour events, but it's hardly the only good option in the area.

I've personally played the Madison Club in nearby Madison (about a half hour southeast of downtown) and can attest to its challenge, beauty and conditioning, and our readers agree with an average rating of four stars. And the Links at Spring Church in Apollo -- which readers say is the best value in the area -- rated at almost four and a half stars.

Other highly rated courses include Mount Odin Park Golf Course in Greensburg, Butler's Golf Course in Elizabeth, Rolling Acres in Beaver Falls, Suncrest Golf Course in Butler and The Club at Shadow Lakes in Aliquippa.

Close to Heinz Field: It's only 4,600 yards, but it doesn't get much closer than the par-67 Bob O'Connor Course at Schenley Park, which is just a couple of miles east of where the Steelers play. Designed by Mark Ormison and opened in 1902, this First Tee facility is actually the only public course within the city limits of Pittsburgh. The course is open all year, but Pittsburgh has its winter challenges, so you can bet the three indoor golf simulators on the property get plenty of use.

Mike Bailey is a former Golf Advisor senior staff writer based in Houston. Focusing primarily on golf in the United States, Canada, the Caribbean and Latin America with an occasional trip to Europe and beyond, he contributes course reviews, travel stories and features as well as the occasional equipment review. An award-winning writer and past president of Texas Golf Writers Association, he has more than 25 years in the golf industry. He has also been on staff at PGA Magazine, The Golfweek Group and AvidGolfer Magazine. Follow Mike on Twitter at @MikeBaileyGA and Instagram at @MikeStefanBailey.

Related Links

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Here's a look at where our readers recommend you play if you are heading to an NFL game this fall at the home of an NFC East team.
Here's a look at where our readers recommend you play if you are heading to an NFL game this fall at the home of an AFC South team.
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NFL football and golf: A look at the courses of the AFC North