Thursday, November 12, 2015

The Former Crest Hills Country Club

In a small Ohio village, where the population hangs just below 4,000, there's a park. It's trails are former cart paths and it's gleaming waters are former traps, once the nemesis of golfers who were willing to pony up a hefty yearly membership fee. Then there's the clubhouse, where the wedding receptions no longer happen, the sunday brunches are no longer served and the pool out back is empty aside from algae ridden, stagnant water.

- The former aquatic facilities of the Crest Hills Country Club.

I think of country clubs as the lairs of mid 90's Adam Sandler movie villains. Growing up, the only memberships we had were to the city pool then Surf Cincinnati and then eventually Kings Island. Even when I started playing golf, we never visited country clubs or sought out invitations to any. There were plenty of other places around the city, their greens just as nice and fairways just as frustrating. So perhaps it was fitting that the first country club I visited was an abandoned one, on a hot summer evening quite awhile ago with my buddy, the talented Nathan Laux.

It was the kind of day that would've been perfect for swimming. It had rained a little bit earlier, dark clouds were still overhead but the starting to set sun was managing to peek through. It was humid and hot. The sound of tennis rackets echoed in the distance, after all, beyond the trees that hide the empty swimming pool, theres still an active park. Weeds grow through cracks in the foundation, right up through the paint that used to indicate lines for lap swimming. In the "deep end," just under the half dismantled diving board there's still some water, stagnant above clogged drains.

The snack bar and locker rooms are empty, as are the maintenance facilities. A place that would've once teemed with activity on hot days like this years ago is now eerily quiet. As we sweat making photographs, you can almost feel the energy this place would've once had when it would've been presumably crowded with people on a humid summer evening.

Yet the swimming facilities, and the entire Crest Hills Country Club to be exact, are no more. The area is now Amberley Green - a beautiful park lined with old trees and natural features, criss crossed by an asphalt path. All of it's an easy creation when a golf course closes and you want a walking trail in its place. The green, it's the product of a zoning battle that could've seen high priced homes dotting the landscape instead of nature (and an abandoned swimming pool).

Crest Hills Country Club had been in operation on these grounds even before Amberley Village incorporated in 1940. By 1966, the village classified the country club's property as a "park" under their zoning guidelines.  Crest Hills peaked in 1985 with 420 members and remained exclusively Jewish until 1999 or so. By April of 2002, Crest Hills merged with the nearby Losantiville Country Club to form one entity: "The Ridge Club." The two establishments had merged their boards of directors and membership groups, initially providing two clubhouses and two courses. By December of 2003, the Ridge Club closed the former Crest Hills 18-hole course and its other facilities to focus on the former Losantiville one. Quickly, they began plans to sell the Crest Hills property to developers seeking to build homes on the property. Their only problem... was zoned as a park.

The Ridge Club asked the village for a zoning change: remove the park classification and designate the area as residential. This way they could sell the land (prime, mostly flat land in an upscale area) to a home developer for a nice price. The city's politicians and residents seemed to be divided: take in new tax revenue from more residents or keep the zoning in hopes of keeping the green space?

They denied the zoning change.

- Kiddie pool. 

The Ridge Club didn't take things lightly. The lack of a zoning change had forced them to back out on a $7.6 million deal with developer Hal Homes. They filed a lawsuit, unhappy with the village's refusal to change. The Village council fired back with a list of citations and code violations that needed to be fixed on the property. 

- Image via Nathan Laux.

In the meantime, Jerry Carrol stepped forward and tried to buy the property from The Ridge Club. Jerry was a former owner of Turfway Park, the horse racing track, and owner of Kentucky Speedway, the automobile racing track. His purchase offer and mayor endorsed mixed-use plan eventually fell through. The lawsuit continued. Crest Hills stayed closed. Losantiville continued on as "The Ridge Club."

- Diving board.

The Ridge folks would eventually win.

In 2007.

The Hamilton County Court of Common Pleas had weighed in on the zoning issue and found that The Ridge Club was essentially in the right, that the zoning should've change and that they should be able to pursue a sale to a residential developer. 

The village, now firmly of the opinion to keep the property as green space stepped in to buy the property from The Ridge Club. The price tag: $8.7 million. A cool $1.1 million more than the originally thwarted $7.6 million deal.

- Children's pool rules.

The Ridge Club went on to rebrand back to the Losantiville Country Club name, they still exist today. As for the former Crest Hills club - that property is now the Amberley Green. No houses ever came, the debt from the property purchase was eventually paid off and Amberley Village kept its green space after all. Tucked away in all that green though, there's part of the property's past - a weed riddled swimming pool that was still fun to visit one hot, summer afternoon awhile ago.

And for the record: that Adam Sandler movie about golfing is terrible.


  1. Thanks for this article. I worked 1 year as a life guard at CHCC the summer of 1987. Monday was the day they were closed and we were allowed to play golf that day which we did ... a lot ... all day. It was a difficult but very nice and well maintained golf course. The fairways in fact were nicer than most greens i had putted on. when the sun went down we would retreat to the pool where we would drink beer and eat pizza from the nearby Spooners. I had a great time working at CHCC in 1987.

    1. Wow, thanks so much for sharing. It adds a ton of perspective when you get to hear personal anecdotes about a place. I'm glad you have some good memories of the place.

  2. My childhood was based at Crest Hills. I remember there were strict rules about women not playing golf on certain days. The grill was men only on Tuesdays. On the top floor was the ladies card rooms(which my friends and I decided to cover in all the condiments that were left out. We opened all the decks of cards and left them on the floor. Basically we vandalised our own club. We were caught and suspended and I'm sure our parents had to pay a fee for cleaning and the shame!!! The staff were in the clubhouse were so lovely. There wore full black tie waiter uniforms, no matter the weather. The pool was the best part if you were a kid. Your parents paid some teenager to watch you so they could go off and do what it is they did there. You didn't use money. You had a club number, which every child exploited and filled up on burgers, fries, cokes and ice cream sandwiches. I cannot imagine what the total came to at the end of the summer, but obviously it was worth it to have peace away from screaming kids. My mother tells me that when I was a toddler in the baby pool, I was wearing a large tee shirt as to not burn anymore(no suncream at that point), I fell over in the pool and the weight of the wet shirt kept me under water, where I was drowning. I of course survived, but wasn't allowed out of my mothers sight that summer. There were two diving boards. A high platform one, and a springy low board. If the life guards were nice, they would let you play games off of them, like throwing a ball to the person on the board as they jumped. My sister cracked her head open on the low board trying to do an inverted dive. We used to take the golf carts out in the evening, but my sister ended up in the lake. So that didn't happen again. The bar was a separate room in the club house. you could order a Shirley Temple drink an you would be given a plastic mermaid swizzle stick on the glass. Sometimes they used to be giraffes. I loved that place. Best memories as a child there. Thank you for sharing the photos.

  3. Thanks Ronnie for sharing. I drove by this place for the first time ever yesterday and am goin to go check it out today. Nice to know is history.

  4. I was a caddy there for five years in the late 70's and then worked on the groundscrew for three summers during college. I lived very near the course and many times I would walk the course in the evenings looking for lost golf balls. I loved playing there on Monday's, the course was kept in fantastic shape. I remember they would hold an annual caddy banquet for the top caddies. I also attended a few employee holiday parties. Most my summer days were spent there. They would even hold a summer caddy swim day which was very close to what was shown in the movie Caddyshack. Really sad to see these photos of the area gone to waste.

    1. Anon,

      Thanks for sharing such an awesome personal memory! Helps paint a clearer picture of what this place once was.