Venture overseas and play a golf course designed by legendary architect Dr. Alister MacKenzie in Australia like Royal Melbourne. Then, return to Michigan and play Black Forest near Gaylord (page 69), designed by Michigan’s own Tom Doak. The keen golf eye notices similarities in the dramatic sand bunkers.
Play historic Sunningdale in London.
Then, return to Michigan to play Yarrow near Battle Creek, designed by Michigan’s Ray Hearn. Echoes of rolling golf holes amid long grass rough or
wind-whipped heather areas are striking.
Play historic Sunningdale in London. Then, return to Michigan to play Yarrow near Battle Creek, designed by Michigan’s Ray Hearn. Echoes of rolling golf holes amid long grass rough or wind-whipped heather areas are striking.
Play any of the great dunes courses in Scotland and then return to play a section of holes at The Mines, a public course near downtown Grand Rapids, designed by Michigan’s Mike DeVries. It was created in part from an old sand mine, and the seemingly seamless transformation to golf clearly demonstrates that design born in international destinations can also be found here.
Doak, Hearn, DeVries — each award-winning Michigan-based golf course architects — share more than addresses in the Mitten. They also share a passion for the study of the masters of golf course architecture and have special connections to Dr. Alister MacKenzie.
Traverse City’s Doak wrote a book about the life and work of MacKenzie, the legendary architect who designed many of the best golf courses in the world, including the very famous Augusta National in Augusta, Ga., home each spring of the Masters Tournament. Doak is considered by many to be the leading modern international architect in the wake of MacKenzie’s work at Pacific Dunes in Oregon, Ballyneal in Colorado, Barnbougle Dunes in Tasmania and Cape Kidnappers in New Zealand.
Holland’s Hearn practices what he calls “MacKenzie’s holy grail.” He designs courses so that when a golfer finishes at the 18th hole, he or she clearly remembers the majority of the previous 17. Try Hemlock in Ludington, The Grande in Jackson (page 65) and the previously mentioned Yarrow to see examples of Hearn making good on that premise.
He has also made good on it in South Korea, Vietnam and France, as well as Central and South America, and in recent years has won national awards for his renovations and restorations.
DeVries, a Grand Rapids native who works out of Traverse City, designs courses while always influenced by his first job as a maintenance worker at the famous Crystal Downs, a private MacKenzie design in Frankfort, Mich., regarded by many and most world rankings as this state’s best golf course.
Diamond Springs in Hamilton, Pilgrim’s Run in Pierson, the amazing Greywalls at the Upper Peninsula’s Marquette Golf Club and the stunning Old-World layout at private Kingsley Club near Traverse City have helped DeVries make his mark.
These award-winning Michigan architects travel the world because it’s where working in the golf industry takes them. The Michigan golfer, however, needs not depart the borders of the state to have an international experience — or to be limited to the inspired work of Doak, Hearn and DeVries, either.
Traverse City’s Tom Doak is considered by many
to be the leading modern international architect in the wake of legendary
architect Dr. Alister MacKenzie, who designed many of the world’s
best golf courses including Augusta National.
Jack Nicklaus, Robert Trent Jones, Rees Jones, Tom Fazio, Arthur Hills, Rick Smith, Jim Engh, Tom Weiskopf, Jerry Matthews, Kevin Aldridge and many more have clearly been inspired by golf’s legendary architects and created tremendous golf in Michigan.
Play the holes in the dunes at Harbor Shores in Benton Harbor. Traverse the natural layout at Hawkshead near South Haven. Bay Harbor in Petoskey has all manner of features and the views of beautiful Lake Michigan are breathtaking.
Arcadia Bluffs near Manistee, the work of Smith and Warren Henderson, is incredible. It demonstrates a golf course can be unrelentingly beautiful and difficult at the same time.
Be not afraid to venture away from the big lakes. The Gailes at Lakewood Shores in Oscoda stun with links looks with nary a sea nearby. Eagle Eye and Hawk Hollow near Lansing make it easy to get lost in the game. Tullymore in Stanwood gives the golfer all the risk and reward shots they should ever need with wonderful angles of design.
The collection of Smith courses and the Fazio layout at Treetops North near Gaylord is simply outstanding.
And The Heather at Boyne Highlands is among the best work of Robert Trent Jones.
Aficionados of the sport can go on, because Michigan is rich in golf inspired by greatness first born overseas. The public access and resort courses are only the half of it, too. Private clubs with designs by Donald Ross, Willie Park Jr. and other legends are Michigan classics.
DeVries, asked to name a course with public access where the golf architecture is true to that first fashioned in other parts of the world, pointed to timeless Belvedere Golf Club in Charlevoix, a semi-private William Watson design that was opened in 1927.
“There’s a reason that place has hosted 40 Michigan Amateur Championships,” he says.
Early in his career DeVries worked with Doak and then architect Tom Fazio, and he notes that great architects from the past have a common trait.
“They used what a site gave them,” he observes. “To me, even if we have the modern equipment to move stuff, I try to find what is unique about a site and then use that to my advantage first and foremost. When we have problems, then we can use the modern equipment to make it feel like a natural piece of ground.”
Hearn, who has taught golf course design classes in the British Isles via his alma mater Michigan State University, agrees that the natural elements of a site are the starting point.
“Pete Dye sent me to study Cruden Bay, North Berwick, and teaching the classes for Michigan State inspired me to do work internationally, too,” he shares. “Right out of my little shop in Holland, Michigan, we do work around the world, and when we come home we are inspired by what we’ve learned.”
Since age 19, Doak has traveled extensively to the best courses in the world. He has played golf on every continent except Antarctica and has been especially influenced by what he found in Scotland and Australia. He also lived in Great Britain and Ireland for a year after college on a postgraduate grant and came to understand the true nature of links golf.
Little wonder then that he was chosen to design and build a second 18 at Forest Dunes near Grayling. Who else might attempt a golf course that is designed to be played forwards and backwards? The course was seeded in June.
“That idea is stolen from the links courses in the United Kingdom, including the Old Course at St. Andrews, which used to be played backwards for a few weeks each winter so that the areas where the divots were concentrated would have time to heal,” Doak says.
“But the idea of having two different 18-hole courses overlapping on the same piece of property was fascinating to me, and we are hopeful that it will make Forest Dunes a real destination where people want to come and stay for a few days.”
There is little doubt that will happen, and no doubt that Michigan golfers will opt for a few days to stay close to home in Michigan to play a course inspired by a divot-saving practice at St. Andrews, the home of golf. ≈
Award-winning sports journalist and golf writer Gregory Johnson resides in Hudsonville.
Photography by michael buck (bottom); courtesy greywalls (top right); Devries Designs (top left)
Photography courtesy Black Forest (top); Renaissance Golf Design (right)