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Jerry MatthewsMike De VriesBruce Matthews IIIRay HearnJeff Gorney
   
 

 

 

Two Michigan natives have had a big hand in its golf scene: Arthur Hills and Rick Smith.

Nobody has more celebrated public designs in Michigan than Hills, who grew up in Dexter and has degrees from both the University of Michigan and Michigan State University. Heís contributed 17 public courses in Michigan. Eleven of those comprise the Art Hills Golf Trail, with headliners such as the 27-hole Bay Harbor Golf Club in Petoskey, (on front cover) the Hillsí course at Boyne Highlands, HawksHead in South Haven and Red Hawk in Tawas. The Legacy in Ottawa Lake and Shepherdís Hollow in Clarkston arenít connected to the trail but are just as good.

Smith, Phil Mickelsonís swing guru, is best known for designing the Tradition, the Signature and the par-3 Threetops course at Treetops Resort in Gaylord, the resort he now co-owns. He and Warren Henderson helped mold the miracle that is now Arcadia Bluffs, generally considered the No. 1 public course in the state.

 

Even if you’re a Wolverine fan, every golfer in Michigan must give thanks to Michigan State University.

Almost every noted golf course architect either born or living in this state, names like Jerry Matthews, Bruce Matthews III, Arthur Hills, Ray Hearn, Jeff Gorney and Harry Bowers, have graduated from MSU, many from its famed landscape architecture program. Others, like Mike DeVries, Mike Husby and Tom Doak, have transplanted themselves in Michigan, because of its dynamic golf scene.

Combined, these local architects have given us some of Michigan’s greatest courses. They are the usual suspects; the faces behind the tracks you love. To celebrate their achievements, here’s an in-depth guide to Michigan’s architects, including profiles of five of the most prolific and a compelling interview with Doak, currently one of the game’s hottest names.

 


Cutters Ridge

 

 


"I wanted to be
a conservation
officer. My dad
talked me out
of that."


Timber Ridge in Lansing. Timberstone in Iron Mountain. Elk Ridge in Atlanta. St. Ives in Stanwood.

Those are just some of the fabulous courses designed by Jerry Matthews and his Lansing firm, Natural Course Design, but they don’t speak to the depth of Matthews’ impact on golf throughout the state. He’s designed more courses here than any other architect – 72 according to his Web site, plus a handful of other nine-hole additions and renovations. The way he tells it, his career was almost by accident.

“ I didn’t plan to do this at all,” he said. “My dad (W. Bruce Matthews Sr.) sent me to Michigan State University. I wanted to be a conservation officer. Hunting and fishing and the outdoors was my life. My dad talked me out of that.”

In 1960, Jerry went to work in his father’s new golf course design business, while getting a master’s degree in urban planning from MSU. Jerry’s first assignment, working on nine holes at the Flint Elks Golf Club, put that degree on the shelf for good. Jerry took over as president from his father in 1979. The golf booms of the 1980s and late 1990s fed his portfolio. “I have a lot of pride in what I’ve done,” Matthews said. “A lot of them will be there a long time.”

Matthews’ mantra of designing courses for the average player while sprinkling in visual flair continues today. More than 120 bunkers litter his latest creation, the Sundance at A-Ga-Ming Resort in Kewadin. Matthews’ big project this summer will be transforming all the fairways to bentgrass and installing new irrigation at the course at the Grand Hotel on Mackina Island.

“ I want people to have fun playing golf,” he said. “I think golf should be challenging, but I think it should be fair. It should be visually attractive. That’s a big part of the game.”

 

 


Greywalls

 

 


"I want the land
to dictate the
design and not
the opposite."


Mike DeVries has worked with some great architects, notably Tom Doak and Tom Fazio, but his best training came during his early years, growing up playing at Crystal Downs Country Club, a classic design of the great Alister MacKenzie.

“ Crystal Downs, it really influenced me,” he said. “It led me to say, ‘This is what I want to do, design golf courses.’”

DeVries, 42, of Traverse City, has made a name for himself since he helped pull together Pilgrim’s Run in the late 1990s. With his deft touch, the Kingsley Club near Traverse City transformed into a classic almost overnight, offering naturalistic features of links golf balanced by the strategic element of the holes. Golfweek magazine ranks it as one of its Top 100 Modern Designs built after 1960.

The effort handed DeVries another gem. He beat out more than a dozen other architects for the Greywalls course at Marquette Golf & Country Club. Sensory overload comes in the form of 60-foot rock walls and elevated tees that stare off into the horizon.

The Mines in Grand Rapids, which opened in 2006, and Diamond Springs in Hamilton, built with friend Kris Shumaker and opened in 2003, are also generally well liked. DeVries said his design philosophy is dictated by the land.

“ Every piece of property has a unique quality,” he said. “I try to maximize that quality. I want the land to dictate the design and not the opposite. It’s reactionary architecture.”

A perfect example would be the punchbowl greens DeVries crafted on the fourth, fifth and 18th holes at the Kingsley Club. “The drainage is there. People think we are nuts, but it works there,” he said.

DeVries loves his courses like Kingsley and The Mines to play firm and fast. “If you provide conditions for a ground game, if you don’t put a bunker in front of every hole, it leads to more creative golf and makes it more exciting and challenging on a daily basis for every golfer,” he said.

 

 


Angels Crossing

 

 


"I like giving
people room
to play golf."


Like his uncle Jerry, Bruce Matthews III grew up around golf. He joined his grandfather’s firm in 1986 after three different superintendent jobs.

His first project was a nine-hole addition to Crystal Lake in Buelah, a course his grandfather designed. Bruce worked with Jerry at Timber Ridge before going his own way in 1991.
Matthews, working out of Okemos, has completed 21 full 18-hole designs since then, most notably Hidden River Golf and Casting Club in Brutus in 1998 and Angels Crossing in Vicksburg in 2004.

“ I give credit to grandpa and Jerry for what I do and a lot of what I don’t do,” he said. “They showed me both good and bad, more good than bad.”

Matthews said his No. 1 objective in design would be to “meld the client, the land and the game of golf together into a successful project.”
“ I like larger tees and bigger greens,” he said. “I like giving people room to play golf. I don’t like forced carries, especially in front of the greens.”

His Beeches Golf Club in South Haven opens for a full season in 2007.

“ My specialty is we are giving a lot of golf for a value price,” he said. “That’s what a lot of my designs turned out to be. It will be a $45 golf course. It looks like a $75 course. We saved on construction costs at the Beeches. Angels Crossing is the same. They are $100 courses for cheap.”

Most of his work this year will involve redesigns. Matthews doesn’t mind that he hasn’t achieved the fame of his uncle, or developed a national reputation. He hates traveling by plane and sticks to projects within a five-hour drive, giving him a radius of Indianapolis, Chicago, Toronto and Columbus to work within.

“ I am a regional architect and I know who I am,” he said. “I am not Jack Nicklaus or his troops. I like Michigan and the Midwest. Enough people have called, I don’t have to go anywhere else to work. It’s fun. I will be here for a long time.”

 

 


Yarrow

 

 


"Iíll put The Grande,
Yarrow & The
Hemlock up against
any course in
the state."


Contrary to popular belief, Ray Hearn never really left the design business. When Hearn took the job as general manager in 2003 at Macatawa Legends, his private club design in Holland, he still had seven projects to finish. When the GM thing didn’t work out as planned, Hearn returned to design full-time, staying in Holland.

Hearn, who helped create Twin Lakes in Rochester and The Majestic at Lake Walden in Hartland as a Matthews associate for 10 years, has a knack for squeezing every ounce of charisma out of a site, even on the tightest of budgets.

Going out on his own in 1996, Hearn crafted courses in Oklahoma and Illinois before hitting a home run at Island Hills in Centreville. The scenic Moose Ridge near South Lyon in 2000 kicked off a stretch of memorable designs: the Grande Golf Club in Jackson, the award-winning Strategic Fox at Fox Hills in Plymouth in 2001, and the Hemlock in Ludington and The Golf Club at Yarrow in 2003.

It’s hard to pigeon-hole Hearn to just one style, but he’s shown a penchant for huge greens and playability. Hearn will tell anybody who listens that the Grande, with its rugged bunkering, should be ranked among the top five courses in the state. “The bunkers were wild. They had the elements of (architects A.W.) Tillinghast and (Alister) MacKenzie,” he said.

His firm is healthier than ever, with projects in France, Connecticut, New York, and two in Egypt. “Despite the glooms and dooms (of the golf industry), we’ve had a phenomenal year, far better than I expected,” Hearn said.

 

 


Heathlands

 

 


"We build a lot
of golf holes that
people have fun
playing and donít
cost a lot."


Jeff Gorney might be the one guy on this list you don’t recognize. The 60-year-old Comstock, Mich., resident has quietly gone about his business designing quality public courses.

Gorney opened his design business in 1988 after more than 15 years working in the maintenance side of the industry. His first project was a nine-hole addition at Meceola Country Club in Big Rapids. After his Fox Run Country Club opened in Grayling in 1990, Gorney hit the jackpot with the Little Traverse Bay Golf Club in Harbor Springs in 1991. It was a dream site with views of Lake Michigan, hardwood forests and heaving terrain.

Gorney was one of a handful of Michigan architects to lead the charge in the go-go 1990s. He handcrafted the linksy Heathlands in Onekama in 1996. The Dream in West Branch in 1997 led to a second project working with the Courtemache family, the addition of the 18-hole sister course, The Nightmare, several years ago. Gorney’s legacy, though, will be his family-friendly, affordable efforts at Scott Lake, where he built a nine-hole addition in 1998; the Colonial in Hart; and Hessel Ridge in the Upper Peninsula. All three made our list of “25 Courses for $25 or less,” published in 2004.

“ We build a lot of golf holes that people have fun playing and don’t cost a lot,” Gorney said. “I don’t get a top 10 (ranking) in the golf magazines, but that don’t matter. Little Traverse Bay is the closest thing I’ve had that was so dynamic. The Dream, The Nightmare, those are some awesome courses. I didn’t get involved for that (recognition). I just try to help the owners out.”

Gorney said he does some design consulting out of state, but true to his nature he declined to discuss how he stays busy. “I try to keep it (my life) low key,” he said.

 

 


The Loon

You might not recognize the names of these Michigan architects, but they’re still active and well-respected by industry insiders.

  • Don Childs: The 71-year-old from Commerce Township is best known for the Gaylord Country Club and Michaywe Pines, two playable favorites in Gaylord. His redesigned Farmington Hills Golf Club transformed an old landfill into a good course.
  • Mike Husby: The current general manager at Candlestone Inn & Resort (Jerry Matthews’ first course) in Belding built the Wild Bluff course at Bay Mills Resort good enough to host a Canadian Tour event. His Loon and Marsh Ridge designs are two Gaylord stalwarts.
  • Paul Albanese and Chris Lutzke: The two budding stars who met while working with Jerry Matthews have joined together, opening an office in Plymouth. Lutzke, a former Pete Dye associate, made waves with Eagle Eye in Bath. Albanese was Ray Hearn’s lead architect at Moose Ridge. The duo made national news by reconstructing bunkers at a country club in Indiana with a horse and plow, much like designers did decades ago.
  • Harry Bowers: The South Lyon resident does most of his work now in Florida and the Caribbean, working with big names like former PGA players Raymond Floyd and Ian Baker-Finch. He’s best known locally for the Rock at Drummond Island, the Captain’s Club in Grand Blanc and two good municipal courses, Pierce Lake in Chelsea and Inkster Valley.

 

For decades, Michigan owners have dabbled in course design, laying out their own courses to save a few bucks and have a bigger voice in its construction. A few have had some real success.

  • Charles Scott: The co-CEO of the Gull Lake View Resort in Augusta has done three courses in his property, the Gull LakeView East course and the Stonehedge North and South courses, as well as lower-profile projects such as Indian Run in Scotts, the Lynx of Allegan, Lake Doster in Plainwell and Binder Park in Kalamazoo.
  • Jim Dewling and Pat Conroy: Dewling, president of Total Golf, a golf management company, did Beacon Hill in Commerce Township on his own and combined with Conroy to do 27 good holes at Boulder Pointe in Oxford and Mystic Creek in Milford and 18 playable holes at Timber Trace Golf Club near Pinckney.
  • Ron Otto: The second generation owner designed all four courses – the Fountains, Swampfire, Monarch and Reflections – and is working on a fifth at Garland Resort in Lewiston.

 

 

A few legendary architects with national reputations have left their handiwork on public designs in Michigan:

  • Robert Trent Jones: The Heather course at Boyne Highlands Resort, constructed in 1965 still charms golfers with its rolling hills and thrilling 18th hole. His Masterpiece course at Treetops Resort in Gaylord is considered his last hands-on design before his death. His celebrated sons, Robert Trent Jones Jr. (The Orchards in Washington Township) and Rees Jones (Black Lake in Onaway and Thousand Oaks in Grand Rapids), also have must-plays in Michigan.
  •  


    The Bear

    Jack Nicklaus: The Golden Bear consulted at Bay Valley Resort in Bay City with Desmond Muirhead in 1972, but it’s his namesake, The Bear at Grand Traverse Resort in Acme, opened in 1984, that defines championship golf in northern Michigan.

  • Arnold Palmer: The King’s design company has crafted five good tracks: The King’s Challenge in Cedar, The Ravines in Saugatuck, Coyote Preserve in Fenton, The Legend at Shanty Creek Resort in Bellaire and Northville Hills.
  • Gary Player: The globetrotting South African gave us The Wolverine at Grand Traverse Resort and also Eagle Crest, Eastern Michigan University’s scenic playground along Ford Lake in Ypsilanti.
  • Tom Fazio: Fazio’s sculpted fairways and tricky green complexes can only be found at Treetops Resort in Gaylord.
  • Tom Weiskopf: This former British Open champion built thoughtful, strategic designs with his Cedar River course at Shanty Creek in Bellaire and Forest Dunes in Roscommon.
  • Jim Engh: The Colorado-based Engh, named one of the 25 hot architects by Golf World Magazine, struck gold with Tullymore in Stanwood and True North in Harbor Springs.

 
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