Michigan Golf Resort History Series
While you may not think of southern Michigan and the Ann Arbor/Ypsilanti area as a prime destination for a golf vacation, you might be surprised to learn that resort golf has been serving the area for almost a decade.
The area has always boasted several fine golf courses. From the likes of Alister MacKenzie's revered University of Michigan Golf Course and the Donald Ross members-only Barton Hills Country Club to public courses like Arthur Hills' Stonebridge and Golden Fox, you have a great selection of links from which to choose. However, until forward thinking officials at Eastern Michigan University decided to take the plunge and hire Florida golf course architect Karl Litten to build what was than called the Huron Golf Club, which opened in 1989, there wasn't a golf resort per se. All other area golf courses were just that, a course only. Lodging was separate and conference centers with golf facilities were nonexistent at the time.
Litten built a fine 18-hole golf course, which initially opened as the Huron Golf Club. The course was slated to become the centerpiece of a unique major project that was also to include a hotel and conference center. It was the first facility of its kind for a major Michigan university.
A year after the course was opened the university looked to the private sector for a partner to develop an appropriate lodging facility to accompany the new golf course. The result was an eight-story, 243-room hotel, which initially opened as a Radisson. Completing the picture in 1996, a 40,000-square-foot conference center, which was built by EMU, was physically and architecturally attached to the hotel. At the same time ownership of the hotel changed and it became a Marriott, but responsibility remained that of the separate owner, the Massachusetts Mutual Insurance Company. At the same time the name of the golf course was also changed to its present moniker, Eagle Crest Golf Club. The project was then complete.
The entire development is situated on a beautiful 144-acre parcel of land overlooking Ford Lake. Situated off I-94 near Whitaker Road in Ypsilanti Township, Eagle Crest is only 15 miles from Metro Detroit Airport, which is a real plus for the conference center.
The multi-dimensional golf operation offers all the luxuries of a resort facility - a full-service 12,000-square-foot clubhouse that includes a pro shop, a bar and grille, and expansive locker rooms for men and women, as well a a spacious practice range. The par-72 layout - arguably one of the most challenging courses in southeast Michigan - does not play like a typically easy resort-type course.
"Water comes into play on 11 of the 18 holes," said head golf professional Bruce Cunningham, who also serves as coach of the EMU men's golf team. "It isn't an easy course. There are a lot of risk-reward holes that require some thought. It's a thinking golfer's course. You can't just go out and hit the ball as far as you can every time you swing the club. Placement is key on this course."
Sporting a course rating of 73.6 and a slope rating of 138, it certainly qualifies as one of the tougher courses in the state. The course measures 6,755 yards from the tips and 5,185 from the forward tees. Four sets of tees allow you to bite off as much challenge as you want. The elevation changes, rolling terrain and lake-hugging layout makes you think of an "up north" course.
The par-5, 525-yard, 16th is the course's signature hole, and it's a beauty. Your drive has to carry a marsh, the fairway is bordered by a line of trees on the left and Ford Lake on the right, and finishes with a peninsula green. Sea gulls, looking much like a gallery, sometimes line the outer edge of the hole.
The course plays host to the university's men and women's golf teams and serves as a recreational facility for students, faculty, staff, and alumni of Eastern Michigan, according to Eagle Crest Management Corporation executive director Kathy Vachon.
"The conference center also serves the university's hospitality program, regional and state associations and corporate business groups. It accommodates local residents in various ways and guests of the hotel. All three facilities - the golf course, the conference center and hotel - act in a very supportive manner of each other. It demonstrates the university's goal to expand its traditional role as a public service institution of higher learning," she said.
The course is open to the public on a daily basis. If golf isn't all you're looking for you might try the resort's challenging Pecos River ropes course - the only one available to the public in Michigan. MG
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