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By Don Vanderveen

Ballybunion. Cypress Point. Royal Melbourne. St. Andrews. Portmarnock. Lahnich. The names alone elicit visions of golf tradition, grandeur and nirvana.

Arcadia Bluffs.

It too, is a golf course that can stand on its own.

Only time will tell, but Arcadia Bluffs — a Rick Smith designed course set alongside the Lake Michigan shoreline — may very well be history in the making.

One day, it too may be revered as a site that is a benchmark for other outstanding courses to measure themselves against.

“ It may be the finest facility you’ll find in the United States, maybe in the world,” Arcadia Bluffs director of golf William Shriver claims. “And I’m not taking anything away from the rest of the world, either.”

Shriver isn’t just speaking in platitudes. His exuberance is not unfounded. Arcadia Bluffs has emerged as a world class golf experience on a setting so beautiful that a camera should be standard issue equipment for any round.

The meshing of blue hues from the sky and the lake, combined with the rich, deep green tints of the bentgrass golf course spread over rolling sand dunes create a spectacular color panorama suitable for framing.

“ Forget about whether it’s a golf course or not, I challenge anyone to find a better piece of property in the state of Michigan, period,” Shriver said. “There’s not another piece of property like it, and certainly no other golf course like it in Michigan.”

Arcadia Bluffs is located a few miles south — as the sea gull flies — of the magnificent time-tested Alister Mackenzie creation at Crystal Downs.

“ Now I know what Mackenzie felt like back along time ago when he was given all these spectacular sites to work with,” Smith said. “This is beyond spectacular.”

Unlike Crystal Downs, which is a private club, Arcadia Bluffs — with all its grandiose accoutrements — is open for public play.

The par-72 golf course is laid out on 245 acres alongside the Lake Michigan shoreline. Reminiscent of magnificent oceanside golf courses, breath-taking views of America’s greatest freshwater lake can be seen on every hole.

It’s about the most water a person will see from a golf course without any of it coming into play.

The wind-swept sand dunes are covered with native grasses and fescue, enhancing the look even more. Over 50 sod wall bunkers — reminiscent of those found overseas — are smartly placed throughout the course, adding an element of beauty and deep deception.

“ With no water hazards on the course, the fescues, bunkers and chipping areas around the greens gives Arcadia Bluffs the feel of famous ocean-side courses in America and the United Kingdom,” Smith said.
The elevation changes, dramatic backdrop of the lake and playability/difficultly of each hole all provide a slightly different look from every tee, like 18 original oil paintings in an art exhibit.

“ There is very little on that course that is created,” Shriver said. “From the get-go, the goals were to work with the land. The links-type layout is a design that fits perfectly with that type of land.”

It is a challenging, but fair golf course.

Aracadia Bluffs plays as long as 7,405 yards from the championship tees. With prevailing winds, it can show its teeth. But its beauty will never be outdone. The front tees play nearly 2,300 yards shorter with other choices of length between.

“ You can make it as difficult as you want to make it,” Shriver said. “But like any course in the world, if you put the ball into play off the tees and keep it on the fairway, you can play it and be successful playing it.”

The greens are large and undulated. Distances to the pins are displayed from each cart on the Global Positioning Satellite (GPS) system.

“ There’s a premium on the game from 75 yards in,” Shriver says. “You have to think before you shoot.
“ There are seven pin positions and every one is very accessible and very equitable. It draws on your creativity as well as your skill.”

A typical round at Arcadia Bluffs begins with some early birdie opportunities. The front nine features three par-5s, three par-4s and three par-3s. All three par-5s are played over the first five holes.
The back nine is a more traditional 2-2-5 setup.

The No. 13 hole features and elevated teeing area with a fairway carved out of a deep ravine. Playing it is like going through a deep valley of fescue-covered sand dunes. No. 15 rolls between high, grassy knolls with a beautiful lake view behind the green. No. 16 is laid out alongside a cliff of shorline frontage with a 225-foot drop to the beach with the lake view present all the way down.

“ It just builds as you go,” Shriver said. “All 18 holes are certainly wonderful, and when people ask me what our signature hole is, I just tell them to pick one.

“ After the 10th hole — from 11 through 18 — it is the finest stretch of golf holes you’ll ever play. It just gets a little better as you go. You have the views of the lake, a lot of elevation change and dramatic sculpting. It’s a very strategic stretch of holes, as well as breathtaking and beautiful.”

The clubhouse is grand. The dining excellent. The lounge accommodating. The golf shop friendly. The practice range and short-game facility outstanding. The golf course second to none.

“ When people first see it, they are in awe,” Shriver said. “Spectacular. Dramatic. Breathtaking. If we have 100 players, we hear it 100 times. You wouldn’t know whether you’re on the Monteray Peninsula or Lake Michigan. You could be anywhere in the world. We’ll let the golf course, the clubhouse and the staff speak for itself.”

A golf experience at Arcadia Bluffs will certainly speak volumes. And don’t forget the camera. It will guarantee some outstanding shots — with our without clubs.

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