by Terry Moore
OK, we'll forgive Art Hills for exaggerating how much he likes his newly opened HawksHead GC in South Haven. Yes, he did say it is "the nicest golf course in America--or something like that," to a national golf writer when asked about HawksHead. "That's probably an exaggeration," admitted the usually understated Hills, well-known as one of game's premier architects. "But I really like HawksHead a lot. It has a special appeal to me."
But having toured the course last fall, I can see where Hills could get carried away with his himself. It is a special place. Located in South Haven and running parallel to a busy I-196 expressway, HawksHead is the dreamchild of Al Ruppert, owner of the local Clementine's restaurant. Before Hills arrive, the 200 acre site for the course was a sandy asparagus farm that had been laser-leveled 15 years earlier. As a result, Hills and the construction company (McCurrach & Co.) moved tons of dirt to shape and give definition to the layout. "Plus we needed to create a buffer between the course and the expressway," said Hills.
The end result is a course with an Irish links, publinxer-Pine Valleyish look and feel. "Yes, I would like to have HawksHead maintain a casual, rugged look, " said Hills. " The only manicured feature of the course should be the playing turf." Another unmistakable feature is the prevalence of waste areas in the layout. "The waste area is the theme of the course. The key there was bringing it in at the right proportion, making it playable."
At first sight, HawksHead is indeed a playable and affable venue. Four sets of tees range from 6965 yards from the back to 5094 yards from the forward boxes. Golf manager and pro David Oie says comments from golfers were enthusiastic. "Many said how much they enjoyed their day here, especially since it didn't cost them a dozen balls to play as some of new courses in the state will do," said Oie.
Oie particularly likes the par threes at HawksHead. "I contend they're the best four around," said Oie. They range from 157 yards to 210 yards and all are cut at different angles. Hills is also partial to them as well. "I like how the 13th and 16th came in as side-by-side par threes." On the 13th hole, at 210 paces from the back, Hills even added a devilish bump to the front of the green as a added dash of Scottish serendipity. "I think it works really well and gives a little personality to the hole," said Hills.
I found the closing holes especially noteworthy. The 17th is a clean-looking, no-frills 500 yardish par five with a terrific greensite set within a sandy waste area. Like most greens, the 17th allows a generous, open approach to the pin, affording run-up shots and chipping. The 18th is inspiring as well. Hills says he salvaged the 10th and the 18th from a huge sand pit and worked two holes in and around it. I must say the 18th hole is one of most intriguing and inviting I've encountered. A stout 400 yard par four, the 18th forces golfers to fly their second shots over a waste area, nicely festooned with shrubs and small pines, to a topsy-turvy but perfectly placed green. Giving it further character is a huge wild grape vine that beckons to the right of the green. For sure, the 18th is a winning end to winning golf course. And that's no exaggeration.
Besides the golf course, HawksHead will be popular for a charming restaurant and Inn that once served as a previous owner's residence. Upstairs at the Inn, there are nine nicely appointed bedrooms. On the main floor is a restaurant that is already gaining a popular following. "I really like the pace of HawksHead and the Inn is quite special," said Hills. "I've already booked four couples and my wife and I to stay there in June. I'm sure it'll be in demand, especially by Chicago visitors."
HawksHead (sorry, but wouldn't "HawksHaven" been a better name suggesting native South Haven?) is best reached by taking exit #22 off I-196 and follow the signs to the course located on 105th Ave. Green fees are $26 for 18 on weekdays and $30 for weekends. Carts, not mandatory, are $12 for 18. An excellent practice and short game area is also available. The superintendent is Gary Krokker. Call 616-639-2121.
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