Risk and Reward: A Few of Michigan's Best Reachable Par Fives
By John Bebow
The risk of being a Michigan golfer is having to shovel the driveway in that first fickle week of April. The reward, sometimes, is an early thaw and extra rounds in March. No matter the weather, by afternoon of April's first or second Sunday our location is awfully predictable _ in front of the television, watching the back-nine heroics at The Masters.
History has taught us to expect thrills and spills from Augusta's par fives. Through the annual flurry of birdies and eagles at 13, we wince and remember Curtis Strange's second-shot dump into Rae's Creek, which started his fatal slide down the leaderboard 13 years ago. And as we honor Gene Sarazen's legendary double eagle at 15 in 1935, we chide Chip Beck's boring 1993 lay up, which sealed his fate as an also-ran.
"With a great risk-reward par five you want a hole where you can make a three or a four or a five or a six or a seven," says renowned, Toledo-based golf course architect Arthur Hills. "These are holes where every time you go for a green it's fraught with interest. The ideal examples are Number 13 and Number 15 at Augusta."
Augusta's a long way from Michigan _ especially in early April _ but we have our share of holes where eagles and double bogeys seem equally likely. With eyes toward spring, here are nine Michigan holes where you might play the hero's role in 1998:
Water, water everywhere, and nary a drop to drink. Instead, a parched throat is the logical impulse after the first look at this short, 475-yarder at the Eastern Michigan University course. The drive must clear a marsh while avoiding heavy woods left and Ford Lake immediately to the right. A big, straight drive is half the battle. To get home in two, players must hit a very straight, very high long iron or fairway wood to a small, boulder-encased green. Oh, by the way, Ford Lake protects the green on three sides.
"If the risk pays off, you'll definitely have a makeable eagle putt," says Bruce Cunningham, men's golf coach at EMU. However, Cunningham preaches to his players to play it as a three-shot hole.
"The fairway is so narrow that players who get in trouble off the tee seem to take more risk on the next shot," Cunningham says. "Then the hole seems to have a snowball effect."
Or a snowman effect.
Here it's the tee shot which provides most of the risk or reward.
Correctly shape a left-to-right drive around the sand pit lining the right of the fairway and you'll have a downwind long iron to the green. Bite off more than you can chew on the drive and you face a blind sand shot over and around pot bunkers and a ravine protecting the putting surface.
Don't expect a good lie if you miss your chance for a big tee shot on this very reachable hole. The maintenance crew intentionally ignores footprints in the waste areas _ bad lies are part of the Scottish tradition of the game.
"We run a rake through the waste areas once a week, but they are designed as hazards and the footprints are part of that," HawksHead owner Al Ruppert explains. "You hit it there, play it there. Every lie in the fairway IS perfect."
They call this hole "The Sycamore" for the large tree well down the left side of the fairway. Successful swashbucklers never get anywhere near the sycamore. Instead, they hit a fine drive down the middle and cut over a big, right-side pond with a 175-yard second shot, avoiding an evil pot bunker and settling (with backspin, of course) on a very narrow putting surface.
Go ahead, try it. Heh, heh, heh.
"My players have an unwritten coach's rule that they don't risk it," says Dave Hutton, golf coach at Grandville High School and president of the Michigan High School Golf Coaches Association. "I've seen eagles there. I've seen lots of eights and nines, too."
If any Michigan hole resembles the tempting dangers of Augusta it might be this one. At 528 yards from the blues (472 from the whites), this is a softie compared to much of the brutal Bear. A good drive leaves the low handicapper about 200 yards to the green. But a creek cuts in front of the large putting surface and an eight-foot-deep bunker also yawns at you in front.
"The front left pin is a total sucker pin," says head pro Mark Domres. "If you don't hit the second well, you're in the front bunker or in the water. This hole is your chance to take a chance or take a breather with a short third shot."
When architect Bill Newcomb designed Travis Pointe he didn't envision the 518-yard 14th as much more than a decent par five.
"We knew the longest hitters could always get there," Newcomb says. "But now, with the better equipment every third player can get there."
A small round green is tucked in behind a pond and a tricky bunker complex. While Travis Pointe is a private country club, it has hosted many public tournaments. And in tournament play the 14th tee is usually moved up to induce risk-taking.
If you don't believe this hole is reachable, get some lessons from Phil Lobert, a member of the South Haven High School golf team. Lobert eagled this 493-yarder in a match last season. It was his second par five eagle on the front side that day!
"I was amazed," says Grand Haven coach Karen Baribeau. "Everybody wanted to know what my secret weapon was."
Those who know the course say the "secret" weapon is a well-placed drive and a second shot that stays out of twin bunkers protecting the green.
You've got to come in from the left side on the drive and then you're all set," says assistant pro Jeff Taylor. "If you miss the fairway left or right, you're punching out."
From the fairway, birdie is relatively simple if you avoid the green-side bunkers.
"Those bunkers are filled with the softest beach sand you'll ever see and you usually end up with a buried lie," Grandville's Hutton says.
Here's a chance for the average golfer to play the hero. It plays 479 yards from the whites and the tee shot is a little bit downhill. Hit it into the 40-yard-wide fairway and you face an approach over a couple bunkers and a pond on the right to an 8,000-square-foot green. A lot of players go for it.
"I've seen a couple guys hit a six iron into there but it's usually somewhere between a three wood and a four iron," says superintendent Dan Lucas. "I've eagled it a couple times. The only mistake that can really hurt you is if you airmail it right on the approach."
Gamblers will love this one because it's a great place to decide a skins match. On many weekends Faulkwood's nines are reversed so that No. 9 actually plays as the finishing hole. It's a welcome respite after one of the toughest collections of holes in the state. With a slope rating of 140 from the tips, Faulkwood offers only a couple breaks. On the ninth (or 18th on the weekends), a fairly open driving area tempts players to end the round with a bang. Once in the fairway, they face a Donald Ross-like visual hazard _ a sunken creek which makes the green appear much closer than it really is. Avoid under-clubbing, clear the creek and a short incline to the green, and you'll face a flat putt for eagle.
Although its second nine won't open until mid-summer, this course has drawn rave reviews by West Michigan golfers. Set inside a wonderful woodsy and gently rolling site for a layout, Pilgrim's Run sixth hole is a perfect example of a risk-reward par-five. Design consultant Mike DeVries is rightfully proud of this hole that begins from an elevated tee that looks out toward a wide fairway bisected by a yawning bunker. A strong tee-shot will leave a player with a 220 yard shot to an elevated green with trouble lurking left and right. Eagles are possible here as are doubles_just the right mix for a reachable and daring par-five.
John Bebow is managing editor of Michigan Live, a statewide news and entertainment service on the Internet. He can be reached via email email@example.com
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