Vanderveen / Photography by Dave Richards
Ten years may
have seemed like a lot of time from drawing
board to the first tee times, but The Ravines
in Saugatuck is actually a golf course
that is hundreds of thousands of years
in the making.
The Arnold Palmer signature course — accentuated
and punctuated by the trait that shares its name — was
formed out of a glacier meltdown from the Ice Age. That’s
even longer than “Arnie’s Army” has been
one can’t rush perfection.
“ Playing The Ravines is
a golf experience, not just a round of golf,” says
Jim Jeltema, who, along with PGA professional
and managing partner David Mocini, brought the
project into fruition.
The Ravines was 10 years in the
making prior to its opening in the summer of
1999. Palmer’s group came in on a work
in progress and turned it into a work of art.
“ Arnold formed his architectural
company to — along with making money, of
course — make sure his love of the game
would be enduring, and it carries over here,” Jeltema
said. “Not every detail of every course
is under his control, but it carries all the
design philosophy Arnold feels is important in
his continuing love of the game.”
The expansive 18-hole layout
is spread over 400 acres — stretching one
mile from north to south — and features
a combination of hardwoods and pines intertwined
among wetlands, small lakes and, of course, The
“ All those elements together
give it quite a bit of character,” Mocini
said. “First time players here are going
to see a routing which is pretty unusual. You
don’t have a criss-cross of holes and get
the feel of being isolated from other golfers
on the course.”
The abundant natural features
include gaping, pristine ravines — some
of them 60 feet deep — lined with virgin
timber of hemlock and oak, and thriving with
wildlife. The wide, open expanses are joined
by long wooden bridges, so golfers won’t
interfere with the delicate ecosystems that bring
the golf course to life.
“ The ravines give it quite
a bit of character,” Mocini said.
Beautiful bunkering, mounding
and shaping accents the natural layout. It adds
up to over 400 acres, creating a variety of golf
holes and shot options.
“ I’d say this course
will be noted for its many vegetated styles,” Jeltema
said. “There are prairies. There are wetlands.
There are scrub forests. There are mature, pristine
forests. There’s just about every kind
of vegetation you can think of. It’s a
wonderful mix and feel of the environment and
the transitions are all very smooth.”
The conditioning of the golf
course is immaculate. Carts include global positioning
satellite (GPS) systems providing golfers with
exacting yardage from cart to the center of the
“ We’re trying to
make sure the conditions we’re trying to
promote are maintained,” Mocini said.
Located about a mile off I-96, The Ravines is set in area perfect
for golf, shopping and recreation. “ This course has distinct
Northern Michigan feel, yet it’s only 30 minutes from Grand
Rapids and right along the Lake Michigan shoreline,” Jeltema
said. “And while some family members are playing golf, others
can enjoy all the things the West Michigan shoreline have to offer.”
The 2,000-foot drive to the clubhouse
is lined with 60-foot trees. The clubhouse itself
is fashioned after a Lake Michigan summer home
and is nicknamed, appropriately enough, “Arnie’s
Cottage.” It features a large deck area
overlooking the 18th green.
The Ravines can play a little
over 7,000 yards from the back tees. There are
four sets of tee blocks. The front yardage is
5,500 with the back measuring 7,069. The course
has the versatility to be set up at 7,200 yards.
“ Sheer length is not an
objective,” Jeltema said.
The front nine begins innocently
enough with some pleasing holes accentuated by
deep, defined bunkering. The first hole is a
par-4 that features two forced carries with smart
bunkering around the green. There are enough
Bermuda sand bunkers on No. 2 to be considered
a satellite beach to the nearby Lake Michigan
shoreline. The forced carry over the wetlands
on the par-3 third hole is part of the beauty
of a shot that features creative ameba-like bunkering
around the green.
The par-5 fourth hole can play
long and strong into the wind and is definitely
a three-shot hole. The key to scoring is setting
up for the third shot. At No. 5, the forced carry
is on the second shot with wetlands beginning
100 yards in front of the green.
Moguls guide the golfer on the
left dogleg No. 6 hole, where a tee shot biting
too much off on the right ends up in trouble
while a shot too short will leave an excruciatingly
long second shot to the green which is located
behind a swath of protected wasteland. It’s
a golf hole that is as beautiful as it is challenging.
No. 7 sets up nicely following
a forced carry off the tee over that same sensitive
wasteland that protects the front of the No.
6 green. Ameba-like sand bunkers again surround
the par-3 No. 8 hole, which leaves very little
room to miss on the right.
The par-5 No. 9 hole has water
meandering down the left side of the fairway
and begins with another forced carry. A fade
or carry over the trees sets up an opportunity
to get home in two. It’s a great way to
make the turn, where — on the other side
of the road — the ravines lie in wait.
“ The back nine justifies
the name,” Mocini says. “That’s
where you get into more deep ravine crossings.”
No. 10 sets up long and strong
for a par-4, requiring an all-carry shot to the
green. No. 11 is a pretty hole — offering
a little bit of a scoring reprieve after surviving
No. 10 — with water along the right edge
that really doesn’t come into play and
a flat putting surface on the green.
No. 12 is where one begins to
see what The Ravines is all about. There is a
60-foot drop into a ravine to the left of the
teeing area and a downhill shot to a par-3 hole.
Spanning the gap to the next teeing area is a
steep downhill drop to a long, narrow bridge
that joins one side of a steep ravine to the
The bridge leads to a fairly
straight hole on a contoured fairway outlined
by gentle, rolling mounds to the left. The green
is neatly bunkered with a slight contour to it.
Then, it’s time to step
up to the tee and find out what The Ravines is
all about. A breathtaking tee shot over a large
crevasse that looks like a river basin without
the water. With directional bunkers guiding the
way on this par-5 hole, the tee shot is not overly
difficult, but the view is overwhelming. The
rest of the fairway is carved out of tall pine
The slightly tiered teeing areas
at No. 15 require another forced carry over wetlands
and wastelands and the fairway cuts through a
swath of trees.
No. 16 is an all-carry tee shot
over heather grasses with tall pines to the left
of the green and mounding on the right of the
fairway. It leads up to a gorgeous par-3 at No.
17, requiring a carry over another ravine with
a green surrounded by trees. This hole is honest-to-goodness,
back-to-nature golf at its finest.
The No. 18 finishing hole — which
provides one last look back over the ravines
from the tee box — is a par-5 that provides
a risk-and-reward opportunity for getting home
in two shots with wetlands and bunkers standing
in the front of the green.
“ We believe this course
lives up to that kind of challenge and has a
lot of value for replayability and repeat business,” Jeltema
He can say that again. And again.