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It's very important. A lot of these kids get involved with golf to keep them out of trouble. A lot of the older people who come here get their exercise, so it helps them, too. Bob Murphy
What keeps people coming back to Avon Fields? No. 1: It's in the center of the city. No. 2: It's recreational now. It's a place where everyone can play. Johnny McFarlin
A Course That Has Stood the Test of Time

It’s been said many times:Golf is a sport you play for a lifetime.

It’s notable, however, when a course stays active for a lifetime. Avon Fields in Cincinnati has done that, and then some. It celebrates its 100th birthday this year.

Opened in 1914, Avon Fields is the oldest municipal golf course west of the Allegheny Mountains. Billy Casper Golf has managed the facility, part of the Cincinnati Recreation Commission’s roster of courses, since 2003.

In 1911, the city of Cincinnati bought the 114-acre plot (originally the Blachly Farm) on which Avon Fields sits for $83,379 – almost $2 million today.  A nine-hole course quickly opened in 1914, with the completing nine coming a year later. But who did the work?

It’s unclear who designed the course. According to city records, a "pro golfer, a graduate from St. Andrews Links, Scotland, was engaged and quickly laid out and inaugurated a 9 hole golf course." Donald Ross aficionados claim it was his handiwork. The city says it may have been the team of William B. Langford and Theodore Moreau. Others still say a member of the Spaulding family, known for their sporting goods, shaped the course. 

What is known is Avon Fields is a par-66 course, maxing out just short of 5,000 yards. The course does not have a single par 5, instead a dozen par 4s and the rest par 3s. Only one hole – the No. 1-handicap fourth – plays over 400 yards.

At one point, the course was almost 200 yards longer than it is today. However, length isn’t what makes the challenge at Avon Fields. There are few flat lies, especially off the tight, tree-lined fairways (although long-time players at the course say the undulations were significantly softened in the 1970s).

The putting surfaces are not only small, but – in a very Ross-like fashion – they reject marginal approach shots. Though there are no hazards on the course, out-of-bounds stakes loom as little as 20 feet away from some greens. Given Avon Fields’ plot is tiny by modern design standards, it’s not a surprise that greens and tees are just paces away from one another.

At its comparatively stunted length, Avon Fields has been a welcome site – at least on the scorecard -- for golfers of all types for the last 100 years. Avon Fields claims a notably low 18-hole record: Onetime pro Hank Wilms set the course record at 11-under 55. 

The seminal facility in Cincinnati golf history, Avon Fields has hosted scores of big tournaments, from junior golf to high-level amateur play.

Avon Fields has been especially important in Cincinnati’s African-American golf community as the course was one of few in town that didn’t discriminate on race.

Cincinnati golf legend Jimmy Woods called Avon Fields home until his death in 2000. After a decorated, albeit scattered amateur tournament career, Woods began giving lessons on Fridays at the course. However, more important to Woods was developing “the character of the young men.” He was The First Tee before it existed.

Dave Parker, recent inductee into the Cincinnati Reds Hall of Fame, calls Avon Fields one of the city’s best courses. You can find him out there playing several days each week.

"Best-kept secret in the Tristate," Parker calls Avon Fields. "Wished I'd known about it during my playing days. I'd have played a lot more golf."

It’s hard to believe Avon Fields is still a secret after a century. However, if it is, then here’s to another hush-hush 100 years.

Story first appeared in Sept. 2 edition of Global Golf Post 
When I used to play with Jimmy Woods, I played with him right-handed, and he'd shoot even par. Then I'd tell him to play left-handed, and he'd still shoot even par! Bob Murphy