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Ron Whitten

Guest Editor: The Best Holes in Michigan Golf Since 1965
By Ron Whitten

Back in 1999, I had the good fortune of helping Dan Jenkins prepare a new version of his 'Best 18 Golf Holes in America'. His original selections had appeared in Sports Illustrated back in 1965. For this new Golf Digest version, Jenkins would consider only holes that hadn't existed back in 1965.

Otherwise, the selection process was the same. Dan picked the best opening hole, the best second hole and so on, from first to 18th. My job was to help him recall holes and make sure the finished product looked like a golf course. We didn't want a final list with eight par-3s on it.

We started with an enormous number of candidates, then winnowed them down to half a dozen finalists for each hole. Among those finalists, no state was represented more than Michigan. You could attribute that to simple coincidence, but I'm guessing it's more a reflection on the quality and diversity of the course architecture found around the state. Here are the Michigan holes that Jenkins and I found particularly noteworthy. Remember, they had to have been built after 1965.


The 16th at Elk Ridge is one of the ýBest 18 Public Golf Holes in America.

Start with the 380-yard first hole at Dunmaglas in Charlevoix. With a stream to the left, random bunkers scattered along the right, and a cluster of birch posing interference, this Larry Mancour/Dean Refram-designed hole is a great opener. But it was the sixth hole until the clubhouse was relocated.

That's too much happenstance to declare it America's best opening hole. We ended up listing it as an Honorable Mention.

Another Honorable Mention was the 406-yard, par-4 second at the New Course at Indianwood Golf & Country Club in Lake Orion, the first collaboration between Bob Cupp and Jerry Pate. The second is a dogleg right, around and over a lake, with a forest of pines on the left and a sentinel pine in the fairway. It's an underrated hole on what I think is an underappreciated course.

We gave lots of thought to the 392-yard third hole at Bay Harbor Golf Club near Petoskey. High on a lake bluff, this is the rare double-fairway par-4 where there are real advantages and disadvantages to playing either fairway. The risk is off the tee if playing to the lower, left fairway. The risk is on the second shot if you take the higher, safer right route. In the end, we didn't choose this hole, because we wanted no more than a single hole from any course. Bay Harbor had an even better one.


Bay Harbor's best is the 406-yard seventh.

Bay Harbor's best is the 406-yard seventh, a "Cape"-type dogleg left, where the tee shot must bite off a portion of a diagonal gorge and the second shot plays downhill to a tricky green perched above Lake Michigan. We ultimately decided this Arthur Hills product was unmatched and Dan selected it as the 'Best Seventh Hole' in the country.

I must backtrack a bit and mention the 413-yard sixth hole at Timberstone Golf Club in Iron Mountain. Paul Albanese, now an associate of Ray Hearn, worked for Jerry Matthews when they conceived this sterling par-4. The fairway is a thumb out into a lake that runs along the left, with a bail-out area to the right guarded by bunkers and trees. The approach, over water, is to a green that's pinched in the center like an hourglass and slopes to the front and back. We made this one another Honorable Mention.

The 'Best Eighth hole in America' also came from Michigan. It's the 513-yard eighth at The Dunes Club in New Buffalo, the only hole selected from a nine-hole course. We both admired the Pine Valley-like nature of this Dick Nugent design, which utilizes lakefront sand dunes to optimum effect. The eighth is a great, reachable par-5, playing over a huge area of raw sand off an elevated tee, then around flanking trees to a tiny elevated green tucked into dunes.

The 434-yard 13th at High Pointe Golf Club in Williamsburg made our short list of finalists. As the first solo design by Tom Doak (who has lived in Traverse City since starting work on the course in 1986), High Pointe established his lay-of-the-land modus operandi. It's definitely old-school, and even old-country, with Bracken ferns substituting for heather or gorse. The 13th has as natural a green setting as can be found, incorporating an existing ridgeline to split the putting surface into left and right sections.

The 381-yard 16th at Elk Ridge in Atlanta was our last Michigan finalist. A fabulous Cape-type hole, again to the left, over wetlands to a natural roller coaster fairway, this Jerry Matthews design is so distinctive, versatile and attractive that I'd previously selected it as one of the 'Best 18 Public Golf Holes in America' for a different Golf Digest feature. Unfortunately, that worked against its selection as one of Dan's Best 18, even as an Honorable Mention. It ended up on the cutting room floor.

In the three years since we did that list, dozens of new Michigan contenders have opened. I'm thinking of holes at Arcadia Bluffs, Shepherds Hollow, Black Lake, Lost Dunes and Island Hills, and have heard great things about Kingsley, Tullymore and Lochenheath, among others. If we ever reprise the Jenkins Best 18, I'm guessing Michigan could again dominate. MG


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