By Don Vanderveen
Of all the golf
courses architect William Newcombe has designed
over the past quarter century — including
those at Boyne Mountain, Boyne Highlands
and Crystal Mountain — The Links at
Bowen Lake is perhaps the nearest and dearest
to his heart.
One of West Michigan’s
best-kept secrets, this 18-hole championship
golf course located in northeast Kent County
is carved out of wetlands and marshes.
centerpiece is Bowen Lake, an uninhabited (by humans
anyway) natural wetlands
complete with marshes, reeds and cattails. Several
watersheds and creeks flow to and from the lake,
which provides a nesting ground for birds of many
It is a pretty well kept secret so far,” Bowen
Lake Director of Golf Todd Pentrack said. “Bill
Newcombe had an almost perfect golf course topography
to work with.”
Bowen Lake is a naturalist’s golf course.
It is where Golf Digest meets Outdoor Life.
You’re fortunate out there to have such serenity,” Newcombe
says. “You get the feeling as you play it
that the outside world isn’t impinging on
your golf game.
It should be serene and should be peaceful. That
course is never going to be an over-populated
housing development. “ It is a golf course
that will stand on its own.”
Bowen Lake’s logo is a blue heron.
That’s because of the natural golfing experience
it gives you,” Newcombe said.
The par-72 track that plays 6,828 yards
from the tips features a healthy combination
hardwoods scattered throughout the course.
It incorporates a forest, the lake and
wetlands into a scenic setting
for golf shots.
The sandy loam soil base at Bowen Lake
are great for natural drainage and form
that sometimes come into play for those
whose shots stray off the fairways. There
in the rough. Accuracy off the tee is
It’s challenging and fun to play,” Newcombe
said. “There are a lot of visual
features of that course also.
“ There are the surroundings of being in the country
and you have a lake in the center of the
golf course that you can see from several different angles.
We built the course on the natural setting.”
And it was that setting that made it
a special piece of land to build a
course on, according
We didn’t move a lot of earth out there and
planned to build it that way,” Newcombe said. “We
did shape the greens and spent time on
that and it shows.”
To accommodate golfers of varying handicaps,
other tee boxes at The Links vary from
distances of 6,702
yards and 6,247 yards from the middle
and 5,707 or 4,821 from the front.
We put in different tees to play it short or long,
whatever you feel like playing that day,” Newcombe
said. “You can find some tough pin
placements or you can find some easy pin
placements out there.
“ I really like the greens at Bowen Lake. They are
a big part of the golf course.”
Newcombe has made a statement at
Bowen Lake with four magnificent
One would be
to find an 18-hole golf course anywhere
in Michigan with every one of its
with as much character and color
as those at Bowen Lake.
All four — with lengths ranging from about
173 yards to 234 yards from the tips (from 90 yards
to 108 yards from the front tees) — provide
spectacular views and vistas. Creeks, wetlands,
carry shots and woods provide spectacular
backgrounds and side views. All four provide
opportunities. All four present potential
The contour of the greens and surrounding
areas make each shot a little different.
one thing in common: “There are real strong visuals on all of
the par-3s,” according to Newcombe.
No. 4 sets up high to low with a bridge over the
wetlands. No. 12 is flat with beautiful color
and wetlands following the golfer
to a green
surrounded by pine trees. No. 15 has tiered tees with a green flanked
by wetlands and surrounded by pine trees. No. 8, meanwhile, is
a typical heroic
carry — short
shots are doomed and long shots are trouble — where the ball must hit the
green complex or it’s going to be very difficult to get up and
There is a lot of statement on those par 3s,” Newcombe said. “You
have diversity and they all look good and have slightly different personalities.”
The Links at Bowen can yield some good scores.
It can also cause some big numbers.
There is a lot of honest golf out there,” Newcombe said. “We
employ tricks to make it a good golf course. “ Golf should
be an enjoyable experience. For that reason, there is a lot
of honest play.”
Newcombe’s forte is building resort courses. He has been involved with
the design of close to 100 golf courses — including the Donald Ross Memorial
and The Monument for Boyne USA — over his career. He was the architect
for Thornapple Pointe and is a limited partner in that project.
At Bowen Lake, Newcombe has taken on a higher level
of involvement than with his previous projects.
He is a 50 percent majority
I’m involved a little more strongly on the operations side than I would
normally be,” Newcombe said.
As a result, this great golf course architect has a vested
interest in the project.
And while The Links at Bowen Lake, which opened
in 1998, has provided Newcombe with a majority
in a golf
has provided West
Michigan with another spectacular 18 holes of championship