Michiana Golf--So Many Courses, So Little Time
By Art McCafferty
There were a number of exciting announcements made at this year's Governor's Conference on Michigan Tourism. Two of them were the selecting of Indianapolis and Green Bay/Appleton as targets for increasing Michigan's "share of customer," and Governor John Engler's signing of the Labor Day Weekend Bill. The latter should have the greater impact on the Michigan golf industry.
"A century ago, Michigan structured its educational schedule to take into account the needs of the its top industry -- agriculture -- by giving children the summer off to help their families with crops," said Engler. "Today, our state's second-largest industry -- tourism -- can similarly benefit from the extension of the Labor Day weekend."
The selection of targets--Indianapolis and Green Bay/Appleton--should benefit each of the state's peninsulas, with the western side of the state drawing nicely from both areas. The Indianapolis market is a good one. This is a city on the move and Michigan is a great place to visit for those who live there. They enjoy their golf as much as we do, although doing so on half of the inventory of the 975 courses that exist in Michigan.
Indiana's 450 golf courses are divided into five groups in that state's online and printed golf guide. You can view these regions at http:// www.indianagolf.com. The site is easily navigated and will quickly give you the location, price and lodging information you need.
Michigan Golfer has visited over 40 courses in Indiana during the past few years. A brief look at a few of them follows:
Blackthorn Golf Club
This Mike Hurdzan course has captured its share of honors since its opening in 1994. Golf Digest has showered a number of awards on it and the Indiana Business Journal ranked it as the top course in the state a couple of years ago. Blackthorn also is ranked high by just about anybody who knows the golf business in Indiana. It is a definite must-play course. It is an upscale facility with weekend play in the mid $60s. They have a nice practice facility which hosts Mark Hamilton's Concept Learning Golf School. The Blarney Hole, a warm up par-3, is a special treat and a nice way to start the day.
Golfers will find that Blackthorn lies on some dramatically rugged ground that will give you a chance for some exciting shot making. Jack Quimby, the facility's general manager, has been with the course since its start. Quimby indicated that they have room for another 18 holes on ground that is just about as spectacular as the land upon which Blackthorn sits.
Juday Creek has been a Michiana favorite since it opened a decade ago. The Indianapolis Star rated Juday Creek No. 8 in the state a couple of years ago. Golfers will find the course demanding, with an abundance of water, bunkers and the undulating greens that await. Golfers also will find a beautifully landscaped course, a clubhouse that has outstanding food and a fine practice facility.
Michelle Rogers, general manager, indicates that the course and facility will be getting a bit of a face-lift this year. Work has already begun on replacing the sand in 56 bunkers on the property and they will be ready for play this spring. In addition, the clubhouse is being expanded to give more room to the pro shop and pick up some office space.
A weekend that would include both Blackthorn and Juday Creek, would give your group a nice variety of golf.
Mystic Hills GC
We will review the new Mystic Hills more in depth in our June issue. It is a Pete and J.B. Dye course that was rated No.9 last year in Golf Digest's affordable-places-to-play category.
The course, located next to Alice and Pete Dye's home, provided the excuse that Steve Bonnell needed to get these famed architects to design his course. "I just thought it would be great for them to design the course, seeing it was only a mile from their home. I kept calling and finally, Alice Dye said "Yes." Before I knew it, Pete and J.B were scratching out some holes on paper," said Bonnell. "I could not be happier for the way it came out."
Rock Hollow is owned by one of the great families in Indiana golf, the Smiths. Parents Terry W. and Rebecca produced three sons: Chris, Todd and Terry, and a daughter, Julie. All were talented athletes.
Chris was on the PGA tour in '96 and '98 and won four tournaments on the Nike tour. While Chris failed to pocket his PGA card this year, he will no doubt be back next year. Todd, who is Director of Golf at Rock Hollow, recently won his 15th Indiana PGA event and Terry, who owns the Rock Hollow course record, is beating both of his brothers. Since they play so much championship golf, you can be sure that their place is always in tip-top condition. It was the site of the 1996 and 1997 Indiana Opens.
Tim Liddy, one of Indiana's hot young architects and an intern to Pete Dye, launched his career with Rock Hollow. The course has the type of dramatic land that you would see at Michigan's Hawk Hollow, also a former gravel and rock mining site. It is worth the drive to Peru.
Walnut Creek and Club Run
The success of the Walnut Creek/Club Run golf complex has been music to the ears of owners Randy and Sara Ballinger. But then again, so has the "Symphony on the Green" series that they launched this year. "We really had a wonderful experience with
the symphony this year and we look forward to expanding it. We had great weather, a great golf turnout and a great concert under the stars," said Randy Ballinger. "Obviously, we were pleased that this was a great fund raiser for the Marion Symphony Orchestra."
Walnut Creek is one of the first stops for winter weary Michigan golfers that shoot down to get in some early season rounds. Located just off I-69 on the way to Indianapolis, Walnut Creek has a number of golf packages with local properties that will take care of you. You can check out their website for more information.
This year Randy and Sara will be working on bringing their clubhouse/restaurant complex on board. The farmhouse that will be part of that is now being registered as a national landmark.
Jeff Seagrave, the new PGA professional, and Ed Dotterweich, the superintendent, round out a dedicated staff at Walnut Creek. Walnut Creek and Club Run, offer 36 holes of golf at affordable prices. It is a great getaway, without spending a lot of money.
Hamilton County Golf
Hamilton County, just north of Indianapolis, is staking its claim as Indiana's most exciting golf destination. According to Amy Vaughan, Director of the Hamilton Convention and Visitors Bureau, the area has a variety of lodging properties that provide golf packages for their 15 golf facilities They are somewhat reminiscent of Michigan's Gaylord Golf Mecca when they began to strut their stuff a decade ago. The Hamiltonians have the product, the money, the vision and the team to back up their claims of excellent golf. They have some great courses now and a couple more on the way. Here is but a part of their treasure. You can catch the rest on their great website www.indianapremiergolf.org.
Golf Digest awarded this course four stars and rated it seventh in the state a couple of years ago. Frankly, it is one of the most unique courses I have seen in Indiana -- or anywhere else for that matter. The architect, Dean Refram, moved endless tons of dirt in creating this extraordinary golf course. Unfortunately, Refram's untimely death cut short a very promising career.
Bear Slide has all the amenities: practice range, practice putting green, a short game and bunker area, snack bar, clubhouse and outing facilities. The design of the course will generate a lot of discussion with your group.
Built in 1972, Fox Prairie, has received its fair share of awards over the years. Michigan's own Bill Newcomb designed it and put together a dynamite routing for this fine municipal track. If you are a Newcomb fan, and there are many, stop by to see one of his early gems.
Purgatory Golf Club
Billed as the longest course, at 7,650 yards, east of the Mississippi, Purgatory Golf Club will certainly heat up the balloting in the selection of the top new golf courses of the year. We will preview this monster in our June issue. Purgatory is the dream of Tenna and Mike Merchant, with a great assist from golf course architect Ron Kern. The course will open this summer.
We will only whet your appetite by sharing with you the news that the 13th hole will play 735 yards!
The Golf Preserve
The Golf Preserve is dedicated entirely to the art of golf instruction. It has everything you would expect of a top-flight teaching facility and more. On the outside, they have heated tees, a driving range, an area for chipping and short irons, a putting green and some well targeted fairways for their ranges. On the inside, they have just as much fun. They have golf video games, teaching machines, an indoor bunker, an indoor putting area, a golf club repair shop and a fully appointed pro shop.
Set to open this year, it is a new executive course that was designed by Pete Dye, with help from Tim Liddy.
Plum Creek CC
Plum Creek, another Pete Dye creation, winds through four unique golf communities in Carmel. You will golf in the shadow of homes that range from $130,000-$300,000. The clubhouse, which serves this community year round, is spacious and beautiful.
Plum Creek plays to a 127 slope. Dye has woven 18 holes through a variety of water features: well-placed bunkers and tree-guarded greens. The finishing holes, 15-18 are a great test of golf and ones you will long remember.
Weekend green fees run around $60. Plum Creek is right next to Prairie View, thus allowing golfers a great double play on a weekend of golf. Just think, within a mile you can golf a Pete Dye and Robert Trent Jones Jr. course.
This must-see Robert Trent Jones Jr. course is living testament that the apple does not fall far from the tree. The wide landing areas, massive bunkers and spacious tee boxes all point to genes that have passed on from father to son.
In designing the course, Jones had to take in to account the White River and its flood pattern. He built a massive levee around the course and, moved over a half million cubic yards of dirt in building the course. There is little similarity from one hole to the next on the 205-acre layout. The heavily trapped par-5 13th is spectacular.
In 1998, Golf Digest rated Prairie View as one of the Top 10 New Upscale Courses in America. Brian Nicholoff, partner and GM, is a Michigan native who grew up in Lansing. He worked for Jim Applegate at Washtenaw Country Club and had a few other stops before he retired from the golf business. However, the thought of running his own course brought him back. His partner in the venture is his father-in-law, Jim Ackerman an Indiana developer. Recently, Purdue University honored Jim and Lois Ackerman when they named one of their Birck-Boilermaker Golf Complex courses after them. They contributed heavily to the recently renovated Purdue University complex that now features a new Pete Dye-designed course, Kampen.
Prairie View, with the slogan "Your Country Club for a Day" is well worth the visit. It is a spectacular course featuring great service. Green fees with cart run in the low $90s.
The Fort, located within Fort Harrison State Park, is spread out over 238 wooded acres and is but one of the components of the Fort Golf Resort and Conference Center. They just opened up a new lodging area and thus can offer you on-site packages.
The lodging is from former officers' quarters and is really very nice.
Scott Larson, the facility's PGA pro, indicated that the course is in outstanding shape. "We just completed our second full year and the course is in the best shape since it opened. We shut down on Mondays last year to give the course some rest. We will be open on Mondays at noon this summer," said Larson. The golf is reasonably priced, in the high $50s, considering that it is right in the city of Indianapolis.
Pete Dye completely transformed this golf course three years ago. His new design helped him pick up some wetland awards and the thanks of thousands of area golfers who are ecstatic about what he did to the former course. It has a couple of signature par-5s according to Scott Larson. The par-5 sixth is a drive over a huge ravine to an uphill fairway. The par-5 11th is another uphill journey, with the reward being 547 yards away.
They are having a real surge of Michigan golfers coming their way. "The West Michigan Golf Show was really great for us. We booked a lot of rounds there and had the opportunity to showcase our course to many of them this summer," said Larson.
While The Fort is not part of Hamilton County, they do a lot of cross-marketing with them. For golf package info, call Scott at 317-543-9597.
French Lick Springs Resort
French Lick has been a Midwest golf resort favorite for almost a century. To get a proper perspective of the resort, think of Michigan's own Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island. Like the Grand, French Lick Sports Resort has long been a place where the rich and famous stay during their travels. At the Grand, its location at the apex of two Great Lakes helped make it important. At French Lick, the discovery of sulfur springs brought people from all over the U.S. to test first its healing powers and then its golf courses.
There are two golf courses at the resort: the Valley, constructed almost a century ago, and the Hill course, designed by Donald Ross in 1922, and one of three he built in Indiana.
French Lick has a variety of golf packages to match your wallet. We strongly recommend this golfing experience. A walk through this ageless hotel is worth the price of a tee time. And who knows, you might even bump into Larry Bird while in town.
Sultan's Run opened to rave reviews in 1992. However, the Sultan's Run folks decided to take the course to a higher level and brought in Tim Liddy to renovate the entire course. His work was so massive that he became the course architect. The improvements he made were profound and have launched the course into the forefront of great Midwestern golf courses.
This course is most comparable to Michigan's Treetops. Both courses have significant elevation changes and dramatic landscapes. Sultan's Run was one of the first courses to come along that began to change the Indiana golf landscape.
Hidden Creek GC
Sellersburg, 10 miles north of Louisville, KY, provides the background for two terrific courses: Hidden River and Fuzzy Zoeller's Covered Bridge GC. Hidden River is a lush and well-manicured golf course that prides itself on its country club amenities and appearance. The front nine has a five-acre lake to showcase its holes and the back nine meanders through some majestic woods.
There are a number of Michigan courses that provide a gateway to the Indiana courses. They offer a nice place to stop and play a round before you head further south. We have picked four of our favorites that may become your favorites.
Blackberry Patch GC
Blackberry Patch seems to have it all, a terrific course and practice site created by architect Ernie Schrock, a highly competent staff with Bob Magness as Director of Golf and Pam Smith as Superintendent, and a built-in player base coming from the 90 homesites sprinkled around the course. A new proshop is springing up at this year-old course and a series of golf schools will be debuting as Bob Magness begins to develop his instructional programs.
Magness, a Ferris State University graduate, worked at Egypt Valley and Klinger Country Clubs before being appointed Director of Golf at Blackberry Patch. He is a 10-year Michigan PGA professional who is anxious to get back to his teaching roots. The instructional complex at Blackberry Patch is top notch.
While the course is still a little tender (it opened in June of 1998), Ernie Schrock has built a course that will mature into a classic. Golfers will find ample tee boxes, wide landing areas, two-tier greens, open and tree-lined fairways and bent grass everywhere. Magness indicated that while 75 percent of their clientele comes from Indiana, they still get some serious play from Jackson, Battle Creek and Kalamazoo.
I wrapped up my Michiana trip by making my third visit to Lori and Tom Templin's Island Hills Golf Club. For the hardworking Templins, it was a great year for Island Hills. They had a lot of play, great reviews and a visit from golf's Sultan of Swat, John Daly. Daly was on hand to play in his Prevention Works outing on July 2. You can see Daly and much more, on Island Hills informative website.
While we featured this course with a Greg Johnson story in our April 1999 issue, (see michigangolfer.com), we felt we would give you another look. The first time I heard about the course was from designer, Ray Hearn. He spent about 45 minutes, on my nickel, describing, what he felt was his best work thus far. I happily agree. As stated, this was my third visit to the course and one I wanted to linger. I found it to be a terrific golf challenge and well worth the time it took to get to Centreville. Much has been said about the great finishing holes, 14-18, and the infamous 16th hole with its challenging carry over the water. It is a golf round that will have members of your foursome chatting about for some time. A good place to start that chatter and toss down some adult beverages as well, is on their patio overlooking their course.
In fact, that is the way I left Island Hills. It was my last golf of the year and I was able to wet my whistle in the fine company of Lori and Tom Templin. As we watched the sun set over their property, you could not help but feel the pride that these two have for their accomplishment.
This is a must-play course.
Spruce Run, built by original owner Bill Collins in 1969-70 with the other nine coming a decade later, was purchased by Chris and Megan Foote five years ago. Like hundreds of other Michigan golf course owners, they have become a slave to their course. Their long-range plan is to add some length to the course with available land on the property and with land they have just purchased. They do know where to go for help when they need it, however. Ron Foote, Chris's father, has been the superintendent of MSU courses for 38 years.
Spruce is a beautiful rolling course just outside the farming community of Dowagiac. The golf is very affordable. They also have lodging on the property that features an indoor pool.
Spruce Run is used extensively for the Academy Golf School. Rick Davenport, one of the Midwest best teachers, has used the site for years. "It is away from it all and provides a great environment in which to learn," says Davenport. "Our students really enjoy getting away from it all. They have more time to focus on the school."
Whittaker Woods previewed, by Al Arend in our June 1997 issue, has blossomed into a beautiful course. This Ken Killian design is billed as, "An artistic walk through nature." Each hole on the gorgeous par-72 course has four sets of tees that offer a true test for a golfer. Killian's courses, which include Kemper Lakes and Forest National Preserve in the Chicagoland area, are known for their challenge and fun.
The clubhouse at Whittaker is spectacular. One could spend the entire day gazing out on the course from the balcony. This first-rate property is located just off the New Buffalo exit on I-94, a mile from the Indiana border.
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