Husby: Course Designer for the Playing Customer
By Jim Heil
As a well-traveled golf professional, Mike Husby has seen enough golf courses to know what design concepts work best from a player's perspective.
And as Husby's career in golf has evolved, he's gained an appreciation for the subtleties in course construction and operation that players might overlook - from assuring adequate drainage on the holes to the running of clubhouse amenities.
Along the way, Husby constantly reminds himself that the customer comes first.
So when someone hires Husby to design a golf course, he doesn't take on the task with the intent of building a lasting monument in his own name.
"The position of a golf course designer should be to make sure it's built in the eyes of the owner," said Husby, owner of Mike Husby Golf in Gaylord. "We're not out there to build a legend for ourselves. We're out there to build a product for our client."
That's why Husby struggles when asked what design characteristics distinguish him from the growing list of golf course architects. He'll mention his chagrin for cross-hazards in front of greens and deep fairways bunkers, but that's about it.
As long as his design/management firm meets the wishes of the party which commissioned it for the job, Husby can walk away satisfied with his work.
Yet Husby, a PGA member for 21 years, doesn't forget the player.
"We design holes that golfers can see, feel and enjoy while experiencing the beauty that the game can provide," he said.
Husby's expertise in the design and management of golf courses has started to extend beyond Gaylord's Golf Mecca in recent years. With the design of Marsh Ridge and Hidden Valley's Loon course headlining his resume, Husby, 47, is turning much of his attention toward projects in Michigan's Upper Peninsula.
Husby is the architect of Wild Bluff Golf Course in Brimley, possibly his most breathtaking work to date. Its opening this summer follows work on two other U.P. courses - Newberry Country Club in Newberry and Indian Lake Golf Club in Manistique - where Husby remodeled existing holes and designed nine-hole additions.
The owners of Bay Mills Resort & Casinos hired Husby to design Wild Bluff.
"They played golf courses in Gaylord that I had designed, and they liked them and wanted to know who designed them," said Husby, who started work on Wild Bluff in 1996. "They really enjoyed the Loon and they wanted to have a course like that."
Perched high on a bluff overlooking the St. Marys River and Canada, the championship layout runs through winding ravines, rolling streams and shifting elevations. Despite its challenges, Wild Bluff is billed as playable, with spacious fairways.
"The views are outstanding," Husby said. "It's obviously the best course in the U.P. and we're thrilled to be involved in it."
An All-America golfer at the University of New Orleans, Husby finds that golf professionals who become course designers often build a course with the good player in mind. But to make a hole difficult is actually easier than making it fair for all, he said.
"It does help having been a player and being a club manager when designing a golf course, because you understand how a golf course should function. But that's just a small part of designing a golf course," Husby said.
"Understanding what it's going to cost ahead of time and what it's going to look like when it's finished - that's where an experienced architect really pays dividends."
Husby's passion for golf dates back to his junior days, when he played the public courses in his native Lansing. After college, he got his start in the golf business at Sugar Springs in Gladwin, where his role as golf pro blossomed into general manager.
As Husby took on more responsibilities, he discovered that his avenues into the golf business went far beyond booking tee times and tending to the lesson tee.
"It kind of changed my life a lot," Husby said.
Gaylord's golf boom was merely a forethought when Husby was hired as general manager of the Michaywe complex. Michaywe's reputation as a second-home paradise for downstate golfers allowed Husby to cut his teeth as a residential developer.
While honing his management skills, Husby started dabbling in design on the Michaywe's Lake course under the tutelage of Lansing architect Jerry Matthews. Husby, the project coordinator, was extensively involved in the design of the golf course.
"He gave me a lot of flexibility to put my input into the golf course," Husby said. "I learned a lot from Jerry Matthews."
That led Husby to a nearby resort known principally as a cross country skiing getaway. Nordem Hem became a four-season destination in Marsh Ridge, with its main attraction an 18-hole course that weaves through marshlands and dramatic changes in elevation. With its opening in 1991, Husby had arrived as a golf course architect.
While Marsh Ridge catered mostly to the resorter, Husby was commissioned to build a championship venue at Hidden Valley's Loon. The Loon opened in 1993 and has hosted the Atlas Cup and the Northern Michigan PGA Championships.
Husby's work at Hidden Valley also included remodeling the Lake course - "to make the course more playable, shall we see," he said - remodeling portions of the Classic course and creating a driving range complex that he describes in glowing terms.
As much as Gaylord snags vacationing golfers heading north on I-75, the Upper Peninsula appears poised to become Michigan's new frontier in the golf boom. But the image of the U.P. as a rugged, rustic retreat could work against Husby and others who believe it's worth the extra mile to play courses like Wild Bluff.
"It is a natural belief from people south of the bridge that it is not a golf region for being so far north," Husby said. "During the summer it's just the opposite."
Despite the short season, Husby noted that Newberry Country Club played 30,000 rounds of golf last year, from the time in opened on April 3 until its closing on Nov. 3. Of course, it helps that summer days are longer the further north one journeys.
"They are truly dedicated to the game. They play all the time," Husby said of the locals. "The game is really loved in the U.P. The people who play it take it very seriously."
Husby wouldn't comment on his next project, but he indicated he would like to venture into southern Michigan to design golf courses. Before long, his resume should be long enough to merit his membership in the American Society of Golf Course Architects.
With each new project, Husby will make it his intent to merge the client with the land, while not losing sight of satisfaction for all.
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