by Greg Johnson
Architect William Newcomb looked at what was to become The Golf Club at Thornapple Pointe on the banks of the Thornapple River near Grand Rapids, and got the point.
"I fit as many holes down by the river as possible," he said. "It's stunning."
He figures golfers will get the point as well, and then want to get to Thornapple Pointe as often as possible.
"It's really better than we envisioned," said the Ann Arbor architect whose previous work includes award-winning designs throughout Michigan, as well as some in Kentucky, Nevada, California and Alaska.
"It is a wooded site, and though we had a good (topography) map, aerial photos and a good idea of what we were working with, it wasn't until I was on the ground and we had worked on four or five holes that I could really see what we had. It's some of my best work, no question."
The new 18-hole high-profile public project opens this spring, just minutes from 28th Street and actually on property leased from the Kent County International Airport.
It features a stunning mix of holes over hilly and wooded land. It will play to par 72 and 6,821 yards from the back tee positions, and be marketed as a public course that promises a private club experience. Rates, yet to be determined, will likely be among the highest in West Michigan. Developer Dave Manes promises an experience worth the price.
"We plan to provide a better condition, a higher level of golf experience and a great degree of playability in what is really an interesting golf course design," he said.
Manes, who is managing partner with 21 other local investors, said the design by Newcomb has exceeded his expectations. His early discussions with prospective investors had a lot to do with questions about planes, trains and automobiles because of the airport, 28th Street and railroad tracks that cut through a part of the property.
"But after they see it and spend a couple of hours looking around at what has been created, they are talking golf," Manes said. "They forget the other things, and they just get excited about playing golf here."
Newcomb's favorite hole is No. 5, a 613-yard par 5 (457 from the front tee) that borders a bend in the river, features a massive tree where the hole bends to the right and dares golfers to play a shot out over the water.
"It's a hole that offers so many options," he said. "It's dramatic, it's along the water. I think the golfer will get started and come to that hole and realize they are playing something special."
The river is the feature element, and the course is called the River Course (another 18 by Newcomb is planned pending funding). Views of the river are available on 12 of the 18 holes, and three holes, No. 5, No. 13 and No. 14 use the water as a direct and dramatic parallel hazard.
The No. 13 hole offers the "Pebble Beach" tee shot over open water, and 14 has a stunning green setting. Those are the holes that folks driving on I-96 toward Lansing can see when they glance south while passing over the Thornapple.
"We had some grass on it in the fall, and everybody is talking about what they can see," Manes said. "It's really hard to wait until we can let them play it."
Newcomb is certain the reaction will be positive. A gifted golfer who won the 1962 Indiana Open, played in the 1963 Masters and won the 1967 Michigan Amateur, Newcomb lists numerous awards on his resume, an association with reknowned architect Pete Dye, a stint as the University of Michigan golf coach and designs that include a number of the state's most popular courses at Boyne Mountain in Boyne Falls, the Donald Ross Memorial layout at Boyne Highlands in Harbor Springs, Apple Valley in Mt. Vernon, Ohio, Shoreline Golf Club in San Francisco, Spruce Run at Grand Traverse Resort in Acme and The Ridge course at Crystal Mountain Resort.
"It's really a resort course or private club style course," he said of Thornapple Pointe. "The golfing public is going to love it."
Manes, a first-time developer from Grand Rapids who left his broker/insurance business career to pursue golf course development, negotiated a 50-year lease with Kent County International for the site. The plans for the two courses take into account the possibility of a South Belt Freeway running through the property.
Manes has also made some bold moves in his hiring of a staff.
First, he landed Jack Thomasma as superintendent. Thomasma was known and well-respected for his work at L.E. Kaufman Golf Course in Grand Rapids, and had turned down offers from private clubs in recent years. He will be assisted by Tim Krizov.
Shane Bybee, PGA certified and a graduate of Ferris State University's well-known golf program, has been named the head professional. Randy Ernst, a PGA teaching pro and former PGA Tour caddy for Dan Pohl, will be an assistant. Gwen DeVries, a University of Michigan graduate, is the operations manager, and Geri Kelly, a Michigan State University and Aquinas College graduate, is the marketing director. For information, call (616) 554-4747.
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