Fall golf lingers longest on Southern Michigan golf destinations -- So let's enjoy it
By Art McCafferty
Jackson, Michigan has been collectively marketing their golf under the umbrella of the Greater Jackson Golf Association for a number of years now. The work has been hard, but it has paid off. Years ago, they used to battle each other for market share. Now they are trying to collectively increase the market. After they see their parking lots filled, they root for the others to fill as well.
The first Jackson course opened in 1898 and now the county is home to 22 public golf courses. Jackson has consistently been ranked in the top two or three areas in the U.S. having the most golf per capita. Always affordable, you can book a golf package in Jackson for as low as $39.95 per person. A total of seven lodging properties and 10 golf properties participate in the Unlimited Golf Packages in Jackson program.
For more information on the area golf packages, call the Jackson Convention and Tourist Bureau at 800-245-5282./P>
If you build it will they come? Well, they have been coming to Gauss' Green Valley since Lloyd Gauss opened up his first nine in 1960 and followed with another in 1970. /P>
The course is now run by his son Gary and daughter-in-law, Sue. Sue, who worked at the course before she married Gary, is now going on her 27th year of handling the books and front end.
Their course features a Pete Dye look alike peninsula green on its 12th hole and also has a bridge dubbed "Little Mac," that helps golfers navigate a double green.
Gary has added some traps here, some trees there and rebuilt some greens here and there to keep the course in top notch shape. You can get a cart and 18 holes for $26 on the weekend and there is nothing wrong with that.
5751 Brooklyn Road, Jackson
When Mike Hill is not on the senior tour, you can probably find him on a mower at his Hill's Heart of the Lakes course, says Kristie Hill, Mike's daughter. Kristie runs the inside operations for Mike, at one time, a dominant force on the Senior Tour.
Hill's Heart of the Lakes has been doing box office business for a number of reasons; a quality golf experience being the main one. It has been seven years since Mike and architect Jeff Gorney brought on the new nine at the Hill's course. It has been a very popular addition. Gorney has gone on to design Little Traverse Bay, Hessel Ridge and The Dream, all excellent tracks.
They have tweaked the course here and there, lengthening a couple of holes, enlarging a couple of greens, but no major work has been done in the past few years. You will find fast and true greens, lush fairways and affordable prices at Mike Hill's course. He wouldn't want it any other way.
Keith Haglund and his family have met their Waterloo, but in a positive sense. They have been grinding away at their dream of having a quality 18 hole course for almost a decade and have made steady progress.
Waterloo, one of the few remaining nine hole courses in Jackson, is actually 10 1/2 holes. The Haglunds have been building a couple of holes on their property as they wait for bank funding to buy the additional property they will need to flesh out their 18 holes. They have the very able Bill Newcomb working on their new nine, hopefully, in a few years, they will have their dream.
Waterloo is a short course that is growing every year. Keith and his family Kent , Keith Jr., Karyn and wife Charlene keep adding more distance to the original nine that now measures 2880. They hope to top it off at plus 3,000.
This year's big news is the launch of the Jackson Juniors program by the Greater Jackson Golf Association. Junior golfers had five tournaments spread out this summer.
Golf costs less than a dollar a hole, and who can beat that. They have a nice driving range and a new and friendly clubhouse. This is a family business and everyone you come in contact with is a member. If someone in the family needs more money, they work more hours. It is that simple. The Haglunds promise golfers great golf and great service.
Waterloo Golf Course
11800 Trist Rd.
Grass Lake, MI 49240
Sparrow Hawk's new nine has been drawing rave reviews from locals and has increased traffic by attracting new players to the course. "It's just amazing how many golfers are coming here since we put in our new nine," says owner Audrey Disabato. "Golfers just want to play 18 holes and they seem to really like ours."
These reviews should fit nicely on their masthead with those that the National Golf Foundation gave out when it called its nine hole course one of the nicest around.
Jeff Gorney, the architect, was the one who brought life to the new nine. He successfully used the available land and meandering creek to make this course one that you will go to rather than stumble upon. The 15th hole has a very nice look to it, challenging and scenic. There are other holes that will bright a smile to your face as you step to the tee. The course still has some growing in to do and Alex Disabato, the course superintendent, is working hard to make sure that the course achieves its potential.
They should land their liquor license soon, which will allow them to attract even more business. Other amenities include a driving range and putting green. The driving range might be in some jeopardy as the land it sits on is highly coveted due to its close proximately to Exit 141 off of I-94. The Disabato's left a prosperous automobile dealer ship in Illinois to buy Sparrow Hawk. As their course matures into a quality 18 hole experience and their business continues to grow, their decision to leave the auto business is looking better every year.
2618 Seymour Rd.
Jackson, MI 49201
The parking lot is full at Hankerd Hills and the new nine coming on late this fall will just add to the congestion of this soon to be 27 hole tract. Dave Kasprzycki has been nurturing this course for almost two decades and all of his hard work is paying off. He added to the original nine a few years ago and it was so successful with his local golfers, that he decided to add nine more The current 18 holes is well maintained and offers golfers a variety of looks in its 6023 yards. The name gives away the terrain and therefore your cart ride will have its ups and downs. The 18th hole is well worth the wait and the 10th, an uphill dogleg right, can be a little foreboding.
Dave intends the new nine to be the showcase of his property. Bruce Matthews and his team from Design 3 have done their usual excellent job in bringing on a memorable golf course. However, our readers will have to wait until our May 98 issue for a full review. The course is still being seeded and bunkers need to be filled and a lot of other things need to be done before it is ready for play. With some luck, they will have some very limited play later this fall.
101251 Resort Rd
Pleasant Lake, MI 49272
Lakeland Hills is probably the busiest golf course in Jackson. The Gilson family, John and Maggie and children, are used to giving a lot of tender loving care to their customers. They spent over 20 years building their business to the point to where if you called right now for an outing date in 1998, you just might be shut out.
The course and clubhouse are perfect for outings. It plays to around 6200 yards from the tips, has very little trouble, and can get people around in a hurry. The course, as the name suggests, is hilly, has nicely manicured fairways and greens, and only five or six water hazards to reach out for that new ball. For their outings business, the Lakeland Hills staff can easily feed 170 in their clubhouse.
The Gilsons have not only been instrumental in bringing golfers to their course, but along with Audrey Disabato of Sparrow Hawk and others, have been the brains and brawn behind the Jackson Area Golf Association. The association has been going to golf shows, putting out brochures and buying radio spots. This year, Lakeland Hills (and another Jackson area course, Concord Hills), was featured on the Midwest PBS show, Golfing the Great Lakes. Their VIG Card has also proved to be a good investment of their time. VIG rewards frequent play much like frequent flyer miles rewards flyers. This is but another way to keep the cost of golf affordable in Jackson.
5119 Page Avenue
Jackson's Gracewil Pines bloodlines go all the way back to Grand Rapids and the Gracewil Lawns Golf Club that their family first built in 1929. It was John A. Wilson that started things off in the late 20's. Now the fourth generation of Wilsons is running the courses. The Wilsons first built the front nine of Gracewil in the 70's and then opened up its second nine in 1990 .
The front nine is laden with pines and thus, gives the course its name, while the back nine allows golfers to experience a variety of hardwoods. As you might expect from a family that has been in the golf business for over 65 years, the course is in excellent shape. The greens are fast and firm and the fairways are fairly lush. While there, pick up a copy of their great yardage book. It allows you to get quickly acquainted with the course and is more than helpful with club selection.
Gracewil Pines is now aggressively going after the outing business and have hired a new manager, Jen Linna, to give them a little more sales firepower.
Gracewil Pines can be found just off exit 145 on I-94 on Sargent Rd.
5400 Trailer Park road
Concord Hills continues to mature like a fine bottle of their area wine. Owned and maintained with tender loving care by the Joers family, Concord Hills just keeps getting better. Incidentally, Toni Joers is the incoming president of the Michigan Golf Course Owners Association, an association of some 180 members.
The course, along with Lakeland Hills, was featured on the PBS show, Golfing the Great Lakes this summer. Now golfers from all over the Midwest will know about this little gem.
While Concord is not terribly long, at 6422 from the tips, it can be deceiving. Its par fives all have great length and their par 4 finishing hole is 442 yards. About the only break you get is their par 3's, which are all under 170 yards. There are some dramatic rises to the land and thus some wonderful vistas. The course was raked by a tornado a few years ago, but the scars have gone and the course looks as radiant as before.
The course is well maintained even though they push a lot of rounds through it. They get a ton of outings as their service and prices keep bringing back the business.
7331 Pulaski Road
Carl and Dave Webster, owners of Whiffletree, have done some major renovation on the course they have owned since 1982. They always wanted a par 72 hole course and now they have it.
"We had some wooded land laying idle and decided to use that to lengthen both the 12th and 13th holes," said Dave Webster. Whiffletree now plays to 6377 yards from the tips and 4990 from the forward tees. Golfers will find a nice driving range, pro shop and banquet room to match that par 72 course.
15730 Homer Rd.
Battle Creek, Marshall and Albion are the home of 22 golf courses and 28 lodging facilities. Armed with those stats, Bonnie V'Soske and her staff, as well as the golf course and lodging owners, continue to position Battle Creek as one of Michigan's premier golf destinations. Their product has gathered a tremendous following throughout the Chicago, Detroit and Indianapolis markets. And just as importantly, when the snow begins to fly in the North, they are still playing golf in Battle Creek and Jackson in the fall.
Walt and Kay Jendrzejewski, of Battle Creek's Econo Lodge, have been shakers and movers in the Battle Creek golf packages since its inception more that a decade ago. The Jendrzejewskis offer golf packages as low as $72 per person for room, continental breakfast, cart and golf. Another major player in the area is The Battle Creek Inn. The Battle Creek Inn offers a huge variety of on-property amenities. Angela Bussler, also wants golfers to know that they have a natural grass putting green to go with their outside pool. The Inn also has a new indoor pool and whirlpool for those tired feet and legs. The McCamly Plaza and the Quality Inn are also heavily involved in Battle Creek golf packaging.
Robin Perkins, of McCamly Plaza, is bullish about the golf market for Battle Creek. She is responsible for working with the golf market and setting up golf packages for McCamly Plaza. McCamly Plaza, formerly Stouffers, has been the anchor lodging facility in the Battle Creek area for the golf packages. It was McCamly, along with the Scott family and Bonnie V'Soske of the Battle Creek CVB that started marketing Battle Creek golf to the rest of the state and the Great Lakes area.
The McCamly is a four star lodging facility in downtown Battle Creek, that has all the amenities that you would expect from a first class hotel.
The view from the top of the hotel restaurant will allow all those who go there to look out at a changing Battle Creek skyline. It seems everywhere you go, there are new buildings coming on board in this city. Battle Creek, great golf, great lodging, great food and a great time.
One of the more pleasant aspects of writing about Michigan golf is running into those families that have made it their lives for a number of generations. The Matthews family comes quickly to mind, they have designed perhaps an eighth of the golf courses in Michigan. The Kelbel family has a father and three of his sons as golf professionals; the Wilsons, who we mentioned in the Gracewil comments; and the Kircher family at Boyne, with first Everett and then his sons and daughters.
In Battle Creek, the Scotts are the family that most point to. In January of 1996, they grabbed the cover of Golf Business, the prestigious magazine of the National Golf Owners Association. They have continued to build on their legacy with a continual involvement and commitment to the industry.
Darl started it all with what is now the West Course at Gull Lake View. The West Course has a variety of looks with its creeks, valleys, hills and woods. It is a wonderful course. To reward the originator of what is now some substantial cash flow, this 32 year old beauty is scheduled to have a bit of a "turf lift" this fall. Jim Scott indicated they will shut down the course in September and redo four greens, put in some irrigation, tweak a tee or two and have everything ready to reopen in May of 1998 Gull Lake East, rated as one of Michigan's top ten golf courses in 1986, has aged well. It is the shortest of the brood, but it still offers a challenge with its 6002 yards from its par 70 tips. The East is probably the dressiest of the family, with its decorative flowers blooming everywhere on the course. It was also the first of the Charles Scott's designs.
Stonehedge, designed by Charles Scott, was the third of the litter to emerge and certainly one of the most heralded. The star of a number of television shows, Stonehedge has a reputation that far exceeds its Michigan borders. It is a formidable challenge with its dramatic terrain, length and mature trees. Golfers will find spectacular vistas and a hint of the north country as they tee up their shots. The stonehedge fences that permeate the grounds offer a view not found on many places and gives the course a real earthy feeling.
Stonehedge North, a collaboration of Charles Scott and his son Jon, is rated as a real friendly course by Battle Creek locals. They like the even mixture of par 3's, 4's and 5's. This seems to be a coming trend. Ron Otto from Garland is also caught up with the symmetry of this balanced design. Brent Marshall, executive director of the GAM, recently gave Stonehedge high marks after hosting a tournament on it. Its big greens and fairly open terrain are framed by a number of water and sand hazards.
The two Stonehedge courses provide an interesting and challenging 36 holes and a totally different look for tournament play.
The final course in the Great Scott family of courses is Bedford Valley. The Scotts purchased Bedford Valley about a decade ago. Designed by William Mitchell in 1964, it was built to accommodate more traffic than it got when I-94 decided to go south rather than north of Battle Creek.
Charles is especially proud of the fact that Bedford Valley was chosen to host the Michigan Seniors Open for three years. And why not. Bedford Valley hosted the Michigan PGA from 1969 to 1978 as well as a number of other PGA events. In 1955, Booth Newspapers rated Bedford Valley as one of the top six public golf courses. Its pedigree of a top Michigan course is with out question.
Bedford Valley, known as "The Big Course," has 54 bunkers and four water hazards strategically located throughout. The front side is open and will have you reaching for your Big Bertha to the 4th Power, while the back tightens up with its narrow fairways and mature hardwoods. Charles Scott indicated that you should think about hitting an extra club on approach shots to accommodate their huge greens.
Gull Lake View Golf Clubs
Gull Lake View East
Gull Lake View West
Right out of the box, Wishbone Glen was a flat out gorgeous course. Nestled north of Marshall, the course has a nice mix of rolling terrain, wetlands and mature trees. Add to that mix the deft architectural hand of Bill Newcomb, of Ann Arbor-based Newcomb & Associates, and you have the making of something pretty special. Wait, there is more. Golf Professional Matt Fender, who played at Western Kentucky University and Rick Laux, a veteran golf course superintendent, round out what is a very formidable team.
At times the course can be very tough and only begrudgingly will hand out its birdies. There are places that need to be a little wider and tee boxes a little closer, but as said, those are being worked on.
They have some extraordinary holes within their 6965 yards. The par threes are all tough, with the seventeenth hole especially challenging. It is a one of a kind hole in Michigan. You have to carry the marsh because anything short will either wind up in the marsh or in the yawning and steep "Jaws" trap in front of the green. I took a "Tin Cup" on the hole, hitting nine from the tee box after contributing to the marsh "fill program" with four Titleists. The par fives have some meat on them, with three of them over 565 yards. The slope-yardage is 115/5625 from the front and 130/6865 from the back tees.
Wishbone Glen offers complete amenities including a full service clubhouse, pro shop, dining and conferencing area. It is yet another fine golf course in the Battle Creek area.
Wishbone Glen is located on some rolling terrain, just north of Marshall, just west of I- 69 and north of I-94 and near Turkeyville.
15701 N. Drive North
Tom and Maxine Manley set down their roots in this Albion area course 34 years ago. Tomac Woods is a composite of their names and their relationship as they built this course into a real winner. They have both passed on, but in doing so they also passed on the ownership to daughter Jean Manley and husband, Dave Kennedy. They continue the tradition of great golf at affordable prices.
The course is well maintained and designed for fast rounds and good scores. There is some nice roll to the land and is visually rewarding. The clubhouse is full of friendly chatter from golfers that have know each other and their games for many years.
The course is a little tough to find, so call ahead for some directions.
Marywood was formerly a private course and still seems that way. The fairways are lush and excellently groomed. It has always been a special course in the Battle Creek area and was the main attraction before Bedford Valley and Stonehedge came on board.
The club has recently changed hands, as the Spaulding family and a couple of other investors from Wisconsin have stepped in with new energy and new dollars to polish up this gem. A similar thing happened with Bedford Valley when the Scott family bought it.
Andy Spaulding, the director of golf at Marywood, worked in the golf industry in both Wisconsin and Florida. His father, Tom, worked at Wisconsin's Lawsonia, until they purchased Kettle Moraine. Kettle Moraine is located just seven miles off of I-94 between Madison and Milwaukee. It's a strong golf course with incredible hills or in this case, moraines.
Andy indicates that they have started to rework some of the property by putting in some needed irrigation in spots. They have also enlarged a few of the greens including the practice green and are putting new sand in the traps. The course has increased its rounds substantially since they purchased it in July of 1995. They have a year-round conference facility that is constantly booked for weddings and special occasions.
Marywood is a gorgeous course and one that you should treat yourself to.
21310 North Avenue
Battle Creek 49017
Cedar Creek is a pleasant course that plays to all skill levels. The course plays to 6750 yards and is sparing on the trouble spots. There are a number of ponds to negotiate and a creek running through it, but they and a few bunkers are about all you will find to add a stroke or two to your game.
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