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By Don VanderVeen / Photography by Michael Buck

Southwest Michigan is blessed with a diverse selection of golf courses located just a 3-iron or so away from the Lake Michigan shoreline. Okay, perhaps that’s an exaggeration — it may take a driver to reach it — but the courses that dot the map on the sandy soil “near” the Big Lake provide contrasting golf experiences unlike anywhere else in the state. There are new courses, old courses, links-style courses, courses with “Northern Michigan” features, deep ravines, double greens and beautiful windswept sandy scenes.

Up the shoreline from Benton Harbor to Grand Haven and beyond, this compilation of Lakeshore Links is a collection of fun, playable and challenging golf courses to accommodate both casual players and low-handicappers alike.

Lake Michigan Hills, Benton Harbor
There’s no better way to start your drive up the Lake Michigan shoreline than a stop at Lake Michigan Hills, a perennial favorite of locals and inbound visitors.

The 18-hole championship course located in Benton Harbor is situated on 174 acres of contoured fairways and large rolling greens set in a heavily wooded area. A testament to the test of golf at Lake Michigan Hills is that it has played host for both Western Amateur and U.S. Amateur qualifying events.

Bunkers, mature trees and several ponds around the course create a serene, classic golf setting.

While making it aesthetically pleasing, those features also become part of the challenge and make it a shot-maker’s course. The ponds can become a hazardous watery graveyard for golf balls gone awry, the bunkers can make it tricky to get up and down, and the trees — well — hopefully, they won’t come into play, knock on wood.

Lake Michigan Hills plays from four sets of tee boxes ranging from 6,900 yards to 5,250 yards.

The holes can sometimes play deceptively long, especially into prevailing winds. But there are scoring opportunities also.

There is a100-foot elevated tee at No. 10, while a short, par 4 finishing hole provides a round-ending birdie opportunity.

The clubhouse features restaurant and lounge and pro shop. The banquet facilities can accommodate up to 250.

Lake Michigan Hills has upgraded its practice facility by lengthening and improving the driving range with target greens, adding an additional putting green and chipping green, and sand bunkers.

Hawkshead, South Haven
A traditional links-style course designed by Arthur Hills, HawksHead is weaved smartly through and around sand.

We wanted to build something that was not a typical Michigan course, so we went with the Scottish look,” managing partner Al Ruppert said. “The playability of the course makes it a course you just love to play over and over again.”

Very little water and very few trees are set around the course. That means expansive landing areas off the tee and very few trees to contend with.

“ The old Scottish designers believed that you shouldn’t have to play around trees,” Ruppert said. “Like Alister Mackenzie said, ‘a tree on a golf course is like a tuba in a string quartet.’”

The course sets up with a diverse collection of holes, moguls, sand traps and waste areas. The greens at HawksHead are large and roll very fast.

Tall heathers accent parts of the backside, which requires strategic shot selection.

“ There’s a lot of variety out there,” Ruppert says.

A prevailing wind off Lake Michigan makes the course a few strokes more difficult to play than on a calm day.

HawksHead is very fair and playable from the forward tees. “We’re not here to bring people to their knees,” said Ruppert.

The Audubon friendly course features a bird sanctuary and delicate wildlife areas, a fine complement to its name.

An expansive practice facility features target greens, bunkers and large putting surface.

The Lynx of Allegan
This Lynx, ironically, is not a links-style course.

Elevation changes and densely wooded hardwood forests create a Northern Michigan atmosphere at The Lynx, which is located at about the midway point between Kalamazoo, Grand Rapids and Holland.

The course winds up, down, around and through hardwoods and alongside parts of the Kalamazoo River.
Set on the site of a former Christmas tree farm, pine groves accent several parts of the The Lynx, which is an enjoyable course for golfers of all abilities.

“ We have a little bit of everything,” said head professional Lee Edson. “You get back along the Kalamazoo River and play around a big ravine. It has a lot of character.

The first and 10th holes are at the highest point of the golf course, with elevation drops of more than 100 feet. Golfers make a gradual climb back to the summit on No. 8 and No. 9, and the same thing on No. 16, 17 and 18 on the backside.

The length is a little over 6,000 from the intermediate white tees.

“ It can be very challenging from the back, but from the white tees, it is very playable,” Edson said. “With two sets of up-front tees, it is player-friendly for women and seniors as well.”

Michigan Golf ranks The Lynx as one our Best Bets.

The Ravines, Saugatuck
This challenging Arnold Palmer creation is unlike any golf course in West Michigan.

Beautiful Bermuda sand bunkers, mounded moguls and well-shaped fairways accent the natural and expansive 18-hole layout that is spread over 400 acres.

Course features include hardwoods and pines intertwined among wetlands, small lakes and the ravines features from which the course derives its name. Some of the ravines are 60-feet deep, lined with virgin timber of hemlock and oak and thriving with wildlife.

“ It’s not like any other course around,” says head professional Shane Bybee. “It has a great variety of holes. Some holes have a lot of bunkers, some have a lot of water, there are holes with meadows and some with hardwoods.”

And, the most outstanding feature, The Ravines – the par 5, No. 14 signature hole.

The Ravines plays just over 7,000 yards from the back tees. Four other sets of tee boxes are set at each hole.

Forced carries over wetlands and wastelands are not overly demanding off the tee early on, but you will be pressed to keep the ball in the fairway about midway through the front side. No. 10 is a par-4 that plays long and strong, requiring a demanding tee shot for an iron into the green. Eventually, players — from the back tees anyway — must negotiate The Ravines.

“ It’s visually intimidating from each of the tee shots to the hole, but there is a lot of landing area out there,” Bybee said.

“ It is one of the most demanding golf courses in the western side of the state, but it is really more mentally demanding than physically demanding. Arnold Palmer & Co. did a good job at challenging your mind as well as physical ability.” Bybee said.

Grand Haven Golf Club, Grand Haven
Grand Haven Golf Club has successfully withstood the test of time — and the new course construction boom.

The course opened in 1965, and during the 1970s earned a ranking among the top-50 public courses to play in the United States. It was an honor the course held through the early 1990s.

“ It comes down to our uniqueness and positioning of where the course is located,” says head professional Daniel Gates. “Being just yards off Lake Michigan, you have a beach feel to it with a lot of natural sand dunes that line that fairways and add to the scenic aspect.”

A series of tee boxes and slight elevation changes provide the course with a soft, rolling feel. Throughout the years, the course has remained pretty much the same, a testament to the design work of W. Bruce Matthews.

A couple of changes however have been put in place for the 2002 season.

Most notably, a brand new 17,000 square-foot clubhouse facility — including a 3,500-square-foot Dunes Room that seats 225 — which will provide better amenities and clubhouse facilities, creating additional seating and casual dining for golfers before or after a round. And there is one slight change to the golf course – a new water hazard in front of the green on the par 5 No. 9 hole.

“ It will set up an awesome approach shot over water and into the green with the new clubhouse in the backdrop,” Gates said. “The golf course has always had a wonderful reputation.

“ With the new facilities in place, an elaborate golf shop, Dunes Room, restaurant bar and grill, we have a much more inviting facility to get players to come out and spend an entire afternoon with us. Our rates and twilight rates are extremely attractive, it’s very close for a lot of people and we’re right on the lake. It doesn’t get much better than that.”

Moss Ridge, Ravenna
Some new courses tend to overwhelm while others over-promise. Moss Ridge does neither while providing an outstanding track of bentgrass fairways and greens and a truly player-friendly round of golf. Moss Ridge may be best described as straight-ahead golf allowing you to play within your handicap without a lot of head games at a very well cared for facility.

Carved from an old apple orchard, Moss Ridge provides ponds, mounds and some thoughtful features, including a double green for holes No. 9 and No. 18.

Don’t take me wrong, Moss Ridge offers plenty of challenge should you step back to the tips and take it on from 6,943 yards. Designer Bruce Matthews III provided three other sets of tees, too.

“ There are some challenges out there, but just about everybody who plays the course is guaranteed to have at least one very good hole,” general manager Hallie Selfridge said.

The back nine of the par-72 course has more water, while the front is set on more of a rolling terrain.
A hallmark of Moss Ridge is the clubhouse and expansive banquet and full-service dining facility.
“ It is fantastic for golf outings,” Selfridge said. “We do everything from soup to nuts, and we are very good at it.

“ In the summertime, people may want to play a round of golf and have dinner, or have lunch served before and cool off. We can accommodate a lot of people.”

   
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