LEBANON, Ohio -- Southern Ohio isn't a golf destination with lavish resorts and great golf courses, but there are several courses that can thrill any player.
The crown jewel of the greater Cincinnati public scene is Shaker Run Golf Club, a championship 27-hole complex about a 45 minute drive from the home of the Bengals and Reds in a quaint farming town just off of Interstate 75.
The course's symbol, the Shaker's Tree of Life, represents "reverence, delight in nature and good spirits." Shaker Run certainly backs that up with its playing conditions and its service.
Shaker Run opened as a private club in 1979 and opened the course to the public on March 1, 1994. Michael Hurdzan, the 1997 Golf World Architect of the Year, opened a third nine, the Meadows, in 2000, so more players could enjoy this experience.
The original 18-hole combination, the Arthur Hills-designed Woodlands and Lakeside, is ranked by Golf Digest as the 21st-best course in the state, and No. 6 among public golf courses in Ohio.
Surrounded by flat farmland and cornfields, Shaker Run features rolling hills and wondrous elevation changes that one wouldn't expect from the Ohio terrain. Players love the challenge.
"I like the fact that none of the holes are the same," golfer Ron Hodel said of the Woodside-Lakeside combination. "They are all interesting and challenging. The course plays with elevation, sand traps, doglegs and water. There is always something to play around. There is no typical shot and that makes it fun."
The Woodlands starts off with a dynamite 557-yard par 5. After driving from an elevated tee to a generous landing area, the fairway climbs uphill, making it a three-shot hole.
The third hole, a 420-yard par 4, is a great golf hole, but the club needs to put a sign at the tee area, warning players what lies ahead. At about the 150-yard mark, the fairway plummets at least 100 feet to reveal the green, guarded in front by a small creek and a retaining wall. Long tee shots can get caught up in the rough on the side of the downhill, forcing a near-impossible approach shot.
The 203-yard par-3 fifth is another Hills' masterpiece. The skinny green sits nearly 120 feet below the tees, giving players the impression the hole plays shorter than it really does. Don't be too short, though, another creek and retaining wall lie in front.
After several tight, tree-lined tests, No. 9 opens up with an incredible, and intimidating, view. This 435-yard par 4 requires a 170-yard carry over a pond to a skinny fairway with the clubhouse in the background.
If players are fortunate enough to find dry land off the tee, their approach shot must carry the pond again to reach the green. This hole is just a warm-up to the appropriately-named "Lakeside" nine.
The second Lakeside hole is a downhill, 165-yard par 3 over another pond. If players go long, a bunker in back will make your second shot back toward the water just as unnerving as the tee shot.
One would think the second-shortest par 4 on the course wouldn't be one of its highest handicap holes, but that's exactly what No. 3 is. It plays just 383 yards from the tips, but placing an uphill tee shot between three fairway bunkers is always tough. More greenside bunkers also require accurate irons.
The finishing holes are fantastic. The lake comes into play behind the greens at No. 7 (424-yard par 4) and No. 8 (499-yard par 5). The fairway on No. 8 snakes along back and forth until dropping downhill to the green, which is tucked behind a mound and a tree, not to mention several bunkers.
No. 9 is a test of your power. The more water you can carry off the tee, the closer you can get to the hole of this 420-yard par 4. The water stays in play up the entire left side until the hole.
The Meadows is the longest of the three nines at 3,560 yards, but it might also be the most forgiving, without the tree trouble of the Woodlands or the water damage of the Lakeside. The toughest hole, the 457-yard second, bends left. Each nine has a distinct personality that can get any golfers' juices jumping.
"You have some short holes and you have some long ones, so you use every club in your bag," Hodel said. "That I like."
What's not to like about this place? Shaker Run continues to improve every year. In the spring of 2000, it opened a new 20,000-square-foot clubhouse.
The state-of-the-art building boasts a Titleist Performance Center, huge locker rooms for men and women, a large pro shop, a banquet-ballroom and meeting-conference facilities, along with formal and casual indoor and outdoor dining.