Golf In Michigan’s College Towns
Guest post courtesy of John Retzer, GolfBlogger.Com
Autumn in Michigan is defined by three things – football, fall colors, and fall flavors (including cider and donuts).
Not to be overlooked, however, is fall golf in Michigan. It is actually my favorite time of the year to play, thanks to the season’s cool, dry days, spectacular colors, great course conditions (assuming the leaves have been swept and the course isn’t aerating), low prices and uncluttered pace.
If you’re headed to one of Michigan’s University towns for a football game, take the time to play a nearby golf course. Here are a few of my favorites. I’ve played every one of the courses mentioned here, and most of them more than once.
The University of Michigan
The University of Michigan in Ann Arbor is one of the nation’s premier academic institutions. On the gridiron, the Wolverines have the most wins in the history of college football. The University of Michigan’s home course is a wonderful Alister MacKenzie design located across the street from the 107,000-seat football stadium. On home-football Saturdays, the course is used for parking and tailgating, so playing “The Blue” is not an option. The good news is that there are more than a dozen courses within a short drive of downtown Ann Arbor. Two good ones:
One of two Ann Arbor city courses, Leslie Park was listed by Golf Digest as the best municipal course in the country. Long, tough and surprisingly hilly, Leslie Park was built in 1967, then renovated in 1995 by Arthur Hills. It is a true “Championship Course,” having served as host for Volvik LPGA Championship play-ins and a variety of city and state tournaments. Leslie Park has a little bit of everything: open, links style holes; parklands; woodlands; water and marsh; and hills. Lots of hills.
Just outside Ann Arbor city limits, Lake Forest offers two distinct nines. The first is open and largely treeless, though not really the “links” style that the promotional material suggests. The back nine cuts through woodlands and marsh. Both sides generally play shorter than the scorecard would suggest, making this a friendly course for the bogey golfer. A bonus is their very nice practice facility.
Michigan State University
MSU hosts the State of Michigan’s agricultural extension service, and has a particular focus on turfgrass. Michigan State’s Turfgrass Information Center works in cooperation with the USGA and hosts the world’s largest collection of turfgrass information. As you might expect, MSU is also home to two fine golf courses, Forest Akers East and West. I don’t run a golf course, but still find their information bulletins interesting. Here are two to play on a Spartan football weekend in East Lansing:
Designed by Michigan State alumnus Arthur Hills, Forest Akers West wanders through a working arboretum, making the course as pretty as it is challenging. The course is named for Forest Akers, the farmer who donated the land. In addition to the ever-present trees, players will be challenged by elevation changes, strategic bunkering and organic, irregularly edged fairways. These are offset, however, by friendly greens. As expected from a course owned by a nationally recognized turfgrass program, conditions at Forest Akers West have been top notch every time I’ve visited.
Eagle Eye Golf Club (featured above)
Eagle Eye lies five miles north of East Lansing, in the hamlet of Bath. Designed by Chris Lutzke in collaboration with Pete Dye, Eagle Eye is a links-style course that winds its way around patches of water and marsh. Dramatic, man-made mounding on this former sod farm creates the sensation of playing among seaside dunes, offers strategic variety and gives holes a sense of isolation. The seventeenth is a replica of Pete Dye’s famous 17th hole at Sawgrass. In 2014, Golf Digest rated Eagle Eye as the fifth best public course in Michigan. Eagle Eye is also the home of the Michigan Section of the PGA.
Eastern Michigan University
Originally the Michigan State Normal School—a specialized teacher’s college—Eastern Michigan now offers 200 undergraduate and 170 graduate programs. That said, it still is the largest producer of educational personnel in the country. Located just eight miles from the University of Michigan’s Ann Arbor campus, Eastern Michigan is a member of the Mid-American Conference (MAC). Its golf teams play at Eagle Crest, one of two courses you should play when in town for an Eagles game:
Laid out across hills and lowlands bordering Ford Lake, Eagle Crest is Washtenaw County’s only “resort course.” Eagle Crest is owned by Eastern Michigan University and is part of the adjacent convention center, Marriott hotel and resort facilities of the same name. Designed by Karl Litten, who is better known for his work in Florida, Eagle Crest is straightforward and player friendly – exactly what you want from a resort course. Two of the best and prettiest holes play along the shores of Ford Lake.
Dating to 1899, Washtenaw Golf Club is the third oldest course in Michigan. It wasn’t designed by Donald Ross, but legend has it that the master visited and gave it his seal of approval. Private for most of its history, Washtenaw was recently opened to the public. As you might expect from a course of its vintage, Washtenaw has a back-and-forth layout, tees that follow closely after greens, smallish greens and tight, tree-lined fairways. Fans of classic golf courses shouldn’t miss this one.
Western Michigan University
Western Michigan University, located in Kalamazoo, also began life as a “Normal School” (teacher’s college). Today, it hosts one of the nation’s best aviation programs, as well as nearly two hundred other undergraduate and graduate programs. With an enrollment of 23,000, Western Michigan is a member of the Mid-American Conference. Kalamazoo and nearby Battle Creek are rich in quality golf courses. If you’re in town for a weekend of Broncos football, find a tee time at:
Gull Lake View Golf Club and Resort (pictured above)
Located fourteen miles northeast of Western Michigan University, Gull Lake View Golf Club and Resort boasts six excellent courses: Gull Lake View East and West; Stonehedge North and South; Bedford Valley and Stoatin Brae. All are big, broad-shouldered courses, interesting and well-kept. Gull Lake West and Stonehedge South are woodlands layouts. Gull Lake View East, Stonehedge North and Bedford Valley are parkland style. Bedford Valley has hosted a variety of state golf championships. Stoatin Brae, the most recent, is a unique links-style course laid out on a plateau that is the highest point in Kalamazoo County; the views there are spectacular. The Gull Lake View Resort also has lodging and restaurants.
Central Michigan University
Central Michigan University is located in the literal center of Michigan’s Lower Peninsula. Like its siblings (Eastern, Western and Northern), the Mount Pleasant-based university was originally a teacher’s college, growing into a full University as demand increased. Today, Central continues its teacher education background while also excelling in fields as diverse as neuroscience and recreation/event management, which are considered among the nation’s best. Chippewa fans have a variety of available courses, including:
Buck’s Run is a wood- and parklands course with a big feel: wide, tree lined fairways; elevation changes; and isolated holes that can make you feel as though you’re the only group on the course. Architect Jerry Matthews put a lot of variety into the holes in this layout, giving everyone chances to play holes that suit their eye and their game. Bucks Run is reminiscent of the courses you’ll find at Michigan resorts much further north.
Northern Michigan University
Northern Michigan University is in Marquette, on the shores of Lake Superior. Northern is the largest and most comprehensive of colleges in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and is the home of the second largest of the US Olympic Team training centers. As with the rest of the state, the Marquette area has some terrific golf in Michigan, including:
Greywalls is one most spectacular golf courses in a state filled with spectacular courses. This Mike Devries design is set on high bluffs overlooking Lake Superior, offering incredible views of the largest of the Great Lakes. The “Grey Walls” in the name are rock outcroppings around which the course has been built and which appear on every hole. This is a naturalistic course on which the holes were necessarily “found,” and not made.
Michigan has 21 colleges and universities that field football teams. But with more than 700 golf courses in the state, there is sure to be a great round nearby. Squeeze in a round before a night game, or stay overnight and play on Sunday morning. Golf in Michigan can be the perfect addition to a big football weekend.
That leaves just the cider and donuts and fall color.
For cider and donuts, keep your eyes open as you drive to the big game. Michigan produces more than 900 million pounds of apples each year, and farmers’ markets selling homemade cider and donuts are legion.
As for fall color, it is literally everywhere. Enjoy.