Written By: Greg Johnson
While golf participation numbers have continued to increase in Michigan in 2023 so has the investment in the game by clubs and resorts in the state.
Forest Lake Country Club in Bloomfield Hills, White Lake Golf Club near Muskegon in Whitehall, Pine Lake Country Club in West Bloomfield, BOYNE Golf in Northern Michigan and Saint John’s Resort in Plymouth have significant course construction projects in progress.
Following are looks at those projects:
At Forest Lake Country Club in Bloomfield Hills renovation work started Monday, Aug. 14. The golf course is staying open but will be using some temporary greens and closing down some holes through the rest of the golf season.
Saline-based architect Chris Wilczynski is working with superintendent Ryan Moore on the project. The original 1926 design was by William Diddel, an Indiana-based architect and one of the founding members of the American Society of Golf Course Architects.
Jeff Racher, head golf professional, said the primary thing is an expansion of the practice range to make it about 50 yards longer. That will require moving the No. 6 green behind the range to a spot behind the No. 18 green.
“It’s changing the yardage a little bit and changing the elevation some but it will have a similar green complex with a few bunkers added,” Racher said.
Elsewhere on the course they will be working on the golf staging area and adding fairway bunkers and moving fairway bunkers to address the landing areas of the modern player. Also some tree removal and the addition of mowed collection or chipping areas near greens is part of the work.
“It’s a refresh, a modernization,” Racher said. “We have been open almost 100 years and very little has been done to the course over the years in terms of renovation. Art Hills did some work on a few holes in the 1990s. That’s it that I know of. I think this will refresh things. We are land-locked, so we will stay at just under 6,300 yards. But the presence of the place will change.”
At White Lake Golf Club in Whitehall, renovation and restoration work, part of a master plan created by Holland-based architect Raymond Hearn, continues.
A new No. 3 hole and dramatic changes to No. 4 will emerge this summer at the club that opened in 1916 and includes an original nine holes designed by the legendary Tom Bendelow.
“The original nine on the north side of the road is the Bendelow nine, while the holes on the south side were the addition added by the club members, but all the holes look like they are Bendelow inspired,” Hearn said. “He clearly influenced the entire design and I feel the greatest tribute you can make to a designer is to honor the routing of the course and also honor the original shapes and forms of the greens and bunkers.”
A 1930 aerial photo and other research by Hearn were used in creating the master plan, which includes work on all 18 holes over time, additional yardage and significant tree removal. Hearn said work on hole No. 2 last summer, which included shifting the fairway for playability and adding a significant runoff area on the right side and behind the green, produced positive feedback from the club.
The club recently closed holes 3 and 4 for the season, and Hearn is building an entirely new No. 3, a par 3, and because White Lake is blessed to be located in an area of natural sand, he has added dramatic sand and natural grass waste areas to No. 4.
“We are excited about the designs and work Ray Hearn is doing because they fit perfectly with our goals of attracting new members and restoring the classic features of our course and improving what we feel is a hidden gem,” Don Nellis, a club board member and chairman of the renovation and restoration effort said. “The renovations completed at this point have already been called a remarkable success by our membership and we have great anticipation for this next phase.”
At Pine Lake Country Club, Toledo-based architect Drew Rogers and the club’s superintendent Terry Poley are working on a long-range plan to restore the Willie Park Jr.-designed course that dates to 1919.
The storied club, which is also doing a significant renovation of its clubhouse and other facilities, has closed its golf course until next year to address infrastructure drainage issues, irrigation, cart path improvements and extensive work on bunkers and greens with new turf for sustainability and less water use.
LaBar Golf Renovations, a leading general contractor that did recent work at Oakland Hills Country Club and at Saint John’s Resort, is part of the team working on the project, which will include new green complexes and more. The club plans to reopen by July 2024.
“The story of this club is one of continual transformation and influence,” Rogers told Golf Course Architecture magazine. “To say the course has been ‘tinkered with’ since 1924 – well, that would be an understatement. Holes have been repositioned. Greens have radically changed shape. Holes have been re-bunkered and loads of trees planted. Today, it feels like you’re playing three to four different golf courses out there.
“However, what the aerials (photographs) make clear is that Pine Lake in the 1930s was still a superb, cohesive layout. My job is to refurbish the course to that high standard, while also creating a greater consistency of this vintage style and character.”
In Northern Michigan, BOYNE Golf, which includes 10 courses on three resort properties – Bay Harbor Golf Club, The Highlands and Boyne Mountain Resort – multiple transformations and upgrades have been made on multiple course and are continuing to be made with Boyne’s Bernie Friedrich, director of golf course renovations and development, working with Holland-based architect Raymond Hearn.
BOYNE Golf most recently announced that construction is underway on a Hearn-designed nine-hole short course and an adjacent Himalayan-style putting course near its Main Lodge at The Highlands resort property.
Hearn said his favorite parts of the new par 3 project are the green complexes he is creating.
“Drawing inspiration from some of my favorite greens in Scotland, Ireland, and America (Eden, Punch Bowl, Short, Redan, Reverse Redan, Partial Volcano, Steep Slope, Postage Stamp, and Biarritz) that I have played and studied over the years, I was able to create fun, ‘kinda-sorta’ scaled-down versions of the originals and route them along the ski slope with uphill, downhill, and sidehill holes creating some thrilling golf shots.”
The new yet-to-be-named short course will be lit for nighttime rounds. Hearn said it is designed to first and foremost be fun and allow golfers of all levels to enjoy the experience. The course will feature downhill, flat, uphill and sidehill fairway lies, generally moving horizontally back and forth across the slope. The new Himalayan-style, nine-hole putting course is being designed to be fun for all as well. The undulations will challenge and entertain all ages in a relaxed setting.
Construction started in mid-July and is expected to be completed on the short course this fall. A planned course opening will be in the spring of 2024.
At Saint John’s Resort in Plymouth, they plan to unveil a new championship 18-hole golf course, short course and putting course in 2024 creating what they are billing as the ultimate golf entertainment venue.
Architect Raymond Hearn and LaBar Golf Renovations have completely altered the golf facilities in the last two years as part of a $50 million resort transformation under the property’s new ownership group, the non-profit Pulte Family Charitable Foundation.
Designed by the Holland-based Hearn are a new 18-hole golf course named “The Cardinal,” a seven-hole Par 3 course and a two-acre putting course aimed at entertaining all ages and skill levels. The new facilities have replaced the original 27 holes of golf on the property.
Hearn said he wanted to keep the scenic beauty of the property and deliver optimal shot values and strategy in the design while also featuring what he calls classic Golden Age green contours and bunkering. A five-tee system has been created on each hole of The Cardinal with the aim of creating a variety of options and yardages.
“It has been a thrill to be able to work on this project for Saint John’s Resort and the Pulte Family Charitable Foundation,” said Hearn. “The land, with its natural glacier forms and beautiful hundred-year-old trees, was a great foundation to work with. We were able to save many of the old mature trees and create a routing that kept them in play around green sites and along fairways, which is a bit unique in today’s golf course architecture that focuses more on tree removal.”
The venue, including the seven-hole short course and two-acre putting course and short-game area, will wrap around the resort’s driving range and Carl’s Golfland, one of the top golf retailers in the country. Hearn said the short course offers inspiration from some of golf’s most famous green complexes like the Punch Bowl, Redan, and Biarritz, while the putting course drew its inspiration from great putting course experiences at St. Andrews and Pinehurst.
Photo: Construction on hole 3 at White Lake Country Club.