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By Don Vanderveen

When it comes to upscale golf in West Michigan, there is one Pointe to remember. The Golf Club at Thornapple Pointe.

This unique 18-hole championship track incorporates Star Wars technology into every round and has literally taken golf in this area to another level. Thornapple Pointe combines technology with all the accoutrements of an upscale resort to set it apart from all other courses in West Michigan.

Thornapple Pointe’s PinMark system incorporates Global Positioning Satellite technology to provide patrons with on-cart computers that give exacting distances to daily pin placements. It is like driving around the course with a personal computerized caddie.

“ Since we introduced it at the beginning in 1996, it has been amazing to hear people’s comments about it and to see people enjoy using it and continue coming back to use it,” Thornapple Pointe general manager Shane Bybee says. “There are not too many facilities I know of that you can get yardage right to the flag stick on a daily basis.

“ It provides guests with a better golfing experience, because they are able to relax and enjoy a round. Everybody that plays a round of golf here gets a computer on the cart. It’s all part of the experience.”
Along with providing exacting distances to the hole, Thornapple Pointe’s PinMark system brings the layout of the golf course — bunkers, water hazards, marshes and other points of interest (or concern) — to the golfer via the screen on the cart. It is user-friendly even for those who are not well versed on computers.

“ Being a public facility, we see numerous first-time guests and it helps make them feel more at home,” Bybee said. “It shows them yardage to a hazard, to a bunker, to the front of the green and to the stick. It’s always on the screen right in front of you and after the first or the second hole you begin to know what’s going on.

“ On a lot of courses, you see a flag on the stick indicating whether the hole is on the front, middle or back of the green. Ours is right on the flag every day. Sometimes people take that for granted, but when you play it everyday — or even for the first time — it gives you a perspective of knowing a course much better. You can get the exact yardage to the pin you’re shooting at from the fairway or two fairways over. It sure beats calling over to your partner a fairway away.”

Technology aside, it is the immaculate condition of the golf course itself that makes it special. A rolling topography that incorporates woods, marshes, meadows and the Thornapple River sets the stage for one pleasurable round after another.

Thornapple Pointe is a par-72 layout and plays 6,821 yards from the tips and 4,878 from the front. Two other sets of tees are set up in between.

“The playability of the golf course itself really makes for a pleasurable round,” Bybee said. “It’s not overly demanding — you get a lot of bump and run shots — and people of varying skill levels can come out and play the golf course.

“ With four sets of tees, it’s fair. There are some forced carries, but most of the time they’re pretty manageable. It’s not tricked up.

“ It’s pretty straight, forward classic golf.”

Thornapple Pointe is a golf course that never gets stale. With the changing of the seasons — even at varying times of the day — the golf course sets up slightly differently by providing contrasting views and vistas.

“ There is a lot of variety with meadows, the river, the wetlands and the trees,” Bybee said. “It’s not stagnate.

“If you play it late at night when the sun is setting from the west, the mounding of green looks different and contour looks different.

“ At different times of the day, even different times of the season, the course can look a little different. It always seems to be changing.”

Designed by Ann Arbor-based William Newcombe & Associates, Thornapple Pointe has emerged as a cornerstone of upscale golf in West Michigan. Newcombe, who has designed more than 70 golf courses over a career spanning three decades, once said that Thornapple Pointe was his best work to date.

“ From the outset, the project revolved around planning in concert with the DNR regulations,” Newcombe said. “We had the Thornapple River there and a sensitive issue with a lot of wetlands and stream.

“ Half of the success of the project was to get the golf course we got and make it liveable to the regulations we have to live on.

“ The topography out there is a natural golf course topography. It has a gentleness feel to it, and as a golfer, I like that. You’re not aware of it, because it’s not overpowering. Yet, that’s what makes it so powerful.

“ It’s meant to be friendly and playable.”

Thornapple Pointe has matured well beyond its years, because of a perfectly timed seeding schedule and the immaculate and detailed upkeep by superintendent Jack Thomasma. The bent grass fairways and greens are always plush.

The hazards, however, can be unforgiving.

The hole most people remember after playing Thornapple Pointe is the par 5, No. 5 that doglegs over a cove in the river. The risk and reward it offers is classic.

“ It doesn’t look like a whole lot from the tee, but when those who play it arrive at their tee shot, they realize what a great hole it is,” Bybee said. “Over that little ridge, people see the river and the steep banks and it begins to look like a difficult golf hole.

“ There are not too many shots on a golf course that can make me second guess myself, but the second shot on No. 5 is one of those nerve racking shots you have on a golf course. It gives you the option of either shooting over the river or playing it safe and laying up. That second shot is one of the real knee knockers on the whole golf course. The third shot, — the scoring shot, the one you have to sit up by the flag — is also no patsy. The green is very narrow. It’s 40 yards deep, but only 18 paces wide, and the right side is surrounded by sand traps.

“ It’s a great hole,” Bybee said. “It’s not overly difficult, but the way we play the game of golf sometimes makes it difficult. You can easily make five in regulation, or hit it in the water, drop it, hit another one in and end up with a 7 or 8.”

Newcombe said that the No. 5 hole at Thornapple Pointe “is perhaps my favorite hole I’ve designed anywhere,” he said. “It introduces so many different elements of a golfer’s skill. It gives you a great risk and reward opportunity.”

Another hole with outstanding shot value and requires strategic placement is the tree-lined, 395-yard, par-4, No. 14. From the tee, you cross a bridge toward the second shot. Hopefully, the drive was straight and it won’t take long to find it.

“ You must make a decision to hit wood or iron to get the ball in play off the tee, because there isn’t a big landing area,” Bybee said. “Because it is so narrow, a lot of players hit a long iron off the tee to keep it in play. Then, depending on the pin placement, the second shot can be difficult. The different pin positions requires different shots.”

From the tournament tees, the par-3s can also provide a challenge — or some intricate up-and-down play.

“ There’s only one par-3 out there what I’d call a ‘gimmie,’ and that’s at No. 12,” Bybee said. “But there can be a lot of big numbers there if you’re not careful.”

Thornapple Pointe features a full service staff of bag attendants and clubhouse assistants waiting to greet and assist golfers with all of their needs before and after a round. A complete pro shop and short order grill, as well as spacious clubhouse offering an array of beverages, are available.

A large driving range is secluded away from the hustle and bustle of the clubhouse or the golf course itself.

“ Our focus here is much driven toward taking care of golfers and giving them what they want before they tee off or when they come off the course,” Bybee said.

In between, the sky is the limit to the amount of enjoyment Thornapple Pointe has to offer.

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