Firestone Country Club South Course Review

50 Words or Less

The Firestone Country Club South Course is a must-play for golf lovers.  An exemplar of “tough but fair.”  Even if you’ve seen it dozens of times on TV, walking it is entirely different.  A chance to play where every great has.

Introduction

Golfers around my age associate Firestone’s South Course with one person – Tiger Woods.  His 8 wins in 16 starts is hard to believe.  But Firestone’s history of hosting professional golf tournaments stretches all the way back to 1954.  Regardless of your age or favorite golfer, playing the South Course is an opportunity to recreate legendary shots and make lasting memories of your own.  Thanks to Firestone’s stay and play packages, this opportunity is now open to anyone.

Learn about Firestone’s North Course HERE

Practice Facilities

The practice facilities at Firestone Country Club are excellent.  In one contiguous area, you’ll find a large putting green, enormous driving range, and a short game area.  The putting green is large enough to accommodate numerous golfers and to practice as long a putt as you’ll find on the South Course.  The driving range has a large swath of artificial turf as well as grass hitting areas.  There are five target greens to keep your warm up focused.

When you’re playing the South Course, the first tee is in view from the practice area.  You can get loose until the group in front tees off, then take the short stroll to the tee.

Finally, Firestone has a nine-hole putting course that’s illuminated at night.  Unlike the putting courses at other destinations, this one is actually a wonderful way to prepare for the round.  Of course, it’s also a great place to simply hang out in the evening with a beverage.

Customer Service & Amenities

Firestone’s long, storied history is one of the things that separates it from other destinations.  What brings that history to life are the many employees who have been at Firestone for multiple decades.  Whether it’s your bartender or your caddy, it’s easy to find someone who will share priceless stories.

Whether they’ve been at Firestone for thirty years or thirty minutes, the staff is uniformly committed to making the guest experience great.  Everyone we encountered on our visit was friendly, outgoing, and willing to go out of their way to meet our needs.  I also want to strongly recommend taking a caddy, specifically Terry, Chris, or Quin, who were essential to our rounds.

On a less warm but still important note, the carts at Firestone have some of the best GPS systems I’ve encountered.  The color touchscreens show a flyover of the hole as you pull up, then a satellite view.  As you approach the green, a Golf Logix green map appears, something I’ve never seen before.  If you’re playing without a caddy, this will save you strokes.

Lodging

You may have assumed that Firestone Country Club was available only to members, but their courses are open to anyone through Stay & Play packages.  There are two options for lodging: the Villas and the Club Rooms.

The Villas are located around the property, often with stellar views of the course.  Each Villa contains several individual rooms and a common room upstairs (above).  The common rooms have a TV, pool table, poker table, as well as a kitchen.  Firestone will even cater private meals to your group in your common room.  Additionally, the common rooms open to large, elevated decks.  The Villas are perfect for groups that want a private place to hang out pre and post round.

As good as the Villas are, my preference is for the Club Rooms.  These rooms are located on the second story of the clubhouse, inside the men’s locker room.  This gives you unlimited access to the fitness center and the locker room bar.  Spending the night in the Firestone locker room makes you feel like a kid locked inside a toy store, especially with the limited number of rooms.  The vibes you get hanging out with other golf junkies in the locker room bar are simply exquisite.

No matter which option you choose, Firestone’s staff goes all-out to make your stay comfortable and memorable.  They offer shuttles to the airport and can arrange any additional activity you may want, such as a trip to the Football Hall of Fame in nearby Canton.  They’re also opening a Big Shot Golf at the Firestone Nine (their public course) so you can swing, eat, and drink late into the night.

Dining

The food at Firestone is outstanding, among the best I’ve had at any golf destination.  With three distinct dining locations, it’s reasonable to argue that there’s even more variety in the food than there is in the golf.

On the clubhouse’s second story, you’ll find the 55th Hole Bar.  As the name suggests, this is a great place to relax post-round.  Among its best features are the rocking chairs on the balcony that let you watch golfers come up the 9th hole of the South Course.

You’re likely to eat the majority of your meals at the 1929 Grille and Legacy Pavillion.  This indoor/outdoor restaurant has staples like club sandwiches and hamburgers, but they also have more unusual options like a meatball loaf parmesan sandwich.  I give that sandwich high marks, but you should save it for post-round.

Also, there’s the new dinner option – La Vetta Italian Chophouse.  The meal we ate there was truly exceptional.  Everything we had was memorable, but the show stopper was Firestone’s signature Crunchy Cream Pie.  Jack Nicklaus loves these so much that he has sent his private jet to pick them up.  After eating one, you’ll understand why.

Finally, I have to give a quick mention to the 7/12 Grille and their burgerdogs.  These were brought over from The Olympic Club by Firestone’s GM, Jay Walkinshaw, and they are great.  I give full credit to the burgerdog for fueling my strong finish on the South Course.  I wish I had eaten one at the turn on the North Course.

Beauty & Scenery

The South Course at Firestone may be the platonic ideal for a midwestern parkland golf course.  Sitting in the middle of the expansive property, insulated by the Fazio Course [review HERE], the only buildings you see during your round are the clubhouse and the 7/12 Grill.  Your entire field of vision is filled with lush greens, mature trees, and rolling elevation.  The word “rolling” actually may undersell the elevation changes a bit.  Water appears on just two holes, to great effect.

This is also a good opportunity to point out how thoughtful Firestone has been about their tree maintenance.  Over the last few years, 97 trees have been removed from the South Course to open up recovery opportunities.  They’ve also trimmed the lower branches of the existing trees to open sight lines so that you have a view of multiple holes from almost anywhere on the course.

Tee Shots

The defining characteristic of Firestone’s South Course is its length.  The blue tees stretch to 7,400 yards at par 70, and that monstrous number doesn’t take into account the length added by elevation changes.  Recreational players will get their fill at the white tees at 6,454 yards.  Green and silver tees still offer a stout test at 5,876 and 5,155 yards.

Hitting tee shots of adequate length is a prerequisite to putting together a good number on the South Course.  Accuracy is almost as important.  The fairways are average to narrow in width, and the rough is thick.  Driving it into the rough carries the dual penalty of a tougher lie and a longer approach as you will get zero roll out.  However, there are several fairways that will add twenty or more yards to a well struck tee shot.

If you’re looking at an aerial photo of Firestone’s South Course, you might think every tee shot is straight and flat.  That couldn’t be more wrong.  While there are not any ninety degree doglegs, numerous holes feature soft turns that demand a tee shot to one side of the fairway.  Additionally, the elevation changes add variety to your drives.  There’s a good mix of up and downhill shots, some where you can see your landing area and a few where you need to trust your caddy’s line.

Finally, the fairway bunkers at the South Course are as vicious as any I’ve ever seen.  First, they’re placed brilliantly.  If you’re playing the right tees, every bunker feels like it’s in your personal space.  Second, most are deep with tall lips, meaning you need to punch out instead of playing for the green.  Making a par from a fairway bunker is a major accomplishment.

Approach Shots

Hitting good drives is essential at the Firestone Country Club South Course, but it’s only the first step.  Your approach shots need to be on point, too.

Over the course of your round, you’re going to have to deal with a wide variety of lies.  The movement of the fairways ranges from moderate to severe.  You will get some benign lies in the fairway, but you need to be prepared to have the ball well above or below your feet, too.  Additionally, there’s the aforementioned very thick rough.  If you don’t have confidence in your speed and strength, punching out when you miss a fairway is not a bad play.

The South Course also gives you the opportunity to hit all your clubs.  From the white tees, the par 4s range from 345 yards to 442 yards, plus there are constant, sometimes dramatic, elevation changes.

For three reasons, your approach shots at the South Course need to be Tour-like: high with stopping power.  First, the majority of the greens are elevated.  This alone would make running a shot up more difficult.  Second, greenside bunkers often make the mouths of the greens uninviting.  Finally, almost half the greens have severe false fronts.  Not only does this enhance the difficulty of the ground game, it increases the penalty for coming up short.

Looking at pictures of the course, you may be intimidated by the trees.  Don’t be.  There’s a lot of difficulty at the South Course, but the tree lines are very thin which allows for plenty of recovery opportunities.  Obviously you’re better off in the fairway, but being among the trees does not doom your score.

The last thing to note about the approach game at the South Course is that the margins are often very slim.  Because the greens are so well-defended and often play smaller than they are, you need to hit truly premium shots to get a great result.  Picking conservative targets can give you a little extra wiggle room, but no strategy can fully defang this beast.

Greens & Surrounds

After a long drive and an accurate approach, you’re on the green in regulation.  The good news is that the greens are average to slightly below average in size, so you’re unlikely to have a miles-long putt.  However, you need excellent green reading skills to map out your line.  Alternately, you can take a caddy and trust their knowledge.  My caddy, Terry, gave me reads that I swore were backwards, but he was right every time.  If you want to post a good score, take a caddy.

There are virtually no flat putts on the South Course.  Several of the greens have a fairly strong tilt, but there are not many sharp features within them.  The reads and breaks are subtle, but a bad read or stroke can leave you struggling to two-putt.  I genuinely can’t imagine how tough they are at tournament speeds.

If you miss the green with your approach, you will have your work cut out for you.  The greenside bunkers – which are plentiful – are often even deeper than their counterparts in the fairway.  If you’re not a skilled sand player, ignore the flag and make sure your next shot is a putt.

While the bunkers are tough, they may be a better option than the rough.  Every green is surrounded by a foot of fringe that transitions immediately to thick rough.  You need some speed to get your club through it, but that can be scary, especially when you’re close to the pin.  Just like with the fairway bunkers, try to take your medicine and move on.

Overall Design

I think I’ve adequately expressed that the Firestone Country Club South Course is tough.  But what makes it great is that it never feels unfair.  The course is very straightforward.  Yes, local knowledge helps in spots, but you’re never going to get a bad result from a good shot.  After an ugly swing, you feel like you can get back in the hole.  Even the dreaded fairway bunkers don’t guarantee bogey if you play a couple smart, high quality shots.  My ultimate litmus test, especially for a challenging course, is asking myself, “Do I want to play it again?”  For the South Course, the answer is unequivocally, “Yes!”

Before moving on, I want to make note of how good the course conditions are.  Every aspect is dialed in to near-perfection.  The greens are smooth and quick, the rough is consistently lush, the tee boxes are flat and level.  If you’re unhappy with the conditions at Firestone South, you’re unlikely to be happy anywhere.

Favorite Holes

#16 – Par 5 – 667 Yards – “Monster”

The longest hole on the course is also one of the wildest and most memorable.  A big tee shot is mandatory.  If you place it correctly and hit it far enough, you’ll get 30 yards or more of roll as the fairway runs steeply downhill.  This sets up the possibility of going for the green from about 230 yards, but you’ll need to carry water short of the green.

#3 – Par 4 – 442 Yards

Hole 3 uses one of the sharper doglegs on the course to add teeth to a relatively short par 4.  Two greenside bunkers will make the approach uncomfortable, even after a well-played drive.

#18 – Par 4 – 464 Yards

This is an extremely strong finishing hole that was also home to one of Tiger’s most iconic shots.  You need to take advantage of the downhill tee shot to set up a manageable approach.  The green is sandwiched between four bunkers and protected on the left by a tree.  Getting the back left pin is a mixed blessing – you can attempt the “Shot in the Dark” but your score may be worse for it.

Conclusion

I came to the Firestone Country Club South Course wanting to absorb some Tiger vibes and head home.  I left wanting to move to Akron and become a member.  This course is both immeasurably tough and enjoyable, a double achieved by a very small number of tracks.  When you add to that incredible lodging, food, and hospitality, you have an obvious choice for your next golf trip.

Visit Firestone Country Club HERE

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Matt Saternus

Founder, Editor In Chief at PluggedInGolf.com
Matt is the Founder and Editor in Chief of Plugged In Golf. He's worked in nearly every job in the golf industry from club fitting to instruction to writing and speaking. Matt lives in the northwest suburbs of Chicago with his wife and two daughters.

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4 Comments

  1. Great write up. As a member here, I’d say you were spot on with everything you said. And don’t forget the others courses are awesome too! Thanks Matt!

  2. Have played the South many times–originally as a guest when “private” for Firestone employees, then more accessible after becoming part of ClubCorp, and now it seems available to almost everyone. Apart from Torrey South, it is undoubtably my favorite track on the planet. Can’t beat the history and mystique. Can’t beat the conditioning and the greens !! Sneaky and demanding sloping fairways. Always a thrill to play a course where the pros have dueled it out . Don’t underestimate or miss the North, terrific track also used for tournament play for a few years while South was undergoing renovations. Not a fan of the West! The South opened in 1929 and designed by Scottish pro Bertie Way who also designed a great nearby club in Cleveland to which I belonged before moving to AZ , Mayfield CC (now the “merged” Mayfield-SandRidge Club). Seems like food and beverage have really been beefed up (no pun intended).

  3. Matt, thanks for this wonderful review which brings back so many memories of being there with my dad. I am a generation older than you, and my memories of Firestone date back to the late 60’s from my childhood in Stark County, OH. I saw all of the greats there from time to time. The American Golf Classic, the PGA, and some of the made-for-TV exhibition matches come to mind. This goes to the top of my bucket list for sure. Again, thanks.

  4. I have dreams of that course… can’t wait to go back and play it again soon. And I agree with your closing statement. I wanted to move to Akron just to be a member there.

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