Class of 2002: New Courses
Lyon OaksBy John Wukovits
The newest course in the Oakland County Parks system, Lyon Oaks on Pontiac Trail in Wixom, aims to hand golfers an experience most usually do not enjoy, the opportunity to play a country club-type challenge at affordable rates while enjoying the beauty offered by nature. "We want the golfer to walk away thinking he had a chance to play a course he normally would not have without spending big bucks," says head professional Gary Berschbach.
The Arthur Hills course, which opened May 1, delivers on its promises. Bent grass fairways and greens, the first such attempt in the Oakland County Parks system, meander through 250 acres of terrain dotted with wetlands and hardwood forests of maple, oak, and hickory trees. Nine "nature signs" rest at different tees to explain the area's habitat, and wooden bridges blend in with the surroundings.
In addition to the beauty, golfers receive a true test from the par-72 championship layout. Five sets of tees, ranging from 4,525-6,837 yards, allow each golfer to determine the difficulty of the day's outing, while wetlands or ponds challenge the player on 12 holes. While the generous landing areas on some holes give the golfer a slight break, second and third shots over water or bunkers call for precision.
"This course is not for the beginning golfer," explains Berschbach. "This is a good test for the bogey player, those who have some ability. My favorite hole is No. 5 East, a par-4, 348-yard hole which is intimidating from the tee. Wetlands mask the fairway, so you have to trust your yardage."
Other challenges come with the par-5 No. 9 West and the par-4 No. 6 East. The par-5 is a demanding 556-yard hole that requires an uphill tee shot, a second shot that skirts water along the right side, and a pond sheltering the green which forces the golfer to decide whether to lay up with the second shot or take a gamble. The 354-yard No. 6 East flirts with water the entire distance, as wetlands weave down the left side and in front of the green.
Berschbach points with pride to the luxurious practice area, also seeded with bent grass. Players hit to target greens from a practice tee that is 45 yards deep and 140 yards wide. After the round, golfers can enjoy food and refreshment in the grill room or walk through the fully stocked pro shop. A 21,000 square-foot clubhouse is also available for wedding parties, banquets, and outings.
Rates are reasonable. Weekday rounds with cart for residents outside Oakland County cost $56 ($50 for residents), and $65 on weekends. Tee times may be made up to 30 days in advance by calling (248) 437-1488.
The TributeBy Norm Sinclair
In recent years the Otsego Club has tried to break out of its niche as a private ski club that catered mostly to blue bloods while dabbling in public golf in the summer time.
To that end, Owner Keith Gornick bought the Loon and Lakes courses off Charles Brink Road on the south side of Gaylord a few years back to complement the resort's playable but dated Classic layout. By adding the Loon and the Lake, Gaylord's oldest resort pulled closer to some of its competitors as a golf destination.
With the addition this year of the Tribute, a Gary Koch-Rick Robbins design, and continuing renovation of rooms and the addition of a conference center, the club and Gornick are now major players on the northern Michigan golf resort scene.
The unique name of the course was inspired by Gornick's homage to his late father, Alan, the previous owner of the resort, with an acknowledgment of Koch's late father as well..
Golfers familiar with the hillside Smith-Fazio courses at nearby Treetops Sylvan Resort will love The Tribute which also plays up and down the same dramatic highlands above the Sturgeon River Valley.
Unlike the Treetops layouts, however, the Tribute does not seem to be as severe. This is a massive natural design with surprisingly gentle level landing areas on generous, wide fairways. There is no lack of drama in the design with great views from the elevated tees.
The third hole is a superb par-4 that plays just over 300 yards, while falling precipitously down a ravine to the green, similar to the par-3 signature sixth hole at the Jones course at Treetops. The view from the tees looking over the valley is particularly spectacular in the fall.
The 18th is a superb uphill par-4 that plays from elevated tees on the side of a ski hill, across a valley and up to a big undulated green on an adjoining ski hill.
The rustic Logmark lounge with its big stone fireplace, perched on the side of the ski hill and commanding a view over the valley, offers one of the more charming 19th hole stops in golf that does not overlook water.
The JackalBy John Wukovits
When you play The Jackal Golf Club at Mt. Brighton, be prepared for magnificent views, an opportunity to hit an array of different golf shots, and most of all, be prepared for a great experience. According to head professional Fritz Middleton, "We want the golfers to have a lot of fun. The owner said, "I want a golf course where a guy who shoots 90 has fun. We'll build our reputation on fun. We don't want to beat people up."
The Jackal quickly lived up to its billing. When it opened in August 2001, Middleton enjoyed listening to the golfers' comments. "The players remarked how beautiful the course was and how much fun they had playing it."
Architect Bruce Matthews immediately lets the golfer know he is in for a unique round by starting with a breathtaking shot from the first tee. Instead of avoiding or skirting the ski slopes at Mt. Brighton, Matthews cleverly employs them as an active feature of the course. A cart drive up the slopes places the golfer atop Mt. Brighton, where a stunning panoramic view of the 18-hole layout unfolds in natural beauty. The golfer then must smack his drive to the fairway 180 feet below. "Five holes have greater elevation than 100 feet from tee to green," explains Middleton. "Four go downward and one goes upward. Not many courses literally use a ski area. It is one of our unique features."
Matthews has incorporated the natural setting in other ways. Wetlands test the golfer's mettle, and trees tower along most fairways. In keeping with the desire to deliver fun, Matthews has provided generous landing areas. However, a player cannot fall back on a false sense of security, for an errant drive will land him amidst a throng of trees or in water. "You can't hit a driver on every hole," says Middleton. "This is not a grip-it-and-rip-it type of course. You have to think your way around. Most holes can be managed with 215- to 220-yard drives."
Matthews adds that despite rumors, The Jackal is not a par-3 course. Four sets of tees offer different tests of golf on the par-71 layout, ranging from 4,762 yards to 6,702 yards. Three par5s and three par-3s complement the 12 par-4s.
Accurate approach shots loom vital at the new course. Most greens are tight to the back, and long shots are likely to run away on a downslope.
The Jackal offers a complete set of amenities. Middleton, a former assistant at the Country Club of Lansing and head professional at the Coldwater Country Club, provides golf lessons incorporating the VI Digital Coaching System, swing analysis equipment that permits Middleton to digitally display the golfer's swing and study it in slow motion.
A complete bar and grill serves the golfer at the end of the round, while banquets for as many as 200 can be arranged. "This course is good for outings, where you have the scramble format," says Middleton. "There are a lot of opportunities to take chances out here and pull off a great shot."
Despite the excitement, challenges, and spectacular views, The Jackal's reasonable rates ($58 on weekends, $45 weekdays) make it a possibility for golfers of any ability and means. Bruce Matthews's new course in Brighton should not be missed. Tee times may be set by calling 810-229-9581, extension 231.
Hawk's EyeBy Mike Terrell
John Robinson, the Canadian golf course architect who designed The Chief, was recently named as one of the top 50 golf course architects in North America. It was his first Michigan course, and received high reviews for its imaginative layout utilizing the hilly terrain located around Lake Bellaire. The Chief was the first of two courses being built for developer Grant Rowe that are part of an overall golf community. The second course, called Hawk's Eye - which also the name of the development - is ahead of schedule, according to Tom Rowe, Grant's son and a partner in the venture. The first nine holes are slated to open in July.
"We seeded the first nine holes last season and they've come along nicely," said the younger Rowe. "We're eager to open the course and give golfers a sneak preview at what to expect. That's what we did with The Chief and it worked well to develop some anticipation for the following season when we opened the whole course." Rowe says that Hawk's Eye will be the antithesis of The Chief, which golf pro Dave Hill describes as "a shot maker's course."
"The new course will be much easier to play, especially from the forward tees," Rowe emphasized. "It will be more open with larger landing areas and larger greens. If a player wants to challenge Hawk's Eye, they can do so from the tips. It will play 7,228 yards from the back tees. Each hole offers four sets of tees."
The other tees will play from 5,050-6,990 yards. Carved through a northern Michigan hardwood forest the course pitches and rolls over hill and dale, but won't feature as many blind shots as Robinson's first 18-hole course.
"We asked Robinson to build a difficult course in The Chief, and he did," laughed Rowe. "With a 145 slope rating it's one of the 10 toughest in the state. He was allowed to incorporate his own design philosophies with Hawk's Eye, which are much more player friendly. We wanted this course to complement the other, not duplicate it. He feels this will be one of his finest courses ever."
When completed Hawk's Eye will become a gated golf community, but the course will remain open to the public. Rowe hopes that golfers will choose to play 27 holes of golf this summer and play both courses.
Pre grand-opening rates this summer will be $35 midweek and $40 on weekends for Hawk's Eye, but when played in conjunction with The Chief, a golfer will save up to $10 off the combination price. For more information on the new course and real estate development, call (866) 244-3318 or click on www.golfthechief.com.
Hemlock GCBy Tom Cleary
It's right there in Golf Course Architecture 101: Build courses by utilizing the available assets. On the eastern shore of Lake Michigan, in and around the popular resort haven of Ludington, the most plentiful asset is sand.
"If you ask people what they know about Ludington, usually the first answer is 'Dunes'", says Ray Hearn. "And so when I first visited the site that was to become Hemlock Golf Club, I was delighted to see so much sand here. All we had to do was reveal it."
Commissioned by a local group that includes brothers John and Dr. Michael Kennedy, Hemlock is just minutes from both US-31 and the beaches of Ludington. John Kennedy, a longtime golf course superintendent in Ohio, knew well the drainage benefits of building a course situated largely on porous sand. As a result, he'll be tending to a course that should be playable on a lot of days when others in this northwest lower peninsula area will be soggy from Lake Michigan-fed downpours. "The land is ideally suited for golf, and even in the construction phase we saw examples of how quickly it bounces back after heavy rains," Kennedy said. "We think that'll translate into optimum conditions for players throughout the year."
Hearn's design at Hemlock makes good use of the surprising amount of elevation change available. There's an intriguing stretch of three short par-4 holes on the front starting at No. 2. But the driver must eventually come out of the bag on the final four holes of the outward nine, the last three of which are par-4s averaging just over 440 yards from the championship tees.
The back nine at Hemlock features consecutive par-5 holes beginning at the 11th. Hearn is especially fond of that hole's elevated green that's surrounded by a cavernous expanse of sand that almost defies description as a bunker. The fun continues at the 12th, where Hearn has revisited some of his earlier work with a double fairway; the left is the safer but longer route, while the right plays a couple of clubs shorter but brings into play a tricky stand of trees and more flashes of sand near the putting surface.
In his tribute to New Jersey's fabled Pine Valley, Hearn includes bunkering on some of the inward holes that includes devilish little fingers. The par-3 No. 13 is a picture postcard offering that includes a double set of tees that changes the look of the hole dramatically, while the short 14th offers another wonderful view of Hemlock's hardwood growth and vegetation. There's not much water to contend with at Hemlock until the 18th, where a question mark- shaped pond nearly surrounds the green, waiting to swallow approach shots that are long or to the right.
"I know golfers sometimes get anxious about playing out of sand," says Hearn, "but I really think Hemlock will be a different experience for them. In many areas where we've exposed the sand it's packed very firmly and easy to play from. Plus, all golfers will benefit from the turf conditions that sand helps provide."
Hearn's work has delighted the ownership at Hemlock, which has come to understand the benefit of having a new championship course in a place that's already popular with visitors. "To see the course take shape has been incredible," says Dr. Mike Kennedy, an orthopedic surgeon. "This will be great for the people heading north to play golf, but also for the locals who haven't had a course like this to play here."
In the end, Hearn has followed a time-honored Ludington formula for success at his latest design: golfers should find the sandy Hemlock to be a real day at the beach.
TullymoreBy Mike Terrell
Described as the "best new course in the state" by more than one golf scribe, Tullymore opened late last summer to limited play and rave reviews. Developers Norm and Judy Browning and Bob Doerr brought in Colorado-based golf course architect Jim Engh - who has designed award winning courses on five continents - to put his stamp on this mid-Michigan property, and it's a beauty.
A stunning layout, it features dramatic finger bunkering filled with white sugar-like sand, a wide variety of green shapes and sizes and five sets of tees to make it as easy or difficult as you like. The course gracefully spread out over 800 acres measures over 7,100 yards from the tips. A slope rating of 148 makes it the toughest golf course in the Wolverine State, which is known for its collection of monster courses. "Golfers can make it as tough as they want," said Kevin O'Brien, director of golf for Tullymore and its sister course, St. Ives. "It's important they choose a comfortable yardage to really enjoy the experience of playing the new course." From the forward tees it's a very playable 4,665 yards. In between other tee yardage's respectively measure from 5,500-6,500 yards.
Each hole is dramatically sculpted. Bridged wetlands lie in harmony with peaceful lakes and meandering creeks. Most greens are bowled rather than elevated. Bent grass tees, greens and fairways blend nicely with native grasses that define the rough. Cavernous bunkers, surrounded by thick grassy slopes - an Engh design characteristic - define fairways and greens. Another unusual design characteristic is five par-5s and five par-3s. Perhaps the most unusual hole is the par-3 No. 12. Similar to one of the most famous holes in Ireland, the Dell hole at Lahinch Golf Club, much of the green is hidden by a hillside. In fact, the name Tullymore was chosen for its link to the Irish heritage of owner Judy Browning's family, whose father founded Canadian Lakes.
To set up a tee time on the new course at St. Ives Golf Club, call (800) 972-4837. For more information, or to check out the Tullymore layout, click on www.stivesgolf.com. Lodging will also be available this year for the first time. The Inn at St. Ives, a new 61-room hotel, is slated to open this spring.
Seven Lakesby Art McCafferty
Seven Lakes GC in LaSalle, Canada will clearly be one of the premier courses in Southern Ontario. The course, originally nine holes, has been around for a number of years. However, changes began when new owners Ralph Meo and Alex Marra teamed up to develop a 27 hole complex that will form the main recreation for 250 homesites.
The course is out of the Matthews Golf stable, with Howard Nauboris being the project architect. Nauboris has worked on Moss Ridge, The Jackal and a variety of other courses as he works toward the coveted plaid jacket of the American Association of Golf Course Architects.
Essex County in Ontario is so flat they used to have a level factory there. However, Howard Nauboris tried to change all of that. He has constructed some substantial mounds, some 18' or so, to compliment the seven lakes and 110 bunkers on the course.
Alex Marra and his partner Ralph thought long and hard about this project. "We wanted a course that would provide some real excitement for our golfers and be the best course around out area and also challenge some of those in Michigan," said Marra. We had a lot of architects submit plans to us. However, when Bruce Matthews submitted his, we knew that he had really captured what we envisioned."
The course will not be ready until late summer, and then maybe only nine holes, but it will be worth the drive to Seven Lakes. It is seven miles from the Ambassador bridge. 519-972-1177
Hawk RidgeBy Mike Terrell
Not many people buy a ski area with the idea that it will make a great golf course, but that was how Jerry Balmes saw Skyline ski area. Located just south of Grayling, this small ski area had been around since 1945, but had remained the same small area never growing until Balmes and his wife Vivian came along five years ago.
"I was looking for a chunk of land to build a golf course. Skyline had a little over 300 acres surrounding the ski area, and it looked like interesting golf terrain," Balmes explained. "It wasn't my intention to get into the ski business, but we've continued to operate the ski area. It makes a nice combination with the golf course, and allows us to keep the restaurant open year round."
Along with adding the restaurant and lounge a couple of years ago, improvements have been made to the ski area. The golf course was started last year, and the first nine holes are slated-weather permitting-to open this July.
"Lots of elevation changes and gorgeous views" is the way Balmes describes the John Robinson layout, which features significant elevation changes on 11 of 18 holes. There's well over a 200-foot drop between the high and low points on the course. Playing up and down wooded, finger-like ridges, the course will offer wide, generous landing areas and large, deep greens. "We let Robinson incorporate his design ideas, and he likes to make a course player-friendly. He was great to work with. Of all the golf course architects I interviewed, he was the easiest to work with and had the highest regard for minimizing the impact to the landscape. We moved little earth building the course."
Hawk Ridge, with bent grass tees and greens and blue grass fairways, will feature lots of sand traps, which were a natural feature of the land. Playing about 6,200 yards from the tips, it won't be a long course but four sets of tees will allow you to customize the length of the course to fit your game. From the forward tees it will play about 4, 800 yards.
"The course was designed for the average player that hits a tee shot between 200 and 250 yards. Those are safe landing areas. For the long hitter that likes to poke it out there around 300 yards, they are going to have to think ahead. There's trouble at that length, but it's risk and reward," said Balmes. "It should offer a good challenge for both the average and the long hitter."
The second nine is scheduled to open early next spring. Home sites, which are half gone, are being sold around the course. For scheduling a tee time, call (989) 275-2075 or click on www.skylineski.com for more information.
Forest ViewBy Art McCafferty
If you went to Lowe's and ordered a do it yourself golf course kit, you would probably see the faces of Lisa and Brian Wilson on the instructions. They have worked tremendously hard the past couple of years to bring about the birth of the Forest View GC North of Midland. Brian designed the nine hole course and the practice area and had a soft opening last year. This year the course, is growing in and becoming all that they dreamed for. The Wilson's were pleased with the response of their golf clients last year. They really enjoyed the course and the fact that they could get a fast nine in.
Brian is a PGA member and gives lessons as part of their service. Lisa, takes care of the well stocked proshop and the newest addition to the family. They are an engaging couple, actually a threesome now, and they should do very well in their new business. You can find out more about their place at http://forestviewgolf.com
Rifle River GCby L'anse Bannon
Rick Moll has had a dream to build a golf course since he got out of the navy a couple of decades ago. Since then he has raised a family, worked for Consumers Energy, bought and managed a sawmill and puttered around with the idea creating a golf hole on his sawmill property. He did such a nice job on that first hole that his wife told him to finish it. It took him four years to finish the other eight holes of his executive course and fulfill his dream. Unfortunately, his wife will not see the course open, as she passed away last year.
Rifle River GC is located in Sterling, which is just North of Standish on US-23. It is in that area where US-23 separates from I-75. Companion courses include Huron Breeze and Pine River. Further north, you run into Sunrise Side heavyweights Lakewood Shores Resort, Red Hawk and then inland to Thunder Bay Resort and Black River. Rifle River GC is new for 2002. Moll would love to have you stop by and see his dream. You might even get to peek at his retired sawmill property. MG
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