Ole’ Fashioned Links That Never Grow Old: Cleveland Heights Golf Course


By Joel Helm
Photos by Madisen Elizabeth

As it nears its 100th birthday, Cleveland Heights Golf Course is an evergreen canvas for memory making, shot taking and enjoying the leisurely side of being a Lakelander. As a nod to one of the community’s finest mainstays, and the Lakelanders’ Choice winner for Best Golf Course, we “twisted the arm” of one local golf enthusiast to take readers on an adventure of a regular November day at “The Heights.” 

Cleveland Heights Golf Course, perhaps today of all days, sure has the feeling of familiarity. Maybe it’s because so few faces here ever change, nor do the voices or booming laughter that surround the clubhouse. Most likely, however, it’s simply because I’ve been here 6,000 times (give or take a few) and I could sleepwalk my way to the first tee. Yes, “The Heights” is the winner of The Lakelanders’ Choice Best Golf Course as voted on by locals, and it is hands down my top local spot for golf.

If we walked here from our house, golf bags in tow, I wouldn’t even approach my step goal for the afternoon.

Speaking of afternoon, The Heights has specific times in which they allow golf carts, and I’ve apparently infringed upon that rule with my arrival today. I am exactly three minutes past the final posted golf cart departure time on the pro shop window, and the older gentleman in the cart barn must be persuaded to let me take one.

The Heights is the epitome of a municipal course, built on a beautiful piece of property smack dab in the middle of town.

Fortunately, most of the pro shop guys here know me, as well as my 12-year old son, Jackson, and know we’re fairly proficient golfers. But more importantly, at least to them, we always play fast. We both make an oath to have the golf cart back by the required time, and my friend in the pro shop uses his walkie-talkie to tell golf-cart-gentleman that we’re allowed to go.

Back outside, golf-cart-gentleman begrudgingly agrees, but not before mentioning (twice) that the carts must be in by 5:30. As he brings us the cart, I now notice his U.S. Veteran hat, and suddenly feel bad for what I was thinking just a second earlier. I wonder aloud which war he served in. “Thank you for your service, sir,” I say. “Where did you serve?”

Not one for small talk, he looks me dead in the eyes, taps his watch, and replies, “5:30,” and walks away.

Maybe he served in all the wars, I conclude.

Now that we’ve got a seasoned war vet ready to come after us if we aren’t back by 5:30, Jackson and I bolt for the first tee. Within seven seconds we throw our pegs in the ground, stripe it down the middle, and literally run back to the cart before our balls have landed. Finally, by the first green, we settle down to focus on our round of golf.

The Heights, as you may have gathered by now, is the epitome of a municipal course. Built on a beautiful piece of property smack dab in the middle of town, The Heights has a storied history that dates back almost 100 years. Originally a William Flynn design and part of an exclusive, high end development around Lake Hollingsworth, Cleveland Heights opened in the spring of 1925. Flynn, whose prominence in design brought many to try the new course in Central Florida, also designed national treasures such as Shinnecock Hills in New York and Cherry Hills Country Club in Colorado.

Just two years later, much like so many other real estate developments during the Great Depression, the course folded and the city took it over due to delinquent taxes. Fifty years later, nine additional holes were added to the existing 18, mixing and matching holes with Flynn’s original 18. Today, all 27 holes remain part of Lakeland culture with more than 60,000 rounds played annually at the course.

Fortunately for us, however, we arrived late enough that the golf course is relatively empty and we are flying through our first holes. We are on the “B” course, which runs mostly to the southern portion of the property and has few of the original Flynn designed holes. Our quick pace is aided by strong play from both of us, with Jackson desperately trying to beat Dad today.

He’s only a couple strokes back, which has taken me by surprise. I’m playing well, under par through five, and no dad wants to lose to his 6th grader.

“Can’t be long here,” I say to him on the fun, short little par-3 sixth hole, which is playing 127 yards into the wind today. It’s the shortest hole on the property, but it’s a blast in match play.

After he sticks it to 12 feet, he turns to me before I hit my shot and says with a smile, “can’t be short, either.”

I hit a good shot as well, but neither of us can make our birdie putts. After walking away with pars, we make our way to the longer par-4 7th tee, arguably the toughest hole on this side. After a bogey from him here, followed by my birdie on the 8th, I finally put him away in our match with just one hole remaining.

It’s getting tougher and tougher to beat him, which, truth be told, couldn’t bring me more joy. I’ve been bringing him to the Heights since he was a toddler. At just three years old he’d bring his entire set of four golf clubs, begin his hole 30 yards out from the green, and play all 18 holes with me. Naturally, The Heights has a special place in my heart because of this. I truly admire their commitment to support junior golf, the welcoming nature of a municipal course to kids, and their pro-junior-golfer policy where kids under 13 don’t pay to play. It might not be perfect, but today, playing and competing with my kid on a beautiful day, it feels awfully close.

When we finish up on nine, both with nice pars, Jackson takes off his hat and extends a hand to congratulate me on my win. I can’t help but spend a moment on the green to take this moment in—to be thankful.

But Jackson points to his watch, smiles, and says, “5:29.” Not a moment to waste. Laughing, we sprint back to the cart, putters in hand, curving around the driving range and arriving at the cart return. We yank the bags off the cart, grab our trash and toss it, and look at the time again. 5:31 As though he’d been waiting only for us, cart-barn-gentleman appears out of nowhere. He looks at his watch, and out of apparent habit, points at it.

“OK,” he says, caught off-guard, and drives off.

We keep it together until he’s long gone. Then, I see Jackson looking at me with a goofy smile and pointing at his watch, and we can’t hold back laughter. “C’mon, bud, let’s go upstairs to the patio for dinner.”

And in his best cart-barn-gentleman voice, Jackson says, “OK.”

Cleveland Heights Golf Course

Learn more or book a tee time at clevelandheightsgolf.com