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By Don Vanderveen

The Meadows at Grand Valley State University was first off the tee among the new upscale public golf courses in West Michigan. It remains near the top of the leaderboard for several reasons.

Whether it is hosting a foursome, an outing or the NCAA golf championships, The Meadows at Grand Valley State University is as accommodating as it can be intimidating.

One of the original West Michigan public courses classified as “upscale,” The Meadows opened in 1995 and made an immediate impact on the golf market because its structured layout and compliance with wetlands issues.

Its course rating of 133 (from the back tees) and outstanding practice facility (which includes a two-hole practice course) make it a favorite for those working to improve their swings or playing the game itself.

Still in its infancy, The Meadows has already been twice chosen to host the NCAA Division II and Division III women’s national championships in 1996 and 1998.

“ A lot has to do with the course design itself,” Meadows general manager Terry Sack says. “College teams don’t always get to play a course of this design and rating.

“ The practice facility is a plus and certainly the university is a plus. We really support and get behind the event, and I think the NCAA likes West Michigan and the Grand Rapids area.”

The Meadows is set up as a links type layout, which is not a typical layout for many Michigan upscale golf courses. The par-72 course measures 7,034 yards from the back tees and 4,777 from the front. In between, there are three other sets of tees to suit virtually any handicap.

“ Because we’re flat, we have more of a links setup and there aren’t a lot of other courses like it,” Sack said. “In West Michigan and Northern Michigan, people try to take advantage of elevations for play in and out of woods. Here, you play in and out of a lot of wetlands instead. We try to protect wetlands, and as a result have some cross hazards that add character to the course.”

The secret to scoring at The Meadows is simple, according to Sack: “It takes good course management and you have to pick your clubs wisely,” he said. “The wind changes how it plays. People don’t get bored playing it.”

By highlighting the wetlands as an integral part of the course design, The Meadows has taken on an unmistakable character.

“ We had to deal with the site we were given and what we had to work with and the wetlands were one of the issues,” Sack said. “The faculty advisory committee of biologists and geologists wanted to build a course in an environmentally conscious way and we succeeded in doing that. The wetlands became a feature rather than something to avoid.”

Five sets of tees provide flexibility for golfers of all abilities. “You can pick a tee that fits your handicap and really enjoy the course,” Sack says.

When The Meadows opened in 1995, it set a precedent for the upscale public golf market in West Michigan. Since then, a plethora of new course development, primarily upscale, has emerged.

“ A lot of the courses that opened or are currently under construction are going to be a higher level public courses,” Sack said. “At the time we opened, we were pretty much the first one.”

The Meadows has been successful hosting a number of group outings — both large and small — “because people know that they will get good service and a fun course to play,” Sack says.

The food and beverage services and other amenities both inside and outside the clubhouse fits in perfectly with a golf outing environment.

“ Two things we emphasize are service and condition of the course,” Sack says. “We try to give people a high level of service, and part of what we do stretches over into group outings.”

The Meadows’ designer is Columbus, Ohio-based Michael Hurzdan. Hurzdan was named the 1997 Architect of the Year by Golf World. The Naples National course he designed was the No. 2-ranked private course in 1997, and Devil’s Pulpit was selected as Canada’s best new course in 1996. The Meadows is the only Michigan course Hurzdan has completed.

Most of the holes at The Meadows present birdie opportunities. Many of them take on a character all their own and have great shot value.

Take No. 16 for instance. It is a long par-4 (playing 432 yards from the back tees) with a second shot that splits through two oak trees. The golfer must split the uprights like kicking a field goal.

No. 18 at The Meadows is one of the best finishing holes around. The par-4 — which measures 394 yards from the back tees and 276 from the front — requires a layup off the tee and leaves an intimidating second shot of all carry over wetlands to the green.

The par-3s also are fun. No. 7, which measures 216 yards from the tips, plays over the wetlands and evokes the fear of an all-carry type shot, while No. 17 is situated on an elevated tee that gives golfers an outstanding look at the Grand Valley State University campus.

“ This golf course has been a gem for the campus,” Sack said. “It creates another reason for people to come to the campus when they may not have otherwise come out. Alumni functions have come alive here and it has been a drawing card to the campus.”

The Golf Academy at The Meadows provides a spacious practice facility which includes a three-hole layout that makes it unique.

“ We had room on the other side of the road, and it was also something that the architect really pushed for,” Sack said. “He built a couple courses around Cincinnati with a couple of practice holes and it and made sense to do that here. It was a natural way to go and the university jumped at the chance. There are a lot of practice facilities out there, but not a lot of practice holes and a short game and bunker facility. There are some nice practice ranges available out there, but not a lot of short game practice holes.”

Golf For Women Magazine selected The Meadows as one of its top-10 women friendly courses in the United States based on service, its outstanding practice facilities, clinics aimed specifically for the woman golfer, available tee times and the five sets of tees.

Golfers return to The Meadows for the service they receive and a course that is guaranteed to be in good condition and fun to play.

“ No golf course is boring to play, but this course is really unpredictable with the winds and is fun to play every time,” Sack said. “People have fun playing it.”

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