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black lake

By Don Vanderveen / Photography by Brian Walters

Black Lake Golf Club in Onaway has made a grand stand among America’s top new courses.

The Rees Jones-built championship golf course located near Cheboygan received a Golf Digest designation as the No. 2 “Best New Upscale Public Course” in North America for 2000.

Jones also designed Thousand Oaks Golf Club in Grand Rapids, which was ranked No. 4 by “Golf Digest” among Best New Affordable Public courses.

“ It’s a credit to Black Lake to come in second in the category of Best New Upscale, because it’s a very competitive division to be in,” Jones said. “There were 256 golf courses that were submitted this year, and Black Lake even had some points deducted because they didn’t allow walking all the time. It’s pretty incredible.”

It certainly is.

With over 1,000 acres to work with, Jones designed a spacious 300-acre course that has become a must-play venue for those who love classic golf course design combined with the aesthetics of natural wetlands.

“ What makes that site so intriguing is that it’s a natural piece of ground with sandy soil with ample land to space the holes where they should be,” Jones said. “It enables you to vary your features easily in order to optimize the topography.”

Black Lake is carved out of pines and hardwoods and runs perpetually through and around wetlands, while featuring a traditional, classic layout with wide fairways and target bunkers.

“ The wetlands really add a positive element to all of the golf courses today,” Jones said. “It enables us to locate the greens and tees and fairways on the upland.”

Native trees such as ash, aspen, beech, birch, hemlock, maple, oak, red pine and white pine outline the course and provide habitat for an array of wildlife species in the area, including bald eagle, beaver, coyote, duck, fox, osprey, owl, stork and white tail deer.

“ Usually, it’s just you and the deer and the squirrels playing golf,” director of golf Pam Phipps said. “My favorite courses are the ones with no homes around them.”

The course features bentgrass conditions throughout except for accents on the fairways where bluegrass is mixed. The golf course is heavily tree-lined and isolated.

“ Every hole is a great golf hole, and the neat thing about it is that this course will be like it is now in 30 years, because there isn’t going to be a bunch of condos put out there,” Phipps said. “Some of the courses being developed now are great, but they lose some of the appeal when housing developments go up around them.”

The wide, well-groomed fairways provide ample room for big hitters. Target bunkers lurk in the fairways. The greens are accented by even more sand. A couple of doglegs create some interesting shot options.

“ It’s a very traditional, classic design that is very pleasing to the eye,” Phipps said. “It’s a great course for the average golfer who wants to come out and wants to be challenged, but wants that challenge to be fair. Players aren’t getting beat up so badly that they won’t come back again. They want to come back and see if they can do better the next time.”

With nearly 175 bunkers located throughout the course, golfers should remember to pack their wedges for at least one sandy.

“ A good golfer finds it challenging, but fair,” Phipps said. “The better the player, the more he or she will appreciate the golf course. Higher handicappers also enjoy the course, but they pay the price more with errant shots.”

After a straightforward hole at No. 1, Black Lake features some doglegs around wetlands. An ameba-like sand formation is set underneath an all-carry shot at No. 5 where Bermuda sand accents the green. It is a terrific combination of land and sand.

“ Rees does a lot of great golf courses,” Phipps said. “He took the natural terrain and worked with what he had. Down in the south, he’s known for his mounding. He moved no dirt here. What he saw is what you got. Standing at the tee, you’ll be able to see all the trouble you can get into, and from No. 13 on in, it makes you use just about every club in your bag.”

A small course, learning center and practice facility are located adjacent to the main course at Black Lake. The double-ended practice range extends 350 yards, and features four nearby practice bunkers, four chipping and putting greens and the Little Course, a nine-hole, par-3 layout measuring between 699 and 773 yards.

Owned and operated by the United Auto Workers union, Black Lake is a public course that provides UAW members and retirees substantial discounts from the regular greens fees. But even at regular rates of up to $95 per round, Black Lake is worth the price. Tee time reservations are accepted up to 14 days in advance for UAW members, and three days in advance for public play.

“ It’s been embraced by all the knowledgeable golfers in the state of Michigan already,” Jones said. “It’s a great golf course for members of the U.A.W. It’s a great golf course for the average golfer and it’s a great golf course for the good players.”

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