Located in Gaylord, Michigan, Black Forest is one of GolfWeek’s Ten best public courses in Michigan. Considering that the state has more than 800 public courses, that’s high praise. I also think it’s mostly deserved.
For this GolfBlogger, the most lasting impression of Black Forest golf course was of size. It’s BIG. Spread over 400 acres, Black Forest uses every inch to its advantage; an employee told me that there are seven miles of cart paths.
Black Forest was designed by Tom Doak, who has gained fame as the minimalist architect of such courses as Pacific Dunes and Cape Kidnappers. Doak’s philisophy is to let the ground dictate the holes, rather than impose his will on the landscape with a platoon of bulldozers. It’s the right approach, assuming that the tract of land you’re working on has character.
There’s plenty of character in the land Black Forest Golf Course is situated on. It’s hilly, blanketed with forest, and dotted with streams, lakes, marsh and prairie. In short, it’s typical of the land Michiganders like to call “God’s Country.”
Doak’s quest to find holes, rather than create them shows in the course routing. On most holes, there’s a great deal of distance from green to new tee. Others are right next door. But with just two exceptions, I think they all were terrific finds.
Two other design features of Black Forest stand out. The first are the greens. Unlike other resort area courses that let players pump their greens-in-regulation stats with landing zones large enough for helicopters, Black Forest’s are relatively small and tough. On several holes, they’re deceptively so. Many of the greens are significantly elevated, creating a plateau effect and leading to a misjudgment of depth. A couple are nestled behind swales or bends. Because of these, more than once, I aimed at and hit what I thought was a landing zone only to find greenside rough.
The second design feature are large number of bunkers and their irregular, unkept look. At first, I thought it was just a lack of grooming, but later decided that the intent was to add to the character of the course. The course is in the wilderness, so perhaps it’s appropriate that the bunkers look a little wild.
Black Forest has five sets of tees. It measures 7,044 yards from the tips with slope of 147, and 6,129 with a slope of 127 from the whites (men’s forward tees). I played from the whites, and found it a tough, but fair test. It’s a cliche, but I think the course really calls for you to use every one of the clubs in your bag. If you simply bang the ball into the distance, you’re going to get into trouble with bunkers, or with a bad angle for an approach shot.
That’s good course design in my opinion. Tom Doak forces you to think your way around the course. To paraphrase Yogi Berra: Golf is 90% mental; the other half is physical.
There are many outstanding holes on the course but my favorite was the eighteenth (top left). It’s by far the most picaresque, but also, I think the most fun. The tee box is a good hundred and fifty feet above the fairway, and a well struck shot will soar long and far into the distance. Bunkers abound to the left, but there’s plenty of room on the right. Your second shot needs to put the ball on the left foot of a hill upon which the green is perched.
I also really enjoyed the tenth, which is a 532 yard par five that starts on an elevated tee, then sweeps down and left to the hole, tucked in the trees.
Toughest on the course has to be the 238 yard par 3 fifth. It’s uphill across a ravine to another of those smallish greens. Brutal.
The one negative for the course is that it was very slow on the day I played. The round took a completely unacceptable six hours. My advice: get an early tee time and get ahead of the crowds. I can’t recommend a late morning or early afternoon slot.
Rolling Meadows Golf Course
Whitmore Lake, Michigan
Overall Grade: C
Value: B ($19 - $38)
Course Conditions: D
Course Design: C+
Practice Facility: B Practice Green and Driving Range.
Food: C - Gas station cuisine. There’s also a picnic area.
Teacher’s Comments: There’s just enough here to make me go back.
Built in 1978 by the Fielek family, Rolling Meadows is a friendly course: friendly to the pocketbook and friendly to the player. It has just enough variety and interesting holes, to get me to go back, in spite of some relatively poor course conditions.
The front nine begins with a short dogleg par four, a short straightaway par four and a relatively easy par three. But don’t give way to disappointment, because from there the holes become much more interesting.
I liked the fifth, a slight dogleg par four that slopes down to the 150 marker and from there left back uphill to the green. Treelines will catch a slice or hook, but a good straight blast will give you a chance to hit a lofted iron that will stick to the sloping green.
The eighth is a 145 yard par three over a depression at an elevated green. The treeline on the left will play on your mind and make you think about staying right. But a large solitary tree there hides sand trap trouble. If you’re not confident in your target golf, aim for the wider area in front of the green and then pitch up and on.
On the back nine, the par five 11th is a lot of fun. Rip a driver off the tee to corner of the dogleg left. Then hit a wood and a wedge straight at the flag.
The 14th probably could be called the course’s signature hole, as it calls for a couple of strategic decisions. It’s a dogleg right par four with a pond guarding the front of the green and light woods on the inside of the bend.
From the tee, you need to decide how close to the right you want to cut your shot. If you can keep it close without going into the woods, you can probably take a direct shot over the pond at the green for your second shot. If you swing it left to the far corner of the bend, though, you may find the approach shot too far for comfort. Laying up short of the pond may be a better decision. I like holes with this sort of risk-reward.
The 14th is rated as the course’s toughest, but I’d actually vote for the 231 yard par three seventeenth. It’s a downhill shot that needs to be threaded between trees over a pond, while keeping it to the left of a bunker. Madness. (photo, top left)
Fom the back tees, the course measures 6474 with a slope of 119. The whites are 6048 with a slope of 119.
Course conditions on the day I visited were not so good. Tee boxes were in poor shape , and there were bare spots in the fairways. The greens were all in good condition, though.
Another complaint I had was a lack of yardage markers.
Be sure to bring mosquito spray, especially if you are playing in the morning or evening.
Rustic Glen Golf Course
Overall Grade: C+
Value: C ($15 - $37)
Course Conditions: C+
Course Design: C+
Practice Facility: B
Food: B - nothing fancy.
Teacher’s Comments: You won’t mistake this for a premium course, but it’s fun nonetheless.
I had fun at Rustic Glen.
There aren’t any particularly memorable holes. Course conditions were merely adequate. And the routing can sometimes be confusing. It is frankly, not a great course.
But I had fun. And if you’re looking for a cheap and relaxing round of golf, I think you will too.
Rustic Glenn is a farm course, laid out on land adjacent to US 12 six miles west of Saline. The original nine were constructed some thirty years ago; the second in 1999.
The course has a good mix of holes. Some take you across open fields, others through thin woods. There are uphill and downhill tee shots and forced carries. Some require target golf; others are “grip ‘em and rip ‘em.”
Tullymore Golf Club
A trip to Tullymore is not so much a round of golf as an exploration. Carved from western Michigan pine and hardwood forests, and passing through wide expanses of marshland, it exudes a sense of adventure. And Jim Engh’s design offers so many options—so many approaches—that even those who play there on a regular basis must surely make new discoveries each time out.
Tullymore has drawn rave review from golf writers, and Golf Digest has ranked it as the number 14 public course in the country. My experiene with top 20 golf courses is limited to just one other (#18 Forest Dunes), but I have no trouble imagining that Tullymore deserves its place on the list.
I also have a hard time imagining just how special some of the others must be.
Forest Akers Golf Course Review Overall Grade: A Value: A ($40, depending upon time and day of the week) Walkability: A Course Conditions: A+ Course Design: A Practice Facility: ? Food:? Teacher’s Comments: A great course. A graduate of the University of Michigan, I ventured into enemy territory this past summer, traveling to East Lansing to play Michigan State’s renowned Forest Akers East golf course. It was worth the trip. Forest Akers is a delightful course that meanders through a working arboretum, offering a nice variety of holes, and impeccable grooming. The Forest Akers course was built in 1958 on land donated to the University by Mr. Forest Akers. In his gift, he specified that in addition to a golf course, the land also should be preserved as an arboretum. It was a wonderful idea that gives the course a unique character. The variety of trees on the course here simply is stunning (my only complaint might be that there were not plaques on or near the trees telling me what they all were). The original course design was done by Bruce Matthews. It was rerouted and reworked in 1992 by Michigan State alumnus Arthur Hills. One of the things I liked most about the course is that it is accessible to players of all skill levels. Afraid that it would prove as difficult as the University of Michigan’s, I played from the whites and shot one of the better scores of my summer. That doesn’t mean that Forest Akers is easy. Off the tee, the careless player will fall into well placed traps and find himself out of position. Heroic shots sometimes are required. I felt challenged, but never overmatched. The course is walkable, but you need to be in relatively good shape. Distances from green to the next tee are not long, but there are some elevation changes that may leave you huffing. My favorite hole was the par 4 fifth. Measuring 340 yards, it’s a downhill dogleg left, with some tall trees on the inside corner. It offers the temptation of cutting the corner to get within a wedge of the green, or playing the safe shot to the outside, leaving a much longer approach. I, of course, chose the safe option, hit a high fade instead, cleared the trees and miracalously found myself a sand wedge from the green. Another fun hole is the 422 yard, par 4 eighteenth. Also a dogleg, it has a narrow fairway set on a ridge. The inside is guarded by bunkers, prairie grass and further down, a swamp. From the bend, a player must hit a long high shot ( I used a seven wood), over a gulley to a green perched on a hill. Steep bunkers guard the front of the green. I could go on. There are another half dozen holes that I clearly remember providing interesting challenges. Grooming at Forest Akers was impeccable, as befits the home course of a University nationally recognized for its turfgrass and agriculture programs. I saw just one green with a significant blemish, and that was in a spot that—because of the location of the trees—had shade issues. This is a course that any resident of the state—and any visitors to the area—should seek out. I plan to return next summer. But this time I’ll remember to wear green. You can see more photos in a tour of Forest Akers West here.
Arbor Hills Golf Club Review
Overall Grade: A
Value: A+ ($20 with cart)
Course Conditions: A
Course Design: B (short, but interesting)
Practice Facility: C
Food: C nothing fancy.
Teacher’s Comments: Fun. I can’t wait to go back.
There is an ethereal feeling of sadness at Arbor Hills Country Club. Once an exclusive retreat in Jackson, Michigan, it has in the last year opened to public play, having apparently fallen victim to the state’s general economic malaise. Where once there was a pool full of laughing children, there now is an empty concrete hole. A fine snack bar/halfway house sits at the far end of the course, unmanned where once it would have provided employment to local teens. I was told that in recent memory Arbor Hills had a strong caddy program. No more.
None of this, however, affects the quality of the golf. Arbor Hills is a well-maintained gem for those who, like me, appreciate a classic parkland golf course. Built in 1925, it was designed by Arthur Hamm, who has been described as a protege of Donald Ross. Arbor Hills certainly has the tricky small greens, the bunkering and the strategy that you might expect of that vintage.
Not surprisingly, Arbor Hills is relatively short (6,239 yards) and tight. There’s no room to pull tee boxes back by thirty yards to accommodate new equipment. But thanks to old growth trees many of the lining the fairways, the course’s tightness makes up for it. If you’re wild off the tee, you will waste a lot of shots trying to get back into position.
Arbor Hills may have fallen on hard times, but management has not cut corners on course maintenance. Tee boxes, fairways, greens and bunkers all were in very good shape on the hot summer day I visited. That the course has had ninety years to mature probably makes it a lot easier to deal with.
My favorite hole at Arbor Hills was the par five 6th. Measuring 477 yards, it’s a double dogleg that begins by angling left from the tee, over a stream. From about three hundred out, it cuts back right, before heading back left again. The green is elevated, huge and cut into a hillside. The size of the green is a real bonus. I was able, with a terrific drive and a monumental wallop with a three wood to get to the green in two. But that three wood was a low screamer; a smaller green, and I would have skipped off the back.
Another hole of note is the devilish little 148 yard par 3 thirteenth. That unlucky number has a blind tee shot. From the box, the shot must carry uphill to the green, which is sits far enough back on the plateau to escape positive identification. You can see the top of the flagstick, but unless you know the course well, that won’t tell you much. I aimed for the stick, was off line left and ended up with a positive result.
An interesting visual touch on the course are a series of low rock walls in the spaces between fairways, constructed, no doubt, from material removed during course construction. The course also has a picaresque series of bridges on holes four, five and six, on which a stream and marsh come into play.
I had the course entirely to myself on a Thursday morning. That’s too bad. Arbor Hills is a wonderful cgolf course, especially for the bogey golfer who hits it straight, but not far. It deserves more players (especially at the price), and I hope it gets enough to maintain the quality grooming.
Sandy Creek Golf Course
Overall Grade: B
Value: C+ ($34 with cart!)
Course Conditions: B+
Course Design: B
Practice Facility: C
Food: C nothing fancy.
Teacher’s Comments: Fun. I’d go back.
Sandy Creek is a very pleasant course just off the beaten track near Monroe, Michigan. Like so many Southeastern Michigan courses, it offers good conditions, a reasonable challenge and decent prices.
From a design point of view, Sandy Creek has a number of challenging holes. The ninth and tenth, in particular are doglegs that require precise tees shots. Water is present on eleven holes, often in the form of a creek crossing the fairway at a critical juncture. That makes distance control off the tee an important issue. I also liked the fact that it finishes with a strong par 5. The course has a nice mix of doglegs, straightaways, target and muscle holes.
My favorite hole was the par five third. It’s framed very nicely with trees on both sides, and has just enough of a bend to make the proper placement of the tee shot useful but not critical. I enjoy par 5s because they allow me to play my favorite club—a TaylorMade TP 3 Wood—off the deck, and because they often offer me my best chance at a birdie (or better). I’m good with that three wood.
Course conditions on the day I visited were terrific. The local guy I played with told me that the course originally was a sod farm, and that the owners maintain operations nearby. If so, it shows. Fairways were lush, as were the greens, with none of the typical late summer brown spots. The rough was dry in many places, but that’s to be expected. With all of the water in the area, I was surprised to find very few damp spots on the fairway. The drainage systems must be very good.
Another great feature: this course is exceedingly walkable. Tees follow closely on greens, and it’s absolutely flat. It’s one of the few courses I’ve seen where walkers outnumbered cart riders. Ahead of my group were two foursomes of ladies-of-a-certain-age, all walking, and moving on at a fine clip.
The owners of Sandy Creek also deserve props for running what appears to be a very nice junior program. One of my playing partners actually was waiting for his sons to finish their juniors group lesson, following which the large group of kids went out to play nine holes.
There’s an awful lot to like about Sandy Creek. Although it’s about 45 minutes from GolfBlogger World Headquarters, it’s a course I intend to visit again soon.
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