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By Don VanderVeen

A growing number of new courses along with redesigns and renovations to several longstanding must-play venues has pumped new life into the Southwest Michigan area golf market.

Newer championship courses such as Island Hills in Centreville, The Blackberry Patch in Coldwater and The Medalist in Marshall have emerged with an upscale feel, while other well-known courses that have withstood the test of time — such as Marywood in Battle Creek and Thornapple Creek in Kalamazoo — have made improvements to make a great round of golf even better.

Other outstanding venues for golf in Southwest Michigan can be found at The Prairies, Lynx of Allegan (pictured above) and Bedford Valley. Most of these courses are located within 30 miles of Kalamazoo.

There are island greens, and there are island tees. And then there’s Island Hills, which gives golfers the best of both worlds.

Located about a half hour south of Kalamazoo near Three Rivers, Island Hills provides 18 holes of championship resort style golf around Lake Templene and is brought to golfers by Tom and Lori Templin.

Designed by Ray Hearn, Island Hills is a unique setting for a championship golf course that has an interesting front nine which just gets better and better on each hole, working to a crescendo on the back nine.

It’s a beautiful golf course for 12 holes. The final six are nothing short of unforgettable.

“ It just builds up to a dramatic finish,” Island Hills head professional Tom Wicklund said. “It’s a great golf course.”

Three holes are laid out on a 40-acre island-like peninsula. The 18th tee is from the island heading back to the mainland.

“ The combination of the lake, the peninsula and the island with some beautiful Michigan land forms make it a very unique place,” Hearn said.

Beginning with a friendly forced carry over water on No. 1, Island Hills gets better and better, working its way toward the dramatic finishing holes that are routed around — and in some cases, in — Lake Templene.

A waste bunker measuring a half mile in length outlines the entire side of two holes on the front side.
“ It’s one of the most unique things I’ve ever seen,” Tom Templin said of the waste bunker. “It’s something like 6,000 yards of sand. It makes the hole interesting, and really, it takes a bad shot to be there.”

No. 13 is a 655-yard, three-shot, par-5 with a double fairway, followed by scenic back-to-back par-3s playing to peninsula greens offering different, yet outstanding looks of Lake Templene. The back tee on a 323-yard cape hole is set on a small island where golfers can walk out on a pier and shoot their way back over the lake onto the fairway.

No. 17 is a long and narrow 445-yard par-4, which plays even longer into prevailing winds. A small waterfall trickling from a nearby creek awaits golfers at the end of No. 18, beckoning those who have played it to come back again.

With an outstanding layout provided by Ann Arbor-based William Newcombe & Associates, The Medalist has been upgraded to upscale status with a new ownership group in place. Newcombe has left his mark on — among others — outstanding courses such as The Heather at Boyne Highlands and Thornapple Pointe in Grand Rapids.

“ I think this is one of the best courses Newcombe has done,” Medalist general manager Lowell Weaver said. “He used the topography of the land to make a gorgeous course. I’ve played a lot of golf in Southern Michigan, but I haven’t played a better layout.”

New ownership has provided continuous cart paths, tee area signs, sprinkler head yardage markers and clubhouse improvements to give the four-year-old course its new upscale identity.

“ The golf course was there, but hadn’t been tweaked,” Weaver said. “It has been fixed up the way a course this great deserves to be.”

The Medalist has a resort-like feel to it with wetlands and rolling hills located throughout.

Soft rolling hills and mounding are Newcombe traits. Bent grass tees, greens and fairways bring an already outstanding layout to life.

“ The wetlands add a lot of character to the course,” Weaver said.

The logo for The Medalist is the sand hill crane, coinciding with a nearby bird sanctuary located adjacent to the golf course. There are plenty of opportunities for birdies on The Medalist, as well.

“ It’s a golfer’s course for the true golfer,” Weaver said. “People love it, because it’s challenging, yet fair. There are a lot of risk and reward shots.”

Beginning its second full season in the year 2000, The Blackberry Patch in Coldwater is attracting golfers from a three-state region because of its proximity, playability and credibility.

Nearly 90 acres of wetlands cover the 350-acre golf course, providing a feel of wispy peacefulness. Three bridges — including one that spans 400 yards between holes No. 13 and 14 — connect the course and allows for easy travel over the protected grounds.

Mature hardwood trees add to the aura.

It can play short and sweet or long and strong. From the back tees, The Blackberry Patch plays over 7,100 yards with a difficult slope rating of 141. It becomes easier and more friendly from the forward tees.

“ The design of the golf course challenges players all levels,” director of golf and operations Bob Magness said.

The diverse look provides golf through the hardwoods, but a small section on holes No.’s 6, 7 and 8 — and at No.’s 11 and 12 — are more open with a links type feel.

“ You get a little look at everything,” Magness said. “Some areas are completely in the hardwoods and others are in the wetlands. It provides a nice complement of each other.”

The bentgrass fairways, tees and greens feature a new strain of A-4 Bentgrass that allows greens to be mowed at extremely low levels, providing greens that are fast and true. An upscale practice facility includes two full acres of bent grass tee areas, a practice green with bunkers and five raised target greens on the landing areas with conditions emulating those on the golf course itself.

Additional course information and directions to it can be found on the web at blackberrygolf.com.

Thornapple Creek is a pretty golf course set on rolling hills, with a well-balanced combination of woods and water. The course features several elevated tee areas to go along with the different types of terrain.
Thornapple Creek literally meanders through the front nine of the course that shares its name, while Thornapple Lake comes into play on the back side. The golf course plays 6,595 yards from the back tees, 6,122 from the middle and 4,926 from the front.

After the current ownership group purchased Thornapple Creek two years ago, a big investment was made in maintenance and upkeep and building improvements at the clubhouse, along with a new fleet of carts and continuous asphalt cart path to drive them on. A redesign of a picturesque peninsula green at No. 16 has made that par-5 hole easier to play and even prettier to look at.

“ It’s just a beautiful piece of property for a golf course to be in,” director of golf John Brussee said.

Every hole is a good one on this course, and we have it in fantastic shape.”

Marywood has long been one of Battle Creek’s hallmark public golf courses since it opened way back in 1926 with its rolling hills, fast greens and trademark flower beds. Treadwell Golf Associates took over in 1998 and committed $500,000 and preparing the old gal for the new millennium with a new fleet of carts and continuous asphalt cart paths, new irrigation system and remodeled clubhouse and banquet facilities.

The classic golf course design at Marywood features a lot of bunkers, water that comes into play throughout a round. Marywood’s four sets of tees play 6,631 yards from the back and 5,174 from the front.

“ We’re trying to re-establish the roots of Marywood in the Battle Creek area to make it a source of pride for the community,” head professional and general manager Michael Grooms said. “It’s still the best public course in Battle Creek.”

Cedar Farm is a unique little sister course to Cedar Creek near Battle Creek.

The Farm is built on the ground of a former centennial dairy farm. The layout includes 11 par-3 holes and seven par-4s.

The Lynx of Allegan, located near Otsego, meanwhile, is set on a diverse, rolling terrain with elevated tees, hardwoods and other features more commonly associated with Northern Michigan golf courses. It is playable, accessible and enjoyable.

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