Well, I’m playing golf, if that’s what you call it but I simply haven’t been very motivated to write about the game lately. I’m in a horrendous slump, trying to break in new clubs while also attempting to figure out my swing issues and it’s resulted in a pretty sour writer here at Now on the Tee.
Thankfully, a recent little golf vacation has woken me from my slumber and while I still seek the answer to my scoring problems, my motivation to talk about golf and architecture has returned.
Just last week, I spent five days travelling through Michigan with my pal Harris and our itinerary for the trip would probably make even the President blush.
First, we decided to break up what would have been a seven hour drive by taking in a Saturday afternoon matinee between the Detroit Tigers and the Tampa Bay Rays at gorgeous Comerica Park!
In all seriousness, I haven’t been to a live baseball game in over ten years and that was a doubleheader at Wrigley Field back when Sammy Sosa was patrolling right field for the Cubs! That experience ruined me in the best way possible – there is no way I can go to another game at the abomination known as Rogers Centre in Toronto, that “park” with zero ambiance, atmosphere or character. So I came out of hibernation when Harris made the great suggestion to visit Comerica and I’m glad we did – it’s a beautiful park, with great sounds, smells and excellent sight lines. We sat just behind the Tigers dugout and made it through six innings of a game that saw Detroit get humbled by the visitors before departing on our three and a half hour drive north.
We had a golf game the next morning at Forest Dunes GC in Roscommon!
We arrived just before 10pm at Forest Dunes and stayed in their lovely on-site lodging, grabbing a beer and a bit of food that night before heading to bed to prepare for our early morning tee time.
We were paired with a couple of Forest Dunes assistants and we had a blast playing this very interesting Tom Weiskopf design that is equal parts parkland and wasteland. This is my first time playing a Weiskopf design and I must say it’s very well thought out, with plenty of movement on relatively flat ground, some “tough as nails” par threes and great variation in the distances of the two-shotters. Forest Dunes is currently ranked as the 23rd best public course in the United States by Golf Digest.
We had a quick drink after the round then headed back out for another two and a half hour drive to our next destination, Arcadia Bluffs GC, another public track that is rated even higher than Forest Dunes, coming in 13th in Golf Digest’s 2013 ranking.
With a late sunset on Lake Michigan due to the fact it’s so far west in the Eastern time zone, we were able to tee off at 4:30pm and still have the chance to complete our round. We met up with our friend Rob, who joined us for the round and we also got paired with another chap who patiently waited for us on the first green, as Harris and I were a few minutes late for the tee time.
Arcadia gets a lot of flak from architecture aficionados, as this is anything but a natural design, with an incredible amount of dirt and sand moved to build the fairways and greens on a very challenging site. Still, this Warren Henderson/Rick Smith collaboration is breathtaking in spots and I really enjoyed the experience. I actually had my best round of the trip here, birdieing the 8th and 9th holes in succession to finish off a tidy one under par 35 on the front, my first sub-par nine this year. I’d stumble a bit on the back as darkness fell but still ended up with a fine 76 (+4) and a great 7&5 win over Harris, which earned me a delicious seafood pasta dinner in the beautiful Arcadia clubhouse!
From there, we headed into Frankfort to our lodging for the evening and we’d need some rest to prepare for our morning tee time at the very exclusive and highly ranked Crystal Downs CC!
Crystal Downs is credited to both Alister MacKenzie and Perry Maxwell, who worked on behalf of MacKenzie in the midwest. While universally beloved by GCA types (if you don’t know what I mean by that, you don’t qualify for that designation!), it’s generally unknown by the “retail golfer”, as it’s very private and hasn’t hosted any major events. Still, this was the highest ranked golf course that we played on our trip, sitting 13th on Golf Digest’s 2013 ranking of all golf courses in the US, private and public combined. A high honour indeed and very deserving of its lofty stature, with incredible tumbling land and perhaps the most devilish greens I’ve ever seen, so devilish that today’s green speeds are likely a tad too quick for normal play here. I saw MANY putts fall back at our feet throughout the day and some that went past our feet and kept rolling back down the slopes to the fairways set below.
It was great fun and Harris, Rob and I had a blast trying to navigate around this wonderfully routed design.
We chilled out for awhile, grabbing lunch and having a beer on the beach before departing for the Kingsley Club, a very cool Mike DeVries design about an hour east of Frankfort.
Kingsley, built in 2001, is a “destination” club in that it’s pretty much in the middle of nowhere, about a half hour from Traverse City, private and has beautiful lodging on-site for their members and guests. The course features wide playing corridors, big kicker slopes in fairways and around greens, embraces the ground game like no other course in the midwest and plays very firm and fast. There are many similarities to Ballyneal, one of my favourite courses in the world, located in Holyoke, Colorado but of course, Kingsley came first!
The course is wonderful and fun personified, the staff are great and the lodging is very comfortable and fits well in the surroundings. I have to imagine it would be a true pleasure to be a member here and I feel the course is criminally underrated, not even making any of the Golf Digest lists but it does register quite well with the Golfweek raters. I’m guessing that once more people get out here, it will start to rise a bit in the rankings.
We played 54 holes over two days at Kingsley then headed back towards Detroit and the lovely town of Birmingham, grabbing a great dinner before preparing for our final round of the trip, which was to take place at the famed South Course at Oakland Hills CC.
There’s not much I can say about Oakland Hills and the supreme test that awaits on its vaunted South Course, which is rated 20th among all courses in the United States, both public and private. It’s hosted 10 USGA events, including six US Opens, three PGA Championships and also the 2004 Ryder Cup, famous for Hal Sutton’s tragic misstep in pairing Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson on their way to getting smoked by the European contingent and captain Bernhard Langer. The list of winners at Oakland Hills is a who’s who of golf royalty: Ben Hogan, Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, Gary Player, Padraig Harrington, Andy North…okay, I should have stopped at Harrington!
I expected monotonous, tree-lined fairways and a constant stream of 475 yard par fours but I couldn’t be more wrong about this incredibly difficult but eminently fair Donald Ross design. The playing corridors are wide and this course is playable for all manner of players but the greens…oh my the greens! Superb inner contours with distinctive bunkering on a very grand scale, reminiscent of many of the great private clubs like Riviera and Augusta National, with dramatic capes and slopes throughout.
I understand that the greens are slowed somewhat during the week but run at close to US Open speed on weekends when the big games are played among the low handicap membership. The rough was nasty, even on the day I played and I can definitely see how they can tune this place up quickly for high-level championship play. The US Amateur is returning to the club in 2016 and there is a good chance a future US Open will be awarded on the heels of that event. I loved my day at Oakland Hills, one of the great clubs in the country.
Expect detailed reviews of all five Michigan courses sometime in the future and there is no doubt in my mind that I will be returning to this golf rich destination sooner, rather than later!