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Judges (along with input from readers of Michigan Golf Magazine): Randy Prichard, associate publisher and director, Michigan Golf Magazine; Don Vanderveen, Michigan Golf senior writer and freelance contributor to the Detroit News and Detroit Free Press; Jason Deegan, Web editor of www.michigangolf.com and freelance contributor to Golf Magazine, Travel Golf Media (www.travelgolf.com), and Golf Vacations Magazine.

Rating criteria (on a scale of 1-5, 1 being the lowest): Playability, Condition, Service, Aesthetics, Value. Greens fees based on 2005 rates with cart.

By Randy Prichard

Michigan is blessed with so many truly great golf courses that we endeavored to rate them in the interest of selecting Michigan’s Top 50 public golf courses every reader can play. The process was admittedly subjective, but insightful, and the results refreshingly surprising.

Aesthetics are subjective. For instance, I have an infatuation for links-style courses; I find beauty in seeing the golf course, the terrain, and various attributes associated with open, sweeping layouts. Other players, however, prefer wooded settings, tree-lined fairways and elevation changes. Value can also be subjective. Courses people play are largely associated with what they can afford.

We could have put a panel of seven judges together but I doubt that the results would have changed much. After all, there was only a .83-point difference between the No. 1 rated course and the No. 25 rated course. Clearly, anyone in the Top 50 can thump their chest and say, “I’m among Michigan’s elite, one of the best in the state amid the 700-plus public golf facilities.”

The golf boom of the late 90s was good for the Michigan golfer. Every course rated among the Top 10 opened in the past nine years, Timberstone being the oldest.

Golf course architect Arthur Hills is well represented, with five courses among the Top 25, four of which participate in the Art Hills Golf Trail.

Michigan Golf presents 50 of the very best courses you can play in the “Public Golf Course Capital of the World.”

 

The Top 10

 

#1. Arcadia Bluffs, Arcadia. Rating: 4.66, Peak Season Greens Fee: $180 – Since its opening in 2000, Arcadia has had no rival. The setting on 245 acres overlooking Lake Michigan and 3,100 feet of Great Lakes shoreline puts it over the top, but make no mistake, it’s a world-class golf course with 50 sod-wall bunkers. Rerouting of the two nines and rebuilding of several greens has only improved its stature. Golf Digest suggests that Arcadia is one of the Top 10 Public Courses you can play in the U.S.

Deegan: “There are many great courses and each have great layouts or great holes, but no other Michigan course can compare to Arcadia. The greens are often criticized but golfers need to swallow their ego.”

Vanderveen: “Arcadia is as close to British-style golf as most Michiganders are ever going to get. It’s Michigan’s must-play destination. If you have your short game in order you can score well. But this course requires a complete game – putting, driving accuracy, irons, chipping, bunkers.”

 

 

#2. Forest Dunes, Roscommon. Rating: 4.5, Peak Season Greens Fee: $125 – The clubhouse alone makes Forest Dunes a stunner, but it doesn’t mask the beauty of this Michigan gem, a 1,200-acre golf oasis in the middle of the Huron National Forest. I said it in a 2003 review, “not a single hole is contrived.” The opening par 4 sets the stage for a memorable round and each hole thereafter adds to the enjoyment. Brick stamped concrete cart paths carry you around the entire course. In a word: Perfect.

Deegan: “Forest Dunes is very pure. Every aspect is immaculate.”

Vanderveen: “For pure golf, this course rivals Aracadia Bluffs, and if it were not for its location it might well be No. 1. Golf in Michigan doesn’t get much better.”

 

 

#3. Timberstone, Iron Mountain. Rating 4.38, Peak Season Greens Fee: $68 – Timberstone is the only public Michigan golf course to which Golf Digest awarded five stars. It was also The Michigan Golf Course Owners Association “Course of the Year” for 2004. This is by far golf course architect Jerry Matthews’ best work in Michigan. The $68 greens fee makes the eight-hour drive from Detroit worth it.

Deegan: “I wish it were closer to me.”

Vanderveen: “If Timberstone was in Wisconsin it would be that states No. 2 course.”

 

 

#4. Eagle Eye, Bath. Rating 4.32, Peak Season Greens Fee: $85 – Chris Lutzke had his eye on this project from the time he was tutoring under Jerry Matthews. When he joined Pete Dye, the dominoes fell into place, as did each magnificent hole. Critics will chide Eagle Eye for being manufactured. That said, the stark contrast to most courses you’ll play is nothing short of dramatic. The folks at Hawk Hollow, home to Eagle Eye, know golf. They rank among the best operators in the state, evidenced by the immaculate condition of every tee station, fairway, bunker and green.

Deegan: “This course has surprised everyone. It’s just awesome. The replication of the Pete Dye par 3 island hole at The TPC at Sawgrass course is reason enough for Eagle Eye to be a course you have to play.”

Vanderveen: “I’m not big on imitations, but the par 3 island hole is something you have to try. The two closing par 5s have no match in Michigan. The whole course is unique for Michigan golf. The (course) condition when I played was second to none.”

 

 

#5. Greywalls, Marquette. Rating 4.29, Peak Season Greens Fee: $125. Golf course architect Mike DeVries has been quietly making a name for himself in Michigan: The Kingsley Club, Pilgrim’s Run, Diamond Springs. Greywalls puts him on the national radar. Golf Magazine suggests Greywalls is among the “Top 10 New Public Courses You Can Play.” DeVries would be the first to tell you that his new masterpiece had less to do with him than it did Mother Nature. Having said that, his design had to be equal to the setting. The natural terrain and huge rock outcroppings provide a stage unmatched in the state. Add mountain vistas to Lake Superior and the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore and you have a golf destination worth the trip.

Deegan: “Greywalls is a magical place, offering unique characteristics. Greywalls proves that it doesn’t matter where a golf course is located, golfers will work to get there if it’s worth the trouble. Greywalls is all that.”

Vanderveen: “Consider for a moment that two of Michigan’s Top Five golf courses are in the U.P. Greywalls just provided me another reason to visit Timberstone. Kudos to Mike DeVries.”

 

 

#6. Black Lake, Onaway. Rating 4.27, Peak Season Greens Fee: $85 less 20 percent for UAW members – Rees Jones, the so-called “Open Doctor” and son of Robert Trent Jones, nearly slipped two golf courses into Michigan’s Top 50. Both opened virtually back-to-back. And while downstate sister Thousand Oaks is every bit a classic design, Black Lake gets a few points on location and land formations. Suffice to say that Onaway, Mich. doesn’t come to mind as one of the first places you plan to visit, unless of course you aspire to play one of the state’s truly fine golf courses. Black Lake opened in 2002 to rave reviews, including a #2 ranking as Golf Digest’s “Best New Upscale Public Course.”

Deegan: “Black Lake is a victim of competition. The course is equally as enjoyable as any in the Top Five. There are no bad holes on the course. Each are very playable and very pleasing.”

Vanderveen: “Name one course Rees Jones has done you wouldn’t want to play. His golf courses are very traditional while influenced by today’s standards.”

 

 

#7. Tullymore-St. Ives Resort, Stanwood. Rating 4.27, Peak Season Greens Fee: $99 – Tullymore is one of those courses that looks as if every hole was painted to perfection. Long renown for providing a quality golf experience, St. Ives Resort trumped even their standards of high-end golf with Tullymore. Jim Engh was the person for the job. A Colorado native, Engh brought an entirely different perspective to Michigan golf. Shortly after Tullymore opened, which it did in 2001 as the #1 New Upscale Public Course in America (Golf Digest), Engh was named the golf course Architect of the Year in 2003 by the same publication.

Deegan: “Again, this course suffers from very stiff competition. Tullymore is an exhilarating Engh design.”

Vanderveen: “One of the premier golf course architects in the U.S. took a very challenging piece of land, mostly marsh, and created a spectacular golf course.”

 

 

#8. Tribute-Otsego Club, Gaylord. Rating 4.25, Peak Season Greens Fee: $79 – This Rick Robbins/Gary Koch collaboration is the crown jewel of the Gaylord Golf Mecca which features 432 holes of incomparable Northern Michigan golf. The Tribute weaves 18 meticulously placed holes over 1,100 acres of the Otsego Club ski resort. The elevation changes that sweep over the Sturgeon River Valley afford the golfer some of the most dramatic vistas in Michigan.

Deegan: “Surprisingly the word has been slow to get out on the Tribute. I’m a big fan of what the Tribute offers; the course condition, elevation changes and sweeping fairways. This course quietly sits in the Top 10,”

Vanderveen: “The Tribute gets overshadowed but it’s one of Michigan’s ‘Oh Wow’ courses. It’s as nice a course as you’ll find in this state. Koch definitely had an eye for what fit that piece of land.”

 

 

#9. Bay Harbor-Boyne Resorts, Bay Harbor. Rating 4.23, Peak Season Greens Fee: $179/$149 house-guest – The bayside nine holes on the southern shore of Little Traverse Bay are what make this a truly spectacular golf course, not only the views, but the Art Hills design and use of the land. Complement these nine holes with the Quarry nine and you have a memorable round of golf.

Deegan: “It’s too bad more people don’t have access to Bay Harbor. Now more than ever golfers look for value. I love the Quarry holes. It’s easy to overlook any flaws of this course because the setting is so beautiful.”

Vanderveen: “Take away the Links nine and you have just another very good Michigan golf course, but the Links holes make Bay Harbor more than just another very good Michigan course. It definitely has to be in the Top 10.”

 

 

#10. Pilgrim’s Run, Pierson. Rating 4.12, Peak Season Greens Fee: $65 – Kudos to the most unpretentious golf course in the Top 10. No snobbery here and they don’t serve alcohol. The story on Pilgrim’s Run is that six individuals took three holes each, incorporated the input of then superintendent Kris Shumaker and architect Mike DeVries, and created an opus to golf course design.

Deegan: “Pilgrim’s Run raised some eyebrows when word got out on how it was designed. This is not snob golf. Not pretentious. Great value. Women-friendly and service oriented. Sounds like a recipe for success.”

Vanderveen: “I’ve never heard one negative comment about Pilgrim’s Run. Anyone who has ever played it plans to play it again.”

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