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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.

The 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 feathers.

“ 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 of pine trees 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 large natural bunkers that sometimes come into play for those whose shots stray off the fairways. There are hardpan hazards in the rough. Accuracy off the tee is rewarded.

“ 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 to Newcombe.
“ 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 par-3s. One would be hard pressed to find an 18-hole golf course anywhere in Michigan with every one of its par-3s having a combination 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 potential birdie opportunities. All four present potential disaster.

The contour of the greens and surrounding areas make each shot a little different. All have 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 from the tee box 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 down.

“ 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 didn’t 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 partner.

“ 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 ownership interest in a golf course, it has provided West Michigan with another spectacular 18 holes of championship golf.

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