The Links at Bowen Lake Village
by Tom Cleary
Not too long ago it seemed as though most of the new golf courses in our state were being built by Michiganians such as Jerry Matthews and Bill Newcomb. Then came the construction boom of the 80's, when such nationally-recognized designers and architects as Palmer, Nicklaus, Fazio and Hills began to make Michigan their private playgrounds. And while the locals never really stopped working, their efforts sometimes become less noticeable.
While Matthews recaptured some of his lost thunder a few years ago with Elk Ridge, Bill Newcomb is doing so this year with two new west Michigan designs. The Golf Club at Thornapple Pointe is located on wonderful land just east of the Kent County International Airport, while the Links at Bowen Lake Village is a golf and real estate project in the northeast corner of the county. The initial buzz on both courses has been strong, and should catapult Newcomb back into the limelight as a builder.
"I'm very pleased to have two courses in the Grand Rapids market," says Newcomb. "This is really our first venture over there, and we really think there's room to grow.
Newcomb's best-known Michigan work to date was done for the Kircher family. The Monument is a summer-months workhorse at Boyne Highlands, where Newcomb's other design is the well-regarded Donald Ross Memorial Course. For a time it seemed like Newcomb was the in-house designer at Boyne, but his two new Grand Rapids-area works should help him find projects throughout the state in the near future. At Bowen Lake his new course completely circles a picturesque private lake and moves around the meandering Clear Creek. The layout will also be dotted by 92 home sites, most on parcels of an acre or more. Noted west Michigan realtor Craig Dunlap is handling lot sales and his office reports about half of the sites have already been gobbled up. The result will be a close-knit, golf-oriented community in a beautiful nature area that's convenient for Grand Rapids workers. Says Newcomb, "I think Bowen Lake will be of private-club quality and one of the top choices to play in west Michigan for the public golf population. Since it's a little ways out of Grand Rapids, it'll be a 'country' kind of experience for players -- it's very pretty there and very quiet, too."
While at least nine holes will be open for play at the public facility this summer, Bowen Lake operators say the temperate weather of last fall aided their grow-in period and might allow for the course to be completely functional in 1997. PGA Professional Todd Pentrack will run the golf staff after moving over in the off-season from nearby Rogue River. Bowen Lake will have a full-service practice area and attractive fees for area golfers used to paying resort prices.
Newcomb says for him Bowen Lake is a pleasant surprise. The job at Bowen Lake came to him as a result of a referral he received from people who had assisted him during survey work done at Thornapple Pointe. "We were able to get in on the front-end at Bowen Lake, and when we do that we can help on the land-plan," Newcomb relates. The result is a course that takes full advantage of the scenic Bowen Lake. While the lake is visible on many holes, it won't really be hazardous to the shots of golfers who play there.
And with two new courses in the bustling Grand Rapids area it appears the former University of Michigan golf coach has finally bucked the trend that has seen most of the good projects and sites go to designers with national reputations and price tags. Newcomb admits "certainly the (Tour) pros have a leg up on certain jobs, primarily the resorts, where operators need a big-name to draw people. But our company has always felt upscale public golf was going to happen in America, and that's how we've positioned ourselves the last fifteen years."
Newcomb has been a frequent visitor to the Grand Rapids area over the past couple of decades and has often played in the annual member-guest tournament at Blythefield Country Club with his best friend from college, attorney Mike Knapp. And since what goes around comes around, 1997 should be the year Newcomb gets to become Knapp's host for some Grand Rapids area golf.
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