HOPE — Tucked away on a side street off the beaten path just outside of Columbus, Clifty Creek Golf Course is the very definition of a hidden gem.
It doesn’t advertise heavily. It’s not flashy. It doesn’t fit the prototype of what many people consider a golf course to be. Clifty Creek is unassuming. It’s unpretentious. It’s laid-back.
In short, Clifty Creek has taken on the personality of its owner.
O.J. Thayer built Clifty Creek with his family 26 years ago. The Thayers took a plot of farmland, planted a few trees, moved a little bit of dirt and gave birth to a golf course.
“We hired a heavy equipment man to do a little bit,” Thayer recalled, “but most of the ground is just laid just like it laid out here. It was pasture for 20-some years.”
Now, it’s Thayer’s baby. His father, David, is 91 years old, and the rest of his family is no longer involved with the course. So it’s all O.J. He manages the course inside and out, handling most of the administrative duties as well as those of a typical superintendent. He’ll take out the trash, scrub the toilets, whatever needs to be done.
It’s not completely a one-man show — Thayer has some part-time help inside, two or three people who help with the mowing and a mechanic who will come in and handle some of the maintenance and repair. But you won’t find many, if any, golf course owners or managers with their fingerprints on as many aspects of the operation as Thayer does.
Not surprisingly, that takes up a good bit of his day. A few years ago, O.J. realized he was spending all of his time at Clifty Creek and none of it at home.
“I’m up and going usually right at daylight every day,” Thayer said, “and, of course, it’s dark before you close.”
Something had to give, and it was Thayer’s house. He built an apartment on the back side of the clubhouse, and he’s lived there ever since.
The clubhouse doubles as his kitchen and his living room. Of course, there’s usually someone else around during the day — so does Thayer ever get, say, a quiet meal to himself?
“Oh, sometimes,” he said. “Sometimes you grab a hot dog and get on the mower — because certain times of year you can’t (mow) for several days, and you go.”
Clifty Creek isn’t as busy as it once was, and that’s largely a result of the local golf market becoming more saturated. Since the Thayers built their nine holes, Timbergate, St. Anne’s, Salt Creek, Wyaloosing Creek have all popped up within a reasonable driving distance.
That, O.J. Thayer says, has “cut the pie up a little smaller.”
But he’s not concerned. He’s never been about turning Clifty Creek into a profit center. The course’s number one rule, according to the sign greeting you as you approach the clubhouse, is “relax.” (And Thayer’s dog, Chopper, has been known to come around to provide a friendly reminder.)
Plenty of people take golf very seriously. Those people aren’t going to fit in so well at Clifty Creek, where league players compete to win golf balls or their name on a plaque — nothing more.
If you’re out to enjoy yourself, this just might be your spot.
“I have a regular crew that comes in,” Thayer said, “And you get to know them and joke around with them, and they keep coming back, you hope.”
The course has undergone some changes through the years — sand traps were put in and then removed, among other things — but the atmosphere hasn’t.
True to the original Clifty Creek mission statement laid out by his father, O.J. Thayer has some pretty basic advice for those who come to his home — er, golf course.
“Just have a good time,” he said. “Don’t take it too serious. It’s just a game.”
Indeed, it is.
Clifty Creek Golf Course
9 holes with cart: $17
18 holes with cart: $25 weekday, $26 weekend
Memberships are $550 per year for players under 50 and $475 for seniors