by Art McCafferty
Lansing has more than golf courses to bring to the golf world. Michigan State University's Turf Grass School is known around the world and has graduates in many prestigious positions. The area is also home to members of the most prolific golf course architect family in Michigan, namely the Matthews. Jerry Matthews & Associates and Design 3, the firm that features Bruce Matthews' grandson Bruce Matthews III, are both located there. The person who started it all, Bruce Matthews, is a 1925 graduate of MSU, and designed MSU's Forest Akers West course in 1958 and the East course in 1972.
Lansing is also the home of McKay Golf Properties, a visionary firm launched by Cecil McKay back in 1964. McKay Properties was the only firm specializing in golf course real estate sales at the time.
And finally, Lansing is the home of the Michigan Travel Bureau, a state bureacracy that's been of enormous help in the past and is looking to do more in the future. (see related article.)
Of late, the Lansing area became noted for the emergence of Timber Ridge. This upscale public course received rave reviews from the golf media and the golfing public. It launched a cooperative partnership with John Dodge, Jerry Matthews and Cecil McKay, and a new way to do business which is still perking along today. It also provided an anchor for an emerging golf destination area. This year, Hawk Hollow, Wheatfield Valley and the remodeled Emerald will come on board.
Our article focuses mainly on Ingham County with an exception here or there.
For information on Lansing golf, call the local convention and visitors bureau for a free brochure. 800-968-8474.
Timber Ridge, East Lansing
This is one of Jerry Matthews' best courses. Timber Ridge has received its share of awards since coming on the scene in 1990. In fact, John Dodge, one of the course owners, says that they have stopped advertising because the play is so heavy. While not good news for people in our business, it does speak for the excellence of the course.
Timber Ridge's 164 acres reside on an old tree farm. The course has 88 feet of elevation changes and a total of 56 bunkers to test your metal. There are seven water holes and a five acre lake on 18.
The course is kept in great condition for its 125 members and outside play. It has a first rate clubhouse and an excellent pro shop. Paul Hughes is the head professional at Timber Ridge and he'll take great care of you.
16339 Park Lane Road * 517-339-8000
Branson Bay Golf Course, Mason
Measuring about 6500 yards from the tips, Branson is a tight, challenging course. The course, recently expanded to an 18 hole layout, is nestled in a natural setting.
215 Branson Bay Drive, Mason
Brookshire Inn and Golf Course, Williamston
Brookshire added another nine last year a decision it took them 36 years to make. However, they did score a coup by having the grandson of famed golf architect Bruce Matthews design it. Bruce Matthews III, of Design 3, not only built the back nine, but he tweaked the front nine as well. It's a wonderful golf course and a rarity in that it's located in the center of the city. Williamston, like many other cities in Michigan, is growing steadily and needed the extra golf holes.
While the golf course is splendid, the Inn is certainly in a league of its own. We visited the night when they had a wedding going on and it was just the nicest wedding in the nicest location.
Brookshire is certainly worth a look.
205 W. Church, downtown Williamston
Wheatfield Valley, Williamston
George Duke, owner of the 36 hole layout at Hartland Glen, is bringing his no frills golf philosophy to Williamston this summer. Wheatfield Valley is located on Linn Road just off Williamston (exit 117) on I-96. The course will be opening up weather permitting , in late June or early July.
Wheatfield Valley is designed for the mid to high handicap golfer. Duke and Kevin Sustie were the course architects. Sustie will stay at Wheatfield as director of golf while Tom Niemi takes over as greens keeper. Playing just over 6000 yards from the tips, the course is and probably will remain pretty open. The back nine offers a little more roll to it than the front with water hazards and bunkers having been kept to a minimum. There will only be two teeing areas, but they will be huge.
The maintenance building and cart barn will be up this spring with a small clubhouse to follow in late summer. The clubhouse will be big enough to handle a 150 person scramble.
Duke's Hartland Glen has pushed through a ton of golfers every summer. His courses are known for fast play and little trouble. You can score on them and they are easy on the pocketbook. Wheatfield Valley will be of the same philosophy.
For further information you can call 810-887-3777.
El Dorado, Mason
El Dorado recently became a 27 hole layout. It's the neighborhood course that grew up. They bill themselves as having plush fairways, true greens and a well maintained course.
They also specialize in catering for group outings and can really move a lot of golfers. It probably gets more traffic than any course in the Lansing area, but they're able to keep it superb shape. This course is really removed from the madding crowd. It's managed by John Dodge of Majestic, Timber Ridge and Hawk Hollow fame.
3750 W. Howell, Mason
The Emerald at Maple Creek, St. Johns
"Location, location, location." Is the answer to the three most important factors behind successful real estate. Ditto for golf courses. Certainly, The Emerald at Maple Creek has a prime location, being located off busy US-27 between Mt.Pleasant and Lansing. But in addition to a nice spot on the state map, The Emerald has a smart design that will guarantee repeat traffic. On the grounds of the former Clinton County C.C., The Emerald is a completely new course, through the fine efforts of Matthews & Assoc., having essentially turned under the old course to make way for the new. Heading up the course is Ed Kelbel Jr. whose family's been in the golf business for three generations. " I was drawn to this project, " said Kelbel " due to its excellent location and its position as an upscale public facility." Kelbel cites three major reasons why he feels the course will be well-received. "One, will be the conditioning; it'll be like a country club. Second, players will appreciate that off the fairways all the undergrowth has been cleared," said Kelbel. "Finally, the design is challenging yet not too difficult."
In touring The Emerald last fall, I discovered a friendly layout with a number of very good holes. And as far as its penal features--O.B. on the first five holes - well at least they're out of the way early in the round. There are only a few forced carries and most of the green sites have open approaches. The par 71 layout will have four sets of tees (another smart move) and range from 5233 to 6644 yards - reasonable, enjoyable length options. On the front side, I was impressed with the par three 4th hole that ranges from 152 to 224 yards from the three tee areas. A large pond stretches down the right side of this hole while O.B. is all down the left. The good news is a generous green with an open entrance guarded by two greenside bunkers. In the old days of penal design (6 years ago?) that pond would've fronted the green and served as a ball reclamation profit center.
On the back side, I liked what I saw of the dogleg par 4 13th hole. Although the landing area is generous, it's intimidated by majestic oaks that line the fairways. One's second shot is toward a large green, guarded by a single bunker.
The Emerald will be a winner of a course. All the principals behind the project know golf and are committed to making customer service a priority. As evidence, I appreciated the large sign on the 18th hole which says: "Thank you for playing The Emerald!" Little things like that tell volumes. Besides an ample practice facility, there is an impressive 4600 sq. ft. clubhouse with a patio and deck overlooking the ninth hole.
The Emerald is located in St. Johns - home of the annual Mint Festival. It's a good bet this aspiring gem likewise will generate a mint for its proprietors. Call 517-224-6287.
- Terry Moore
Forest Akers, East Lansing
One of the premier golf facilities in the Lansing area, the twin Akers courses were the legacy of Forest Akers, an MSU alum. The renovated West is considered one of the best tracts in the Big 10.
Forest Akers West was given the cover of the Sep/Oct 1995 Michigan Golfer issue. The course had been totally redone by Arthur Hills. Hills, an alum of the school, added additional tee boxes, redid some bunkers and did some re-contouring of the fairways.
Hills also completely reworked holes 13-15. Pro Steve Ruthenberg indicates all the work has been well received. The course was originally designed by Bruce Matthews.
Dewey Ducharme, in a previous article in MG, noted that the 16th hole on the course has one of the best bunker layouts in Michigan.
Forest Akers East built in 1972 and also designed by Bruce Matthews, is the kinder and gentler of the two courses.
These course get heavy play, so call ahead.
Hawk Hollow, Bath
There is probably no one more bullish on Lansing golf than John Dodge. He's been an observer on the scene for quite a few years and feels that Lansing can go up against any area with their first tier of golf courses. Frankly, he feels that you can enjoy the same quality of "up north" courses in the Lansing area save yourself all that driving and save enough money to pay for your lodging. The Lansing courses partner up with over 10 hotel properties in the area, including the new Fairfield Inn being built by Marsh Ridge's Dick Weber and Gaylord Holiday Inn's Tom Weiss.
Dodge, a former restaurateur in the Lansing area, sold his last one, Sneakers, last year. After spending 24 consecutive Christmas Eves with his wife making sure the restaurants were servicing their customer base, he decided to get out. This decision occurred after his success with Timber Ridge.
Since then, John has brought on board the highly acclaimed 27 hole Majestic course in Hartland and a renovated El Dorado that is now 27 holes.
This year marks the appearance of his newest treasure, Hawk Hollow, which was designed by Jerry Matthews. The land that Hawk Hollow is on isn't foreign to earth moving equipment. A former sand and peat mine, the land had been roughed up a little. However, Matthews was able to blend the natural and unnatural features of the land into a wonderful course.
John flat-out will tell you that Hawk Hollow is going to be one of the best courses in Michigan. You can visit it and judge for your self. The back nine will open in June with the back nine to follow in July.
For tee times and other information, call 517-641-HAWK.
Groesbeck Golf Course, Lansing
It's an excellent municipal course, in fact, it was rated as one of the Top Ten by Michigan Golfer in 1994. Groesbeck was also rated in a Ladies Choice survey in the Michigan Golfer as one of the Ten Favorite Michigan Golf Courses. The course is relatively short, but has an even mixture of hard and easy holes.
1600 Ormond Road, Lansing
Centennial Acres, Sunfield
Centennial Acres received 2 1/2 stars in Golf Digest's places to play. It seems to be a real sleeper in Michigan. The front nine is open with huge greens with the back nine being a little tighter.
When you talk to people who've played it, they're very animated about how much they enjoyed the course.
1285 Dow Rd., Sunfield
Royal Scott, Lansing
Royal Scott was voted the favorite golf course in Lansing in a study conducted by Capitol Research Service. Long known for its great greens and superb maintenance, Royal Scott is also a favorite of women golfers.
4722 W. Grand River, Lansing