CINCINNATI – Any Cincinnatian old enough to recall the halcyon days of baseball’s Big Red Machine likely formed some unshakable beliefs.
Foremost, that Pete Rose was the greatest switch-hitter ever.
Yet, when Ron Dumas tells stories about the old days at Avon Fields Golf Course, a century-old muni in the Paddock Hills neighborhood, five miles north of the Ohio River, it’s clear that Rose wasn’t even the best left-right batter in his hometown.
Dumas, 60, a barrel-chested man with a glistening, clean-shaven head, baritone voice and a ready laugh, links the past with the future at Avon Fields. He arrived in 1968 as a caddie and, despite 32 years of working with the local Hamilton County government, seemingly never left. His business card reads “assistant golf professional,” but he’s more of a museum curator and resident philosopher. He and director of golf Brian King, black professionals in a mostly white game, serve as role models for the 300 youths in Dumas’ Reach Out For Kids program.
>> Fun Meter: Avon Fields
Dumas recalled the late Jimmy Woods, a legendary hustler at Avon and around town in the post-WWII years, as being “way ahead of his time” as a pioneering black golfer and phenomenal talent.
“He would come to Avon and shoot 5 under right-handed and then turn around and shoot 5 under left-handed,” said Dumas, who regularly looped for Woods.
Let’s see Rose do that.
Perched on a hilly urban landscape and straddling a bustling four-lane road, Avon Fields stands as an institution among municipal golf courses. Yet in the 21st century, amid golfers’ obsession with distance and difficulty, the 4,963-yard, par-66 Avon too easily can be dismissed as a quaint relic to the days of hickory and wound-rubber balls.
Dumas rattled off a who’s-who list of celebrities – the late boxer Joe Louis, basketball’s Bill Russell and Oscar Robertson and many of the hometown Reds, Bengals and Royals (look up that last one, kids) – who frequented Avon.
Serendipitously, an athletic-looking man bounded into the pro shop. He was clad in neon-green workout tights under black-and-gray camo shorts, topped with a jungle-campaign hat and wearing mirror shades. (Yes, Avon’s dress code is as welcoming as Dumas himself.)
Cincinnati native and former New York Jets defensive back Kirk Springs, 59, is an Avon Fields regular, playing the course as often as four times a week. (Photo: Steve Harmon)
Dumas introduced Kirk Springs, who played five seasons as a defensive back with the New York Jets in the early 1980s. Springs still lives in the area and, at age 59, looks close enough to his 6-foot, 192-pound playing weight to strap on the pads and hit somebody. He plays four times per week at Avon Fields, between 24-hour shifts as a Cincinnati firefighter.
“When you come here, it’s like Cheers,” Springs said. “You’re going to see people that you know and can always pick up a game.”
Old-timers at Avon Fields recall the former rollercoaster look of some of the fairways. During construction of nearby Interstate 71 and the connecting Norwood Lateral (State Route 562) in the early ’70s, crews dumped excavated dirt onto Avon Fields, filling in some of the ancient valleys carved by retreating glaciers 19,000 years ago.
In recent years, renovations have been far more modest, with an eye on maintenance and a non-glacial pace of play, said Rob Higby, who oversees Billy Casper Golf’s management of Cincinnati’s six municipal courses. During a course tour, Higby noted that areas fronting greens were widened to allow run-up options and more than a dozen bunkers have been removed.
The changes seem to be working. The course hosts nearly 26,000 rounds annually, and there is a waiting list for league play. Yet on a recent weekday morning, Springs and a visitor zipped around 18 holes in 2½ hours.
That’s the timeless appeal of Avon Fields. And that goes for golfers batting from either side.
Steve Harmon is the editor of Morning Read. He lives in Longwood, Fla.