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Golf 101: A College Course Syllabus
By John Bebow

As fall frost punctuates another Michigan golf season, it’s important to remember you’re never too old to go back to school—especially if the goal is great golf. Michigan’s universities significantly enhance the state’s golf traditions and quality with more than a hundred diverse holes.

Consider this article a six-lesson “course” for the fall semester...

LESSON I: HISTORY (University of Michigan Golf Course)

The most celebrated among the state’s college tracks, the University of Michigan Golf Course is a great play - if you can finagle a tee time. The course, built by legendary Augusta National architect Alister MacKenzie and opened in 1931, serves mainly as a private club for University of Michigan faculty, staff, alumni and students.

“The course was built for the university community, especially students,” said Clubhouse Manager Charlie Green. “That was the purpose when Fielding Yost decided to build it.”

Yet many players will find it’s easier to get on the course than it is to get on the course’s greens in regulation. Before taking up golf course architecture, Dr. MacKenzie studied Boer camouflage techniques in Great Britain’s South African battles. The University of Michigan course exemplifies Mackenzie’s practice of using natural features to mask the difficulty of a golf shot. Blind tee shots, fall-away fairways, and greens with big humps and wicked breaks characterize the course.

The course history is as rich as its architecture with a tournament resume including three Michigan Opens, two Michigan Amateurs, a NCAA regional, several Big Ten championships and three Western Juniors. And a trophy-filled clubhouse hallway documents the feats of such Wolverine All-Americans as Chuck Kocsis, Randy Erskine and John Morse.

Ranked by Golf Digest as the 11th best place to play in Michigan, the “U. Course,” as some locals call it, is a must-have scorecard for traveling golfers. But such high ranking doesn’t guarantee a feeling of nirvana. MacKenzie’s architectural tricks leave many first-time visitors shaking their heads at bounces and lies they couldn’t anticipate. Don’t expect to shoot your handicap here on the first try.

With a 72.5 rating and a slope of 135, the Wolverines’ track is arguably the most rewarding lesson in our college course syllabus. Bring your “A” game, and a maize and blue friend who can get you on. Green fees run a mere $20 for students, $30 for faculty & staff, $40 for alumni and $50 for guests (with no apparent surcharge for Spartans). Carts cost an additional $24.


While the University of Michigan Golf Course can be far from peaceful, Oakland University’s Katke-Cousins Golf Course is quietly nestled near some of Oakland County’s most prestigious businesses, most notably the huge Daimler Chrysler campus in Auburn Hills.

Like the University of Michigan course, Katke-Cousins is restricted to the university community - and it’s in country club condition with tightly cropped fairways and immaculate greens. Ironically, the 23-year-old course has a bit of a northern Michigan resort feel right in the middle of suburbia. Each hole is well isolated from the next by mature trees, ponds, and creeks.

And the student greens fee is low enough to induce even honors students to skip class - it’s only $10 for 18 holes on weekdays. And plenty of students take advantage of it.

“It’s a lot of the same kids day after day,” said Katke Cousins pro Jeff Coble. “You worry about them, actually. You see the same kids out here four or five days a week. You wonder if they’re ever going to class.”

Class attendance might become a larger problem this fall when Oakland University opens a second course, the R & S Sharf layout designed by northern Michigan swing doctor and course architect Rick Smith. The new, 7,100 layout will mix both parkland and links styles.

Rates for Katke Cousins are $28 on weekends for OU faculty, staff, alumni and prominent university contributors. Guests pay $50. Rates on the new course, which should be open by the time you read this article, will be $50 for the university community and $70 for outside guests.

LESSON III: PRICEY HOSPITALITY - (Eastern Michigan University’s Eagle Crest Golf Club)

Unlike its U-M and OU brethren, Eagle Crest is open to the general public. In fact, EMU cries out for players via its golf course, conference center, and full resort complex just south of I-94 on Ford Lake in Ypsilanti.

At $65 for a weekend 18 with cart, Eagle Crest clearly carries a resort price tag. At $26 to walk weekdays, students don’t even get a very good deal here. The straightforward design lacks drama with one clear exception - the par five sixteenth and it’s heart-stopping peninsula green. Cart paths too often infringe on play and can imply to the player that the real purpose is a speedy round, not a memorable one.

Still, Eagle Crest has its merits, including four sets of tees for every skill level and a beautiful, confidence-building driving range set upon a hill overlooking the lake.

LESSON IV: TURF MANAGEMENT - (Michigan State University’s Forest Akers complex)

Michigan State is legendary for its turf management program and such skills are crucial to caring for the sprawling, 36-hole Forest Akers complex. The West Course, with a slope of 139, is home to the Spartans golf teams and is the “big brother” to the East Course across the road. The punitive West Course brings to mind other long, unforgiving tracks of the mid-1900s. It’s also the place low handicappers should venture to truly test their skills.

The recently revamped East Course is a much better challenge since a redesign three years ago. New trees, tee boxes and enlarged greens add mightily to the previously benign layout.

The public price is nice at MSU — $37 for weekends on the West, $24 on the East. Carts are an $12.50 per 18. Students get almost half off the public rate.

LESSON V: TEACHING & LEARNING - (Grand Valley State’s Meadows Golf Club)

Designed by Michael Hurdzan, The Meadows is a solid golf course and affordable campus amenity located west of the football stadium in Allendale. With some pesky cross-hazards (aptly named ‘burns’) on the front side, the layout requires some smart and accurate shotmaking off the tee. The low profile greens generally accept a run-up shot and there’s just enough movement in them to challenge one’s short stick. To its credit, The Meadows has hosted two NCAA Division II/III women’s championships already and it’ll host the men’s NCAA II in 2001. This should come as no surprise considering the facility’s fine reputation for customer service and special event organization.

And best of all, The Meadows boasts one of the best instructional centers and programs in the state. Along with its own professional teaching staff, The Meadows also is home to a David Leadbetter Golf Academy.

Greens fees on weekdays are $32 and ten dollars more on weekends; but there are several discounted rates including “Dew Sweepers” (before 10 am) which earns the weekday “early bird” a four dollar-off worm. Students at GVSU earn the best price break: $ 10 for nine holes and $15 for 18.

LESSON VI: NORTHWOODS ECONOMY - (Ferris State University’s Katke Golf Course)

A brand-new clubhouse and grill await visitors to this north woods layout just west of the Ferris State campus in Big Rapids. Home to the first college program for budding club professionals, Katke needed a facelift to stay competitive with nearly a dozen other “pro golf management” academic programs springing up all around the country.

Visitors are guaranteed top-notch hospitality from pros in training. (HINT: Inquire about the free lesson days once each semester!) And public green fees are only $22 on weekends.

“We’re for anyone who enjoys golf,” said current PGM student Jim Hansinger. “We give the best service for the best price.”

John Bebow is editor-in-chief of Michigan Live, www.mlive.com, the state’s largest online news and information service.

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