Lakewood Shores Brings Golf Respectability to Sunrise Side
Before Lakewood Shores there was little reason to golf on the upper east side of the Lower Peninsula. Before Stan Aldridge stepped in and took over a troubled, floundering, so-called golf resort, there was Elk Ridge and Thunder Bay but little else to draw golfing groups to the Sunrise side of the state. There was nothing to match the golf resorts that started popping up on the Lake Michigan side of the state during the 1980s.
It was less than 50 years ago that a paved US-23 was extended to Cheboygan. Before that, rail travel was the only way to go north of Tawas.
Lakewood Shores had been around since the late 1960s, opened originally as a private club, but it never quite caught on with only one course - the Serradella, which was designed by Bruce Mathews. The property had gone through a couple of bankruptcies and the golf course and housing development had been separated by the time Aldridge purchased it in 1986.
When he bought the resort Aldridge initially had no intention of turning it into a golf resort, according to longtime golf pro and general manager Craig Peters. "It was just a good deal," Peters said. "The resort was in bankruptcy, and he was able to negotiate a very favorable price for the golf course. When I came on board in 1988 we started talking about how to bring golfers up from down state."
Aldridge had already taken another depressed downstate golf facility, Indianwood Country Club, and turned it into a British Isle-flavored showstopper that twice hosted the U.S. Women's Open Championship.
"Stan looked at the land and decided a links-type course would fit well," recalled Peters. "We are less than a mile from Lake Huron - a great inland sea - and the winds and sand make it feel like the seacoast."
In 1991 Aldridge sent his, then 26-year-old son, Kevin, to Scotland to study Turnberry and other great Scottish courses. Lighting the designer fire in Kevin, who had worked with Bob Cupp in restoring Indianwood's Old Course for the 1989 U.S. Women's Open, the trip resulted in The Gailes. It was named the Best New Resort Course in America in 1993, by Golf Digest.
The Gailes comes as close to recreating the look and feel of the famed seaside courses in Scotland as any course that you'll play in the Great Lakes region. Large double greens, meandering burns and sod-faced pot bunkers abound throughout the course. Wandering drainage ditches and long fescue grasses complete the picture. Typical of seaside courses, the elevation change is no more than eight feet.
Lakewood Shores was well on its way to breaking the stranglehold the large golf resorts on the west side of the state had seemingly established with the stay-and-play crowd. The Gailes had put the resort on the map. Prior to the opening of the new course, the senior Aldridge had built new lodging facilities and had spruced up the grounds around the clubhouse and Serradella Course with the planting of 60,000 meticulously arranged and showcased annuals and perennials.
"Even the guys will comment to our staff about how beautiful all the flowers are," Peters proudly said. "Mrs. Aldridge coordinates the planting and landscaping of all the flowers."
Wee Links, an 18-hole pitch and putt course, was added about the same time. Perfect for juniors, impromptu competitions or just practicing a wedge shot, it's busy all the time, according to Peters.
Not resting long on any laurels, the Aldridges were looking ahead and trying to figure out how to top The Gailes. Again designed by Kevin, the Pine Valley-influenced Blackshire came next. Featuring huge, untended waste sand areas and large undulating greens, Blackshire has a "classic" turn-of-the-century feel. Encompassing less than 200 acres, the potential award winning design features short walks from greens to the next tee box and is easily walked, which is unusual in an era when courses are sometimes spread out over hundreds of acres.
"Again, Kevin didn't have a lot of elevation change to work with to make an interesting course," Peters said. "He chose a dramatic course - Pine Valley - to use as his model. It's not a replica, but the land has that same worn, rugged look and feel. Some of our customers say that it looks unfinished, but it's supposed to look uneven, rough and natural," Peters explained. "The new course has been an immediate hit with our customers and guests."
Lakewood Shores Resort has certainly filled a void on Michigan's east coast. It's a true golfing destination with three very distinctive 18-hole courses. With other courses - like the Arthur Hills-designed Red Hawk course near East Tawas - opening on the east side, it will continue to grow as a top destination. Are they done building new courses at Lakewood? Probably not. They've got enough land to build four or five more courses with Kevin's tight designs, according to Peters.
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