VanderVeen / Photography by Michael Buck
When it comes
to nine-hole golf courses, Michigan
has been blessed with some gems that have been designed
some of the earlier works by golf course
architects who have gone on to attain national
and international acclaim. In Michigan,
the legendary Donald Ross has left his
mark with several indelible nine-hole projects.
So have generations of other golf course
designers such as Willie Watson, Arthur
Hills, Jerry Matthews and Rick Smith.
Some of these courses are more
than 100 years old. Others have become part of
their respective community’s history with
characteristics unique to the area, and yet others
are meant to provide convenient playing opportunities
in tight spaces.
Playing a nine-hole golf course
may be a lot like eating a six-inch submarine
sandwich, leaving a person wanting for another
half. But the nice thing about it is that a golfer
can play it over again and get his fill for just
a few dollars more.
Following are nine divine reasons
to bite off a little less your next time out
and get something more from your round:
Les Cheneaux, Cedarville
Construction on Les Cheneaux began in 1895. It was chartered for
play by the U.S.G.A. in 1898. That’s more than 100 years
“ There’s a little
argument over which course is the oldest in Michigan,” Les
Chenaux manager Roger Ruteledge says. “A
couple of courses in Michigan claim to be older
than us, but we’re definitely one of the
five oldest golf courses in the state.”
One thing is undisputed: Les
Cheneaux is the oldest golf course in the Upper
Les Cheneaux was a private club
until the 1940s. As recently as the 1960s, two
of the top-10 wealthiest people in the United
States were members of Les Chenaux Club.
The links-style nine-hole golf
course was originally built for private play
by members of the Les Cheneaux Yacht Club. It
didn’t open for public play until after
World War II.
The channel and slips for boats
are located behind the first tee and second green.
Original members could only access Les Cheneaux
via the waterways. No roads led to it.
“ A lot of wealthy people
spent their summers here,” Ruteledge said. “When
the course was built, there were no roads into
the place. Members came from their yachts on
Trees now dot the shoreline course
where there originally were none. The fairways
are not watered by a sprinkling system, but the
putting surfaces are well maintained.
“ They didn’t move
a lot of soil in those days,” manager Roger
To this day, the Scottish links
style remains. Only the greens are watered.
“ There’s nothing
real modern about it, but we did have a low-key
celebration for our 100th anniversary,” said
Ruteledge. What would you expect to pay to play
this piece of regal history? How about $10.50
Charlevoix Golf Course, Charlevoix
As one of the oldest golf courses in Michigan, Charlevoix Golf
Course has hosted its share of history. Golf legends such as Walter
Hagen, Tommy Armour and Michigan Amateur champion Chuck Kocsis
have teed it up at the grand little course over the years.
The golf course features tree-lined
fairways. All of the green — which are
in outstanding shape — are surrounded by
Designed by Scottish architect
Willie Watson, Charlevoix Golf Course opened
in 1896 as an 18-hole venue. It has operated
as a municipal golf course since 1937 when the
City of Charlevoix purchased it for $1.00, and
transformed half of the course into an industrial
park in the 1940s.
“ It seems to be getting
better and better every year,” says Lyle
King, a retiree who works at the course during
the summer time. “It’s in the best
shape I’ve ever seen it.”
It is a flat layout with three
sets of tees. The course continues to sport character
with flat pines, maples, oaks and beach trees.
The three sets of tees play between
2,393, 2,907 and 3,019 yards.
Although there aren’t any “water” holes,
pretty views of Lake Charlevoix or the Bay can
be seen at various points of the course on clear
Thomas Dorsek is the pro shop
manager and golf instructor. The cost to walk
the historic course is a very reasonable $12.
“ This is probably the best
9-hole course around, bar none,” King boasts. “Even
our roughs are in beautiful shape.
“ It’s one of the
oldest and — like fine wine — it
gets better every year.”
Frankfort Golf Course, Frankfort
Located just down the road a piece from world-renowned Crystal
Downs, Frankfort Golf Course has earned its place among the top
nine-hole golf courses in Michigan.
Developed by eight businessmen
from Chicago and built in 1928, Frankfort was
the only public golf course in the area for years.
It was operated by the Frankfort Chamber of Commerce
“ It was closed during World
War II because there weren’t any men to
run it and there weren’t any people to
play on it,” proprietor Bev Ballard said. “It
was eventually reopened and established as a
golf course, but not until after making a cash
crop from the hay that had grown over it.”
Tuck and Becky Tate purchased
the golf course from the Chamber of Commerce
in 1955 and ran it until they sold it to the
Ballard family in 1984.
The well-groomed course features
rolling hills and an abundance of mature hardwood
“ Each hole is very unique
in its own way,” Ballard said. “There
are no two holes that are exactly the same.
“ The course was cut out
of the natural landscape, because there weren’t
a lot of land movers and shapers back in those
The relatively short, par-34
course has no par-5 holes. It plays 2,700 yards
from the men’s tees and features seven
par-4 and two par-3 holes.
“ You have to be fairly
accurate,” Ballard says. “It is thickly
wooded on all sides.”
The cost to play Frankfort Golf
Course is $14 to walk and $20 with cart.
Shadow Ridge, Ionia
The late, great Donald Ross built his reputation as a legendary
golf course designer during the boom of the 1920s. But prior to
that time, he designed some outstanding nine-hole courses throughout
Shadow Ridge, formerly known
as the Ionia Country Club, is one of them.
Commissioned by Michigan Governor
Green to create the course in 1916, Ross went
to work on the Ionia project while simultaneously
working on his masterpiece at Oakland Hills.
The club is located near the former Governor’s
mansion in Ionia.
Over the years, however, the
course aged, but not as gracefully as Oakland
Hills. James and Susan Simons purchased the club
in 1994 and have attempted to restore some of
its former glory. Original bunkers have been
restored, and the hilly course still features
many of the mature trees that have grown up over
the years. Flower beds and heather grasses are
also part of the restoration.
“ Our goal was to get green
grass again and restore it to its past glory.
We also added some moguls after reading a book
by Donald Ross,” Susan Simons said.
One of the trademarks of Shadow
Ridge is the difficulty of the par-3 holes. The
second hole is one that plays 249 yards into
a bowl-shaped green. Hole 6 plays up to an elevated
green with pot bunkers on the right side and
another has a green that is severely sloped.
“ You don’t want to
be putting above the hole on No. 6,” warns
Susan Simons. “You don’t get any
breaks on the par-3 holes here.”
The par-5s — 451 yards
on No. 3 and 462 yards on No. 9 — offer
a little respite from the demanding par-3s and
an opportunity to get back a couple strokes.
The course has two sets of tees,
and a growing clientele of golf aficionados appreciating
the history and challenge Shadow Ridge presents.
“ The play has tripled since
we’ve been here,” Susan Simons said. “Some
of our older players remember being caddies here
when they were kids. Golf was such a different
game then. They didn’t water the fairways
and the ball rolled forever.
“ The difference we have
is that the fairways, tees and greens are now
irrigated throughout the course.”
Elk Rapids Golf Club, Elk Rapids
Elk Rapids Golf Club is another early Donald Ross design.
Built in 1923, the nine-hole,
semi-private club is situated off the banks of
scenic Elk Lake. The 3,000-yard course features
three sets of tee boxes.
“ There’s a ton of
history here,” Superintendent Chris Drummond
said. “There have been some changes, but
not very many. We’re trying to preserve
it for history.”
Although no water actually comes
into play on the golf course itself, views of
water and wildlife are commonplace during play.
The tees, greens and fairways are watered.
There have been slight renovations
over the years. Holes 1, 2, 3, 5, 7 and 9 are
still original. On No. 4, the green has been
enlarged. The 17 original bunkers remain.
The club is open to the public
every day except Wednesday. Many vacationers
in Northern Michigan take advantage of the $12
walking greens fee to play a round on a course
built by the master of Michigan golf.
Mitchell Creek, Traverse City
Mitchell Creek in Traverse City is a Jerry Matthews course where
water comes into play on virtually every hole, either on the side
of a fairway or by a friendly forced carry.
The wooded course is fairly flat
and opened in 1983.
Playing it in the spring and
summer is very pleasant. Playing it in the fall
can be a spectacular color experience.
The course, which is surrounded
by wetlands, features three sets of tees, with
the longest playing just over 3,040 yards. Trees
divide several fairways.
“ From my standpoint and
from an environmental standpoint, it was one
of the very first golf courses I did after they
passed the Wetlands Protection Act, and was my
first meeting with a DNR employee,” Matthews
recalls. “The standards have stiffened
considerably since then.”
Green fees for nine holes run
“ They had 18 holes designed
originally, but you couldn’t do it now
because there are too many restrictions on wetlands,” Matthews
Some holes require some shot
making. No. 4 is a narrow par-4 with a dogleg
to the left. There are two par-3s and two par-5s,
with the longest holes measuring 505 yards and
450 yards. The par-3s — one with a forced
carry over a pond — present some birdie-making
Mill Race, Jonesville
It’s hard to believe that there is not one 18-hole golf course
in Hillsdale County. But when it comes to nine-holers, Mill Race
Arthur Hills has a renowned list
of Michigan golf courses to his credit, including
Hawkshead, Egypt Valley and fabulous Bay Harbor,
among others. But even Hills had to start somewhere.
Mill Race in Jonesville, which opened in 1972,
represents one of his earliest works.
Hills originally built the course
for a local man who had been longtime friends
of his parents. It has always been a public course.
The par-36 golf course has a
hilly, northern Michigan feel to it with tight
greens that are quick and undulating. There are
three sets of tees on every hole and the course
is accented with rocks and rolling hills (no
“ There were a lot of rocks
on the course when they were building it, and
it has kind of become (Hills’) trait,” head
professional Steven Sprague says. “He likes
to put boulders at the tees like Arnold Palmer
uses island greens in his designs.”
The No. 7 hole is a 213-yard
par-3 hole from the back tees that overlooks
Mill pond, a water tributary that feeds into
the St. Joseph River.
“ It’s a hole you
could put anywhere and it would be beautiful,” Sprague
Weekend Green fees are a modest
$10 for walkers and $16 with cart. They are reduced
to $8.50 and $14 during the week.
“ It’s just a great
nine-hole course,” Sprague said. “I’ve
worked in Northern Michigan before. People around
here don’t realize just how great of a
track this is.”
Located at the renowned Treetops Resort, Threetops is unique in
that it is comprised of nine one-shot holes, creating one of the
state’s most spectacular, awe-inspiring par-3 courses.
One of the reasons for Threetops
immense popularity — aside from the spectacular
views and top-notch condition — is that
after groups finish playing one of Treetops’ 18-hole
championship courses, they can play nine additional
holes without spending three more hours to play.
Threetops is an outstanding complement to the
championship golf courses at Treetops.
“ Guys go around and play
two and even three times,” Treetops professional
Jeff Goebel said. “They may think of it
as an executive course at first, but once they
play it they want to come right back.
“ If it is termed an executive
course, then it’s one of the most challenging
executive courses I’ve ever seen. We could
do even more rounds than we do, but we have to
Like many of the outstanding
nine-hole courses in this feature, Threetops
represents an early representation of a designer
that has gone on to earn honors in the industry.
It represents the first venture into golf course
design of golf professional Rick Smith (Arcadia
There are up to seven tee boxes
on certain holes, providing an array of shot
options that range from challenging to mild.
“ You typically have to
drop three clubs for the elevation change, but
if the wind acts up it can become all you can
handle,” Goebel said.“ Shot selection
from hole to hole ranges from a 2-iron to a wedge.”
“ Some players could use
almost all the clubs they have in their bag,” Goebel
ThreeTops annually hosts the
Par-3 Shootout, and will again in 2001. Players
who have participated in past shootouts have
included Jack Nicklaus, Phil Mickelson and Raymond
Floyd, among others.
“ It has been a big draw
to the resort, and all of the players want to
come back and play,” Goebel said.
Sand Creek, Marne
A different name, a change of ownership and a commitment to upgrade
the nine-hole facility for practice and play has added another
dimension to Sand Creek Golf Course & Driving Range.
“ It has taken us 10 years
to get to where we want to be toward making this
a real golf course,” says Linda Zahm, who
owns the course with her husband, Jerry. Continuous
upgrades and renovations have turned Sand Creek
into 9-hole gem in Marne.
Two holes were taken out and
replaced with a practice area, complete with
lighted driving range and putting and chipping
green. Lights provide night practice and allow
late-evening golfers to finish the final two
holes under artificial illumination.
Sand Creek makes for a quick,
fun round of golf, affording golfers a chance
to sneak off at lunch and get in a quick nine
before returning to the office. It’s an
efficient, economical way to keep your game sharp.
The par-32, 2,000-yard course has four par-4 holes from the men’s
tees and five par-4 holes from the women’s tees. “We’re
short, but we’re real golf,” adds Zahm.
The course has been re-seeded
with a stronger strain of bluegrass and a new
fleet of mowers keeps the conditions better than
they have ever been. A private lawn maintenance
service has been subcontracted to keep the greens
and fairways in top condition. A picnic area
with a mini kitchen and grills has also been
added to accommodate outings and other events.