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'Last of its Kind' Private Club Opens Near Holland

By Terry Moore

I last wrote about the Wuskowhan Players Club, a private golf course near Holland, in our April/May '95 issue following a topsy-turvy, Baja-like truck tour of the unseeded layout by its indefatigable designer, Rick Smith. At the time, I was duly impressed with Rick's routing and overall design. For sure, the setting was beautiful for a golf course with a its variety of trees, wetlands, wildlife, and the pristine Pigeon River nearby.

Last month, I revisited Wuskowhan (that's Native American for the now extinct passenger pigeon that was indigenous to the area) and walked the entire course, now grassing in. Again, my initial positive impressions were re-confirmed. From the time one enters the property and drives past the superb practice area, you know this place has its priorities in the right order: golf, golf and golf. Unlike many private country clubs, Wuskowhan aims at adhering to a "golf-centered philosophy" where the game itself takes precedence. Here, players won't be distracted by swimming pools, tennis courts, or even wedding receptions in some spacious ballroom. The details and first-class appointments at Wuskowhan, including the elegant clubhouse, are all aimed at reinforcing the member's love of the game. But more on that later. You're asking: but what about the golf course?

Yes, the course is growing in nicely; certainly this is no surprise given Superintendent Ron Brandon's reputation. (Brandon's previous stints included a long tenure at Warwick Hills where he nurtured the Buick Open venue into one of the best conditioned layouts on Tour.) As in the case of all new courses, it'll take another year for course conditions to truly fill in and mature. But on the holes now open for play (about half), the fairways and greens are terrific. There are three sets of tees here: the Players Course at 6803 yards; the Members Course at 6207 yards, and the Natures Course at 5453 yards. Smith did an excellent job of making the layout as member-friendly as possible. The fairways are wide and inviting. Bunkers are more strategic and visual in orientation rather than being deep-pitted prisons. Green complexes have open approaches and, best of all, chipping areas abound. In short, the ground is "in play" for shotmaking at Wuskowhan. Those who have played both the popular Fazio and Smith courses at Treetops will recognize many of the same design qualities at work here. Amen and hallelujah to all that. The only drawback with the layout, from a playing perspective, is the preponderance of 'forced carries' due to the wetlands throughout the 18. (As evidence, the course has almost three-quarters of a mile of bridges.) Most of the carries here are unintrusive and relatively tame, especially for mid- to low handicap players. At the same time, the wetlands, marshes, streams and surroundings are also what make the course such a pleasure to experience, especially since walking is encouraged here. And I must confess all those lurking ponds, streams and wetlands never did lay claim to even one of my Titleists.

There are numerous standout holes at Wuskowhan. I particularly liked the five par threes.

The bunkering is quite distinctive on each one and all are set at different wind directions.

Best yet, a player must select different clubs for each one. For brute strength, there is the 255 yard (back tee) par-three 6th hole where only long, true and brave drivers will prevail.

But I really enjoyed Smith's handiwork on the 133 yard 15th hole, a little charmer with a lone bunker fronting the green, grassy chipping area to one greenside, and the Pigeon River on the other. 'Less is more' in design philosophy works wonders here.

A favorite stretch of holes will surely include all those in view of the Pigeon River. Beginning with the 12th green and ending with the 16th tee, the quiet, gently-flowing Pigeon serves as a scenic backdrop to the course. As with northern Michigan courses, Wuskowhan's unspoiled beauty will prove captivating for players.

A few words on people and details. Mike Kernicki has returned to his native West Michigan, from the prestigious Bloomfield Hills CC, to assume the dual position of General manager and Director of Golf. A former President of the Michigan PGA, Kernicki is a highly regarded golf professional with a keen eye and sensibility for the game. He has assembled an energetic, savvy staff including his former assistant, Bill Shriver, as Head Golf Professional. Shriver's early efforts have included the start-up of a fine caddie program that has drawn on students from Hope College and area high school golf teams. All the caddies wear khaki-colored milkman's overalls in the style of Augusta National's famed loopers. Other neat touches at Wuskowhan are the tee-markers. The "stone" markers are actually synthetically made to match in color and appearance the huge stone and rock used by Smith to bolster certain tee and green shelves throughout the course. The flags are also unique; the pattern of yellow-and-black horizontal bars resembles that favored by the Senior Tour. Yet, in fact, the design represents in nautical signaling the letter "G" _as in golf

As mentioned, Wuskowhan is a private club with aspirations for 250 members. In many ways, it is club and concept that may well be the last of its kind in West Michigan. Most projects of this quality and high standards must be invariably either resort- or real estate driven to justify the capital investment. To turn an old adage, they're not making any more land; and they're not making any more purely private golf clubs either. In this regard, Wuskowhan is aptly named because a "Players Club" is indeed an endangered species. As such, prospective members would be well-advised to scan the horizon for a nautical flag signaling the letter "J"_as in join.

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