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(Prices reflect those of the courses in 2004)

 

  Grand ViewGleneagleScott LakeGracewill GolfLE KaufmanOceana GolfDiamond SpringsThe Colonial
  Pigeon CreekThunder Bay ResortThe RoseKatke GolfWhite Pine NationalRed Fox RunHessel Ridge
  Chocolay DownsWillow WoodsForest AkersKensington MetroparkHickory SticksThe Emerald
  CascadesHunters RidgeMystic CreekPierce Lake
   
 

Written by Randy Prichard, in association with Don VanderVeen, Jason Deegan, Jack Rogers and John Olsa/ Photography by Michael Buck

While the upscale courses, those charging north of $75 for an 18-hole round of golf, get much of the headlines, Michigan is blessed with an abundance of truly outstanding courses that you can walk virtually any weekday, and in some cases the weekend, and tee it up for $25 or less. In fact, if you don’t mind legging it, you have better than a six out of ten chance of golfing in the Great Lakes State for less than you would pay for a sleeve of premium golf balls.

Michigan Golf surveyed 524 public 18-hole facilities for this story, discovering that “high dollar” courses, those charging $75 or more for greens fees, account for only 6% of total public courses in Michigan. Carts are mandatory on practically all such courses, thus a walking rate was not an option.

Michigan Golf presents 25 courses that rank among the best in the state that you can play for $25 or less for walking 18 holes*

WEST
Grand View Golf Course, New Era — $18
Measuring 6,258-yards, this dollar-a-holler jewel pays dividends on every tee; a must-play if your travels take you to the shores of Lake Michigan. Twelve years ago David Goerbig took a wedge of his father’s cherry orchard and personally built an 18-hole course that ranks as one of the best values in the state. The grounds crew keeps the facility in picture-perfect condition. Bentgrass tees and greens. Bluegrass fairways.

Gleneagle Golf Club, Hudsonville — $25
General Manager Mike Shields has a love for golf that shows in his knack for design, especially on the putting surface. Shields gave the former 27-hole facility a complete makeover in 1997. Nine holes were closed. New holes were added. Every hole promises exceptionally manicured, undulating greens that will test your short game like few courses can. Gleneagle measures 6,705 yards with four sets of tees. Just added: Little Prestwick, a new 18-hole, bentgrass putting course.

Scott Lake Golf Club, Belmont — $22
Golf really is fun at Scott Lake (at $22 who could argue), primarily because owner Jeff Hoag wouldn’t have it any other way. Architect Jeff Gorney added to the enjoyment when he slipped in nine new holes on the south side of the facility in 1998. Hoag liked what Gorney did to the point that he invited him back to add a few more holes, keeping Scott Lake on the golfing radar for years to come. More additions are planned, including a complete practice facility.

Gracewill Golf Course, Walker — $21
Since 1929, the Wilson family has built Gracewil from its original 9 holes to the 36-hole facility it is today. Gracewil gets a lot of league and outing play but it seems to only inspire the owners to work that much harder to keep the facility in top shape. Recent improvements include updates to the clubhouse, bar and restaurant. Very playable and easy to walk, Gracewill has become a favorite of West Michigan for an enjoyable round of golf.

L. E. Kaufman, Wyoming — $25
L.E. Kaufman has been drawing repeat customers for over two generations. And for good reason. The variety of golf holes – including tree-lined fairways, open areas, water holes, bunkers and some challenging par 3s — promise to get all the clubs in the bag dirty. The wallet-friendly price point — like the outstanding traditional layout by W. Bruce Matthews – never gets old. L.E. Kaufman (originally named Palmer Park) opened in 1965 and has played host to the Kent County Amateur every year since. The gently rolling terrain makes it as easily walkable as it is affordable.

Oceana Golf Club, Shelby — $20
A full parking lot is always a great indicator to the popularity of this semi-private club near the shores of Lake Michigan. Golf course superintendent Bill Farrell and his crew are truly dedicated to making this course absolutely beautiful, above and beyond “the basics”. The fairways are meticulously striped and flowerbeds filled with annuals and perennials graciously abound — two indicators of Oceana’s attention to detail. With the flowers and the mature trees as a backdrop, this short course (5,989 yards) is long on memorable golf.

Diamond Springs, Hamilton — $24
“ Playable and enjoyable golf” is the prevailing theme at Diamond Springs. Add walkable, too. This beautiful layout speaks volumes to the team talents of Kris Shumaker, in collaboration with golf course architect Mike DeVries (this duo also worked together in building the highly-acclaimed Pilgrims Run Golf Course in Pierson). You may travel the state and not find a more “upscale” style course for the money. Diamond Springs may well be the best value in Michigan.

The Colonial, Hart — $21
Greeted with the stately plantation-style restaurant and clubhouse, the arriving golfer would be led to believe the course had been there at least 100 years. But no, The Colonial is just another impression left on the state by architect Jeff Gorney in the “build-a-golf-course-a-day 90s.” Several holes are very remarkable, the greens exceptional and the fairways expansive. Situated inside the 18-hole Colonial is a nine-hole executive course.

Pigeon Creek, West Olive — $23
Should the ownership of Pigeon Creek choose to let the heather and natural grasses grow to full height, this course would be a true links layout, for it has all the character of said. Excusing the openness however, Pigeon Creek is a very fine course to play, made more so by the fact that it’s flat (an old blueberry farm) and very walkable. The wind and the water and several par 4s stretching well beyond 400 yards remind you to keep your game in check.

NORTH
Thunder Bay Resort, Hillman — $25
This 6,677-yard, par-73 provides proof there is affordable resort golf in northern Michigan. Owner Jack Matthias built the 400-acre course himself, with nine holes in 1971 and another nine in 1991. Recent upgrades have improved several tees and greens on this tight, wooded treasure. Thirty-four rooms, including 1,400-square-foot chalets, and a new RV park complement the golf. Elk viewing is a popular after-golf adventure.

The Rose, LeRoy — $25
The quality of The Rose – from its well-maintained bentgrass tees, greens and fairways, to the customer-friendly – rivals that of many outstanding northern Michigan golf courses. A short drive south of Cadillac, The Rose isn’t overly long, but every fairway is lined with trees. There is enough area for some grip-it-and-rip it par-5s and elevated tees and greens enhance the driving experience. Water accents the course and creates some risk and reward holes that keep things interesting. The secluded setting offers glimpses of wildlife on a daily basis. The Rose is celebrating its 10th anniversary during 2004.

Katke Golf Course, Big Rapids — $20
The 6,674-yard Katke is the home course to the Ferris State University Professional Golf Management program. But the golf course itself is not tricked up for professionals and it is definitely not priced that way - $20. Greens fees used to be much higher before head professional Kevin Tucci made a price-cutting move that has people flocking to the course even when school is not in session. Some testy par-3s and a couple of doglegs on each side provide a challenge. Balls set up nicely on the generous bluegrass fairways. Although there are some gentle slopes, there are few hills and inclines creating a walker-friendly environment. A full-service clubhouse and 34-acre practice facility are also available.

White Pine National, Alcona — $22
As the only golf course within a 30-mile radius, White Pine National is a hidden gem in northeast Michigan. At $1.22 a hole there should be enough green left over for a little lunch or refreshment. Located near Hubbard Lake, White Pine boasts wildlife and plenty of challenges on the 6,800-yard layout. Long par-3s — including an all-you-can-eat, 244-yarder at No. 6 — give the course some teeth. Bentgrass tees, greens and fairways create playing conditions similar to courses that cost twice as much to play. The 2004 host for the Michigan Women’s Amateur, White Pine National is a scenic course with four sets of tees on each hole.

Red Fox Run, Gwinn — $20
Red Fox Run is like playing two courses for the price of one. The front nine features elevation changes and is more wide open, while the back nine is cut through the woods and much tighter. Playing at nearly 6,000 yards from the back tees, length is not an issue. But the contrast of holes requires some shot making and takes most of the clubs in the bag to complete a round, as evidenced by the contrast of the 94-yard, No. 13 hole and the 540-yard finishing hole. The scenic, walker-friendly course and the service provided to guests’ rivals that of clubs that cost two to three times as much to play.

Hessel Ridge, Hessel — $25
This scenic Jeff Gorney layout located just a few minutes north of the Mackinac Bridge features scoring opportunities on every hole. Like the name implies, Hessel Ridge is located on a ridge. The course is tree-lined and there are environmentally sensitive areas, but it plays fairly wide open for the most part. The greens are large and the fairways are wide, generous and sweeping. Short distances from greens to tees and no real steep grades make it a very walker-friendly course. It is the most wallet friendly stop of the U.P. trifecta playing The Ridge (Hessel), The Rock (at Woodmoor) and Wild Bluff (Brimley).

Chocolay Downs, Ironwood— $20
Joe Gibbs and his son Wayne have turned Chocolay Downs into a “Guinness Book” of a golf course. Beginning next spring, those who play the ‘Downs will have the opportunity to make the claim that they putted on the largest green in the United States AND survived the longest fairway in the WORLD – both in the same round. That’s getting a lot of bang for a $20-spot. The No. 9 green of the par 5, 540-yard hole measures 29,000 square feet, which could leave someone with an 80-foot putt. Impressed? Wait till you tee it up on the 1,007-yard par 6 eighth hole on the third nine holes opening in spring 2005. Chocolay Downs however is more than a novelty it’s an incredible round of golf at an incredible value.

EAST
Willow Wood, Portland — $20
Willow Wood is short on length (6,154 yards from the tips) but long on value and playability. Another Jeff Gorney gem, the course is smartly laid out on 165 acres of meadow and marshland with well-contoured fairways and exceptional greens. Willow Wood opened in 1998 and now boasts a new 6,000 sq. ft. clubhouse/banquet facility with walleye dinners on Friday nights.

Forest Akers-East, East Lansing — $25
This W. Bruce Matthews pearl (redesigned in 1997) doesn’t concern itself with basking in the shadow of its more-famous brother – Forest Akers-West. Measuring 6,560-yards, the East course offers superb conditions and is home to the Michigan State University Golf Learning Center (the finest in the mid-west) and the Calloway and Titlest Golf club Fitting System.

Kensington Metropark, Milford — $21
Eighteen holes for $21! Are you kidding? No. Located just off I-96 as you reach the Oakland County border, it is easy to see why Kensington is so popular. Opening in 1961, Kensington has always been a favorite. The course is not only easy on your wallet, it’s easy to walk and the conditions are above par. Double your fun and visit sister course, Huron Meadows in Brighton, also just $21. For more Metropark information visit them on the Internet at www.metroparks.com.

Hickory Sticks, Ann Arbor — $20
From the scorecard perspective, this 5,841-yard, par-70 doesn’t look like much, but you’ve got to see this hidden gem to believe it. Opened in 1994, the layout rolls through rural pasture and woodland. Accuracy, not distance, will be rewarded. The defining moment comes at No. 10, a 579-yard par-5 double dogleg that is one of Ann Arbor’s toughest holes. It is a bit of a chore to walk, but that’s the best way to enjoy your surroundings.

The Emerald at Maple Creek, St. Johns — $25
The Emerald is no doubt one of the jewels of mid-Michigan. Formerly a nine-hole private course, the Emerald was transformed into a 6,654-yard playable test by Jerry Matthews in 1996. The fairly flat layout has more of a links-like feel, with few trees and large mounds separating the fairways.

Cascades, Jackson — $16
This classic 6,614-yard parkland design, built in 1929, sets the standard of good golf in the highly regarded Jackson area. The front nine is quirky by today’s standards – it opens with back-to-back par-5s and closes with a par-3 – but fun nonetheless. The course is playable for beginners and families (its slope is 122), yet challenging with big, slick greens.

Hunter’s Ridge, Howell — $25
You might get lost trying to find Cohoctah Township, but this Jerry Matthews’ design makes the trip worthwhile. The 6,532-yard course has tall, thick meadow grasses and greenside mounding waiting for errant shots. The front nine is 400 yards shorter than the back from the tips, so do what you can to post low scores early. A rustic log clubhouse fits the backwoods motif.

Mystic Creek, Milford — $25
This 27-hole facility in Camp Dearborn might be the best value in pricey Oakland County. The Lakes nine boasts one of metro Detroit’s best views atop the tee at the 371-yard eighth hole, which overlooks Lake Ashley. Jim Dewling, a two-time president of the Michigan section of the PGA and the president of Total Golf Inc., recently purchased the course to ensure that it stays in top shape.

Pierce Lake, Chelsea — $25
The Washtenaw County Parks and Recreation department’s first attempt at a golf course in 1996 became an instant winner. Underrated architect Harry Bowers crafted a 6,874-yard thrill ride through the trees and wetlands along Interstate-94.

After an open front nine, the back nine turns tricky and tight with three par-5s and three par-3s. If you hit No. 18, a 234-yard par-3, in regulation, you deserve a standing ovation.

*To be fair, Michigan Golf did not include early and late season or twilight rates, senior or junior discounts or coupons. We were concerned with prices in the height of the golf season, typically June-August, under the condition that if you wanted to play a round of golf at the drop of a hat and didn’t want to shell out a lot of money and enjoyed walking, where could you go?

   
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