Destination: Grand Rapids
by Kelly Hill
Dear Golf Buddy,
Thanks for your recent letter. So, you've got two weeks of vacation this summer and you want to come to Grand Rapids to play golf. What you've heard about Michigan being golf's Capital during the summer months is absolutely correct. Although the distinction is often applied to the plethora of beautiful courses in beautiful Northern Michigan, the greater Grand Rapids area abounds with challenging, well-manicured public golf courses. If you are willing to drive no more than an hour outside the G.R. city limits your choices are multiplied.
Since your vacation is still a few weeks away, I thought I would send you something to peruse, something you can read and reread, something that might make your days pass more quickly until you get here and get golfing. Here's a rundown of most of the better public golf courses in the greater G.R. area and within an hour's drive of the city.
When you've poured over all this material, I'm sure you're going to have additional questions about several or all of the course. My suggestion is that you call them yourself, so I've included a telephone number for each course. And remember, the area code for each is 616.
Located north on what has become one of the busiest streets in the city, Alpine is aptly named as it is a hilly course that will demand numerous blind shots to relatively small greens. But it is an entertaining course to play, however, and is easily accessed from downtown. And the greens are usually in great shape. Call: 784-1064.
This course, which opened its front nine for play in 1993 and the back in '94, plays 6,196 yards from the white tees and features bent grass fairways and tees. "People compare it to the courses of north," is what Cedar Chase pro Tim Covell said of the course. "It's a challenging course and the fairways are tight." The 11th hole here is a par-5 that plays 61 yards through the trees. One of the Grand Rapids golf writers (No, not me), said that No. 11 "is so narrow a dog can't stand in the middle of the fairway and wag his tail." This course, located in nearby Cedar Springs, is a Bruce Mathews III design and has played host to the boys high school regional tournament last fall and hosted the girls regional event this spring. Call 696-2308.
Formerly a 27-hole layout located in Hudsonville, 10 minutes southwest of downtown G.R., Gleneagle is now an 18-hole course that plays 6,505 yards from the championship tees. While condominiums are being built to eventually occupy the area surrounding the course, area that was once the other nine holes, the remaining 18 holes have also received some smart reconstruction. The greens, some of which are tiered or rolling, have received most of the attention during the course's reconstruction. Call 457-3680.
About 45 minutes west of Grand Rapids, in the resort city of Grand Haven lies Grand Haven Golf Club. Named by Golf Digest as one of the country's top 50 golf courses, Grand Haven remained in the top 75 until just last year. Desgined by 93-year-old Bruce Matthews who still owns the course and who lives in Grand Haven, this stellar course has built a reputation on tight fairways and intimidating tee shots. That reputation has mellowed somewhat recently, however, as more than 1,000 trees have been removed from along the fairways in an effort to make the course more forgiving. While some of the trees have gone, water has been added at Grand Haven Golf Club. The hazard on No. 17 has been expanded and a water hazard has been added to the fifth hole. Call 842-4040.
Of all the courses you will read about here, this is the longest drive from Grand Rapids as it is located north of South Haven, about a 50 minute drive from downtown GR. Opened for play late last August, this wind-swept, Art Hills-designed links layout has been received with excitement and its repeat players are many. Unlike many of the Northern Michigan courses that can beat up the average player, HawksHead is also a bargain. "We want to give people a good show for the money," pro Steve Chapman said. You can play HawksHead for $25, with a cart, after 3 p.m. Call 639-2121.
Owned by Kent County, in which Grand Rapids is located, this busy course is also a Matthews design that lies on the southern edge of the city and plays 6,338 from the white tees. The site of the Kent County Amateur Championship as well as the West Michigan Junior and Senior Amateur Championships, this premiere public course is subtle. Jim Guertler, the golf pro there told me, "It has relatively large greens with subtle breaks. Shot placement is important here." Call 538-5050.
Jeff, I couldn't tell you about this course without telling you about the "li'l Monster." That's what they call the third hole on this course. The hole is only 88 yards from the white tees, so how tough can it be, right? Let me tell you, no chip shot will ever get you in more trouble than your tee shot on the "li'l Monster." Water, rocks and trees are only a few of the hazards your tee shot might encounter. Of course, though, Lake Doster is more than one hole. As the former site of the Super Senior Pro-Am played in conjunction with the First of America Classic, G.R.'s stop on the Senior PGA Tour, Lake Doster plays 6,112 from the white tees and according to course pro Roger Marquardt, "The nice thing about it is that it's a fair course. It's tough enough that you won't be bored because it has a little bit of everything. Call 685-5308.
Located on the Allendale campus of Grand Valley State University, about 15 miles west of Grand Rapids, The Meadows features a golf academy which is one of the best teaching facilities in the G.R. area. In its third full season of operation, The Meadows plays 6,300 yards with a slope rating of 27. "We get high marks for service and conditioning," says course general manager Terry Sack. "It is a links-type course and you have to use course management here. We have some strong par-3s and some par-5s that are reachable. You will use every club in your bag here." Call 895-1000.
Located in the southwest corner of the city, not far from L.E. Kaufman, the Pines is a public course with split personality. After you play an open front nine and finish with a dogleg left on which you will be tempted to, and probably will, cut the corner, you will embark on a back nine that plays shorter but is much tighter, more scenic and much more difficult. It's also home to a fine junior golf program. Call 538-8380.
Located southeast of Grand Rapids, exactly 22 miles from the heart of downtown, Saskatoon features 36 holes that are distinguished by color. The Blue nine is the narrowest of the four layouts, the White is the longest, the Red is of average length and challenge and the Gold is a Scottish links-style course. When playing 18 holes at Saskatoon, the Blue and White form one track and the Red and Gold form the other. According to Director of Golf Carol Farquhard, if golfers have time for only nine holes, the Gold is often the nine they request. With course lengths varying from 5,300-6,100 yards, the ever popular Saskatoon is home to several area high school teams and frequently hosts the O-K Blue Conference girls golf tournament. Call 891-9229.
One of the older Bruce Matthews designs, this course, located just north of the city, opened its front nine for play in 1962, the back opened in '65 and a new nine is currently under construction and is expected to be ready for play next summer. A par-72 course that plays about 6,000 yards from the white tees, Scott Lake features mature trees in a scenic, rolling countryside. "This is where golf is fun," said Jeff Hoag, who owns the course with his brother, Paul. "Some courses you really don't want to play. We make a strong effort here to give people what they're looking for, and good golf conditions, too." With greens that are not overly large, occasionally elevated, of medium speed and occasionally tiered, Scott Lake is indeed a pleasure to play. Call 784-1355.
Jeff, this is probably the first course you'll see upon your arrival in Grand Rapids since it is almost impossible to arrive at Kent County International Airport without flying directly over this course. The first course you might see is also the last G.R. course on this list to open as Thornapple Pointe first opened for play in mid-May. Located on a scenic piece of property in Cascade, the course features a mile and a half of footage along the Thornapple River. "There are a lot of golf courses in Grand Rapids but none of them have the appeal that gets people to travel to play courses like those in Northern Michigan," said Thornapple Pointe general manager Dave Manes. "We felt that if we could build a resort-style golf course with high quality maintenance and a high level of service, there is no reason why it can't be in a metropolitan area." A completely spikeless facility, Thornapple Pointe plays 6,821 yards from the back tees. Call 554-4747.
This course is almost an hour's drive from G.R. in the small town of Rothbury, but when you get to Thoroughbred, it's not likely that you'll remember the drive. This layout, which opened for play on the Fourth of July in 1993, plays 6,900 yards from the back tees, with a 147 slope rating. "The greens are very undulating, not at all flat," said Thoroughbred head pro Jeff Howland. "The greens are ideal resort speed." Voted one of the top three new resort courses in 1993, Thoroughbred is considered by Golf Digest as the No. 1 upscale public course in Michigan and is No. 33 in the country. Situated on 350 acres, "this is a very unique piece of property," Howland said. The property features a dude ranch, a pine forest and three private lakes. Call 893-4653.
Located in Jenison, which is a suburb southwest of the city, Wallinwood is in its sixth season of play. This course, which measures 6,271 from the white tees, is best known for holes 15 and 16. No. 15 is a par-3 with a peninsula green and No. 16 features a peninsula tee. A Jerry Matthews-designed course, Wallinwood is nestled within a quiet condominium community. Call 457-9920.
Jeff, I hope this gives you some idea about what awaits you and your clubs when you get to Grand Rapids. Obviously, unless you want to play every day, all day, we will never be able to play all of the courses in the area, so give it some thought and let me know which courses you want to play. You can always come out here again to catch the ones we miss on this visit.
See you soon,
You can contact us at
Copyright© Great Lakes Sports Publications, Inc.