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By Don VanderVeen / Photography by Kevin Frisch

Links-style golf courses are rooted deep into to the origins of the game with the old, time-tested courses of the United Kingdom. Most common in Scotland and Ireland, most of those courses sport few trees and many bunkers. Characteristics of true links golf are undulating fairways and greens, high fescues and difficult roughs. Most feature views of the sea or inland bodies of water and uninhibited views of most of the golf course.

Michigan has its own links to the United Kingdom with a revival of the old style genre of golf courses.

Arcadia Bluffs
So much has been written, talked about and compared to that Arcadia Bluffs has reached legendary status in the few short years it has been open. And for good reason.

Arcadia Bluffs is like a slice of the Emerald Isle – which, to a golfer, is a slice of paradise – high above the shoreline overlooking Lake Michigan.

It is a classic links course in every way: from its sod-wall bunkers to the high ridge overlooking a great body of water, to the rolling hills covered with fescues and native grasses, to the winds that can kick up like Aunt Mollie’s heels on a Saturday night at O’Malley’s Pub.

“ The reason it is so spectacular is that it’s not manufactured,” Arcadia Bluffs Director of Golf and General Manager William Shriver said. “It’s natural. When this land was cleared, it was a links course there waiting to be enhanced.

“ It looks as if the tees just naturally rise up out of the ground and green complexes fit perfectly where they need to be.

“ Other than Bay Harbor, there is no property in the state of Michigan that lends itself to that style of golf like the Arcadia Bluffs property does overlooking a large body of water like Lake Michigan.
“ It gives it a true seaside links course feel.”

Reminiscent of time-tested great golf courses such as Lahinch and Ballybunion that are located on the other side of the Atlantic, Arcadia Bluffs sets high atop a ridge overlooking Lake Michigan.

The wind-swept sand dunes, rolling hills and valleys and tall native grasses provide an outstanding backdrop to the plush, tightly cropped tees, greens and fairways. The sod wall bunkers and natural fescue grasses add to the classic links-style aura known as Arcadia Bluffs.

Since its 1998 opening, Arcadia Bluffs has received some additional bunkering, cart paths and the ridge on No. 18 has been slightly lowered to allow it to be seen from the fairway.

The routing for 2004 has been altered slightly to reduce the distance of travel between three holes and provide the course two distinct nines.

Holes No. 1 through 7 remain the same, while holes 8 through 16 have new designations.

“ It gives it a slightly more natural flow and brings the turn back toward the clubhouse,” Shriver said. “There are just some new numbers. It doesn’t do anything different to the par or yardages on either side.”

Eagle Eye
Designed by Chris Lutzke – in collaboration with Pete Dye – Eagle Eye is mid-Michigan’s latest and greatest link to links-style courses.

The strategically placed bunkers and open areas, mounding, fescue, heather and wild grasses give Eagle Eye a distinct links-like feel.

“ There are only two or three holes with trees surrounding it,” head professional Kirk Sherman said. “People have favorably compared it to courses like Arcadia Bluffs and The Gailes.

“ It is very much a traditional links-style course, and that’s what our designers set out to do. It’s absolutely gorgeous.”

The No. 17 island green is a unique feature to Michigan. It is reminiscent of the famous No. 17 hole at TPC at Sawgrass, which was designed by Dye.

There are other Dyed-in-the-wool features as well, including the distinct bunkering, accents with railroad ties and wild grasses growing on the mounds.

“ There are a lot of things you normally don’t see in Michigan that give the course a lot of character and uniqueness,” Sherman said. “The uniqueness that Pete Dye and Chris Lutzke brought to the project helps separate it from the others.

“ Currently, there are no other Pete Dye courses in the state. It just has that Pete Dye feel too it. Every hole seems to have its own character, that’s what makes it really good,” Sherman said. “You don’t really forget a hole out there. You use a lot of different clubs and have to make a lot of different shots.”
The five sets of tees differ in length from 5,109 yards from the front and 7,318 from the tips.

“ If you are playing on a windy day, it could be a matter of a four to six stroke difference in your score,” warns Lutzke. “Mother Nature brings that links element to the table.”

The view from the elevated deck of the 65,000 square foot clubhouse – which will be open to the public in the summer of 2004 — is nothing short of entertaining, especially with a jar of one’s favorite cold beverage in hand. When the sun begins to set off on the horizon, it is picturesque.

“ I firmly believe that it is a top-five golf course in Michigan, and I’m not alone in saying that,” Sherman said. “There are some great golf courses in the state such as Aracadia Bluffs, The Gailes and Forest Dunes, but Eagle Eye stands up there with all of them.”

The Gailes
The Gailes at Lakewood Shores Resort is definitely ranks among Michigan’s links leaders. Upon its opening in 1993, the golf course designed by Kevin Aldridge immediately earned its place among the top new golf facilities in the country.

From the sod faced bunkers, to the rolling mounds covered with tall grasses, to the grassy hollows, The Gailes provides a true Scottish links experience.

The course features so closely resemble those overseas that playing The Gailes is almost like taking a trip and never leaving the farm. “Beam me up, Scotty!”

“ The neat thing about The Gailes is that we get a lot of people with trips planned to Scotland, and they play here to experience and see what they are in store for,” Lakewood Shores Resort Director of Golf Craig Peters said. “And then there are those who may never have that opportunity, but they are fans of the British Open and those types of golf courses. The Gailes fits that bill for them without having to travel overseas.”

The Gailes made its mark early as an invigorating and challenging links courses reminiscent of those played in the “Old Country.”

“ At the time, there were only two or three other courses in the U.S. that were similar,” Peters said. “There have been some other courses since, but very few can compare to The Gailes.”

Located just off the shores of Lake Huron in the harbor town of Oscoda, The Gailes is set on land that is a natural fit for a links-style course.

“ The location certainly has a lot to do with it,” Peters said. “We get a lot of wind off the lake.

“ The whole concept behind the Gailes was to recreate what you see on the golf courses of Scotland.”

The large mounding, and sod faced bunkers dotted around the course in the middle of fairways provide challenges for golfers of all abilities.

In true traditional old school links fashion, The Gailes features double tees and double greens. They are characteristics Aldridge incorporated from his Scottish forefathers.

No. 15 is a short par-5 with 15 bunkers lurking on the hole. Seven of those bunkers are located in the landing area and they are difficult to see from the tee.

The only tree lines are those that outline the edge of the property of the golf course. There are double greens at No. 2 and No. 17 and No. 11 and No. 14, and the No. 6 and No. 7 tees are basically connected.
“ That was a design trait from way back when the next tee area was only a couple of club lengths from the previous hole,” Peters said. “Back when Kevin first designed it, the American golfer wasn’t accustomed to the genuine traditional links style course.

“ The Gailes is as different as black and white compared to Northern Michigan golf and he stuck his neck out as to whether or not the American golfer would enjoy it.”

The Gailes has received numerous national awards throughout the years, including being rated as the Best New Resort Course in the U.S. for 1993 by Golf Digest magazine. The national golf publication continues to rank The Gailes among the top-30 in the country to play, because “it’s a fun golf course to play,” Peters said.

Bay Harbor Links 9
Because there are only nine holes, the Links 9 at Bay Harbor may technically be only a half of a links course, but it is a whole lot of fun to play.

Part of the magnificent 27-hole development at Bay Harbor in Petoskey, The Links 9 at Bay Harbor plays differently than its sister courses: The Quarry and The Preserve. While both The Quarry and Preserve have trees and some wetlands and lowlands, The Links 9 is a classic, treeless, links style layout set high above a bluff overlooking Lake Michigan’s Little Traverse Bay.

Designed by Arthur Hills and Stephen Kircher of Boyne USA, Bay Harbor was a reclamation project that has become an exclamation product for upscale golf in Michigan.

Glimpses or breathtaking panoramic views of Little Traverse Bay can be seen from every hole on the Links 9. It is a relatively flat course with very few trees to speak of.

Tall heather grasses and rough, a few forced carries and the winds blowing over the bluffs overlooking the bay give the Links 9 its teeth.

Its beauty comes from the pristine playing conditions and outstanding views from every hole.
The No. 7 hole on the Links course sets approximately 50 feet above the Lake Michigan shoreline overlooking the bay and nearby Harbor Springs.

“ In my 35 years of design, it may be me favorite hole that I ever put together,” Hills said. “It’s incredible. It’s mystical. You really get an incredible feeling playing that hole.”

The conditioning is near perfect. The views are perfect. The entire experience IS perfect.

“ The setting is so nice and the conditions for golf are so good, these are very special courses,” Hills said.

Forest Dunes
Designed by 1973 British Open champion Tom Weiskopf, Forest Dunes may be one of the best kept golf secrets in Michigan.

Located near Grayling, finding Forest Dunes for the first time is a little challenging. But once located, the No. 1 tee is where the real challenge begins.

Immaculately carved out of nearly 500 acres of woodlands and wetlands, Forest Dunes opened up its fairways to provide a links experience of both ups and downs and risks and rewards.

Bunkers are smartly placed throughout the course to make golfers think about their shot selection.

One of the more spectacular of those risk/reward holes is located at No. 17, which plays just over 300 yards from the back tees. It beckons the big hitters to go for it, but the high grasses on the sides and bunkers in the front are lying in wait to turn a birdie into a double bogey.

A 10,000 square foot crescent shaped green and a long and strong 600-yard, par-5 are also part of the experience.

The native sand dunes not only provided the course with its name, but also its character. The sand enhances the well-kept bent grass fairways, tees and greens as an outline and a backdrop, as well as a hazard for errant shots.

The green complexes at Forest Dunes are among the best anywhere in Michigan. Putts roll true and flat.
The traditional layout plays 7,104 from the tips, down to 5,097 from the forward tees. Additional junior tees have been incorporated for the wee ones with distances no longer than 411 yards, nor shorter than 94 yards.

High Pointe
Tom Doak’s first course in Michigan is a specialty that treats golfers to two different types of experiences from the front to the back.

The mounding, rolling hills and tall fescues on the open areas and wind-swept front side give the course a real Scottish links type feel, while the back side features more woods, pine groves and waste areas. It is also a haven for the fox, deer and wildlife, which seem content to share their natural habitat with golfers. Reports of Nessie sightings, however, have never been confirmed.

High Pointe, which overlooks the Grand Traverse basin, was ranked among the top-100 courses to play after its opening in 1988. It provides not only a fun and enjoyable round of golf, but a refreshing change of scenery from the front side to the back.

Another Kevin Aldridge designed traditional links-style course, Blackheath, is located in southeastern Michigan near Rochester.

Blackheath is a tightly laid out course on just 150 acres.

In true links tradition, there is nary a tree on the course.

The greens are small and the holes are straight forward with heather grasses and bunkers accenting the layout. The four sets of tees play 6,770 yards from the back, to 4,572 from the front.

“ It’s packed pretty tight,” Director of Golf Rick Fleming said. “It’s like a miniature Gailes.”

Arthur Hills has been the architect behind many golf course masterpieces in Michigan, and he ranks Hawkshead right up there with the best of them.

“ It’s one of my favorite courses,” Hills says.

Located in South Haven near the Lake Michigan shoreline, Hawkshead is laid out over a sea of sand. The routing takes one through wind-swept dunes and a bird sanctuary.

The exact type of birdies out there varies from golfer to golfer.

“ It’s pretty flat and sandy and there aren’t many trees,” Hills said. “That’s a perfect start to a links golf course.

“ You don’t see many trees and there are a lot of fescues and native growth. There is a lot of sand in lieu of water.”


There is a little bit of water and wetlands that enhance the layout, but for the most part, it is rolling, plush and links-like.

“ It’s not exactly St. Andrews because of the pine trees, but it is like many of the courses in Scotland,” Hills said. “There are no trees and a lot of sand, and it’s a special experience playing with those characteristics.

“ Unique is the finite word to describe it.”

A large practice facility and outstanding restaurant add to the full-service ambiance known as Hawkshead.

“ It’s one of my favorite places, plus there is a wonderful restaurant there,” Hills said.

The Heathlands, located in Onekama, has earned a spot on the links radar screen because of its views of Portage Lake and the large, rolling fairways outlined with native grasses.

Although there are a few trees located on several holes at The Heathlands, it derives its links-style feel from the spacious fairways and the grasses and waste areas that outline the course.

Designed by Jeff Goreny, The Heathlands features large fairways that are bordered by tall, native grasses.

The course is rated 139 from the back tees. The distance is 6,569 yards from the tips to 4,437 from the front tees.

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