Centreville used to be a family destination for the Johnsons. Uncle Sam supervised the fairgrounds there, and would race his horses at the Centreville Fair each year. We would pile in the back of the Buick station wagon and make the trip down U.S.-131 to Three Rivers, then take the short jaunt over to Centreville and spend a glorious afternoon and evening taking in everything the fair had to offer. For several years it was routine, until Uncle Sam moved to watch another fairground, we grew older and spent summers with golf. Last summer, though, we found a golf reason to make a family trip to Centreville and once again spend a glorious afternoon -- a new course.
Island Hills is the dream of family land owners Tom and Lori Templin who, hands-on with Plymouth designer Ray Hearn, have fashioned an 18-hole course around the man-made Lake Templene. It's a gorgeous 7,055 yards of golf, and gives the player an abundance of things to talk about on the ride home. What might be the longest bunker in the world (a half-mile) snakes back-and-forth and all about along the sixth hole, and the back nine has an island tee and other dramatic features along the lake.
It's good for a glorious afternoon, or in this case, the start of a trip up U.S.-131, one of Michigan's grand golf trails straight up through the western half of the state. Just toss those clubs in the trunk, or the back of a Buick station wagon and follow the highway north towards Grand Rapids. Just north of Three Rivers, the Matthews family has established a tradition of quality golf, as well as 36 holes to play on the Hemlock and Spruce courses. Go with the Spruce if you have to choose, but both courses are fun to play.
Paw Paw would be my next stop for Heritage Glen Golf Club, which offers affordable rates and 6,650 yards of golf course. It's slope is 137, so be ready for a test. The Kalamazoo area has a bevy of golf, even if you don't have a gal to visit. Milham Park, a quality public venue of just over 6,500 yards is just minutes off the freeway in Kalamazoo. It will surprise you in price and quality.
The jewels of the area are the courses run by the Scott family. The Gull Lake View properties are examples of public golf in perspective. Price, design, condition and service are combined at more than satisfactory levels. Gull Lake View at Stonehedge, on M-89, east of 131, is a must-play in a beautiful setting, but don't hesitate to tee it up across the road on the north course or at Gull Lake View on 38th Street in Augusta. Thornapple Creek Golf Club, off West F Ave. north of Kalamazoo is a fun course, and new management has added fresh ideas and energy to the place.
Allegan County and Barry County are basically side-by-side, and provide plenty of golf properties as the trip north continues. Lake Doster Golf Club near Plainwell has a new clubhouse and an old favorite for a golf course. It winds through some wonderful countryside. Lynx Golf Course near Otsego has only been open for a couple of years, but the word is out about a pleasing design that offers a decent challenge. If you can stop just once in that area, this is probably the place.
Others to consider as you move on are Shagbark near Plainwell, which is priced right and worth a try, and Orchard Hills in Shelbyville, which has 27 holes to fit you in, or Yankee Springs, another destination with 27 holes and easy-to-handle rates.
If you are up for a rather long detour at this point, head over to the lake and Saugatuck to The Ravines, an Arnold Palmer Company design, or Hawkshead in South Haven, an Art Hills design. They are worth just about any detour, though it's an admitted stretch to include them on this trip because they are just a few miles from Lake Michigan's shore.
Back on 131 where we belong, Kent County is next, the home of Grand Rapids, which for years has been among the nation's leading cities in golfers per capita and holes per capita according to the National Golf Foundation. Consider that the county is home to 29 public courses, and it's easy to understand.
It takes a 15-minute drive east to Alto via 84th Street, but Saskatoon is a great starting place with 36 holes. Go with the gold nine if possible. In that same area only closer to our path, Briarwood and Broadmoor, have been welcoming public golfers for years. The Leatherman family continues to improve the places, and runs them in a cost-effective manner. Don't hesitate to play either place.
As for those close to our U.S.-131 trail and closer to town, and that includes several of the courses, start with L.E. Kaufman, one of the state's best municipal-owned public courses that's just one block off of the highway near 44th Street. It's popular for a reason. It's very good. It also hosts the Kent County Amateur each year, an open tournament that draws the best amateurs from all over West Michigan.
Those with shorter courses to play in mind, will want to take short trips off the highway to The Pines, Maple Hill, and Grand Island. The seniors, juniors and women love these venues that promise friendly golf and friendly faces. If you're up for a little traffic and a few miles of driving away from the highway through town, then head east to The Golf Club at Thornapple Pointe, Boulder Creek, Thousand Oaks and Quail Ridge. They are high-end public courses built in recent years, and none of them should disappoint.
Thousand Oaks, a Rees Jones design, is the best of the lot if not the best public course in the area. It opened last year to rave reviews, and is already ringing up awards. Golf Digest named it fourth among the nation's best new affordable courses (green fees under $50). Just north of the city and closer to the highway and offering public golf at comfortable prices are Alpine, Braeside and North Kent. The greens at North Kent are especially fun to play. Scott Lake, just north of town, is right off the highway. It hails itself as "the place where golf is fun," and the sign is correct concerning the 27-hole facility. You can see some of the "new holes" from 131.
Cedar Chase, a Bruce Matthews design, is a quick shot east of Cedar Springs. It's long, strong and offers a variety of looks. It will take a little map work, and some driving time away from 131, but a trip west to Allendale to play The Meadows at Grand Valley State University, is always a winner. Gleneagle and Wallinwood Springs, over Jenison way, are not bad stops either.
By the way, Grand Rapids plays host to a Senior PGA Tour event on the July 4th weekend this year. The Farmers Charity Classic is played at Egypt Valley Country Club, about 15 minutes from the U.S.-131 and I-196 junction. Ticket information is available on farmerscharityclassic.com. Larry Nelson, the current king of the Senior Tour, is the defending champion.
The counties north of Grand Rapids, and our stopping points for this part of the U.S.-131 trail, are Montcalm and Newaygo. Those counties, too, offer great golf. Whitefish Lake is just off the highway in Pierson. The restaurant is just as popular as the golf course, which underwent some improvements by Jerry Matthews a few years ago. Birchwood Golf Course offers great prices just off the highway at Howard City.
For those who like adventure and are not afraid to take some dogleg risk shots, check out Brigadoon near Grant. The unique course, nicknamed "Bring-a-dozen" by the locals, was carved out of rolling forest land by a dentist, and takes a bit of driving off our path. The best stop up that way, and a fitting ending to any trip or portion of a trip, is Pilgrim's Run, a stunning public course that is championship caliber near Pierson and Sand Lake. Mike DeVries, a young designer from Grand Rapids and now working out of Traverse City, did the design along with input from the ownership group just a few years ago. This is a must-play with grand green sites and room to hit the golf ball. And the clubhouse and practice facilities are as nice as the course. It sets you up for what is north with a resort look, feel and design.
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