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By Don 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 around.

After all, 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 Ravines.

“ 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 green.

“ 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 other.

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 trees.

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 said.

He can say that again. And again. And again...

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