Grand Rapids Golf Blog

Monday, August 29, 2005

GR Press: Glut of golf courses lures developers, not duffers

Well, there go my plans to play English Hills...

Save The Pines!!!

Glut of golf courses lures developers, not duffers
Friday, August 26, 2005
By Barton Deiters
The Grand Rapids Press

WYOMING -- For many golfers, the call of the greens can be irresistible. But for course owners, it's an entirely different kind of green that calls to them.

More than a decade ago, golf experts were predicting an explosion of interest in the game. But that explosion never materialized. Now, real estate professionals are drooling over some prime land in West Michigan that is practically begging to be turned into profitable developments.

"I'm getting one or two calls a week from developers," said Dan Burrill, whose grandmother, Millie Hop, is a co-owner of The Pines Golf Course in south Wyoming. "Does it make sense for us to keep it as a golf course? No."

The 150-acre course, at 52nd Street and Byron Center Avenue SW, originally was optioned by Metropolitan Hospital, which ended up moving its future site down the street. The owners sold 18 acres of the course to Grandville Schools and 12.8 acres to a developer.

Burrill said his grandmother wants to keep it open as a golf course, but he hesitates to make any iron-clad guarantees.

"It may not be the smartest move, but it's what we want," he said.

But other courses have not been able or willing to ignore the profit that can be made by going for the dollars instead of the duffers. Green Ridge dawn of the trend in 1987. The site now is a sprawling commercial development along Alpine Avenue NW.

Georgetown Township Rolling Hills Golf Course will become the site of a 250-home subdivision along Baldwin Street.

Walker's English Hills Golf Course is being crossed by bulldozers instead of golf carts in preparation for 660 condominiums on Four Mile Road NW. The last tee time there was last summer.

Kentwood's former Meadow Lane Golf Course on 44th Street SE is already developing a second phase after it was sold two years ago.

The Grand Rapids Golf Club is destined to fall as its owner, the Meijer Foundation, has entertained new uses ranging from a zoo to upscale housing. It remains a golf course for now, but nine of its 27 holes near Leonard Street NE have been shut down.

Golfers at Byron Township's Byron Hills Golf Course will tee up for the last time Oct. 14 as it also becomes the site for houses expected to cost $200,000 to $300,000.

Before golfers bend their putters in frustration, golf industry insiders say blame it on the free market.

"The problem is there are more golf courses than there are golfers," said Kate Moore, executive director of the Michigan Golf Owners Association.

Moore said in the 1980s, so-called golf experts were expecting the number of golfers to grow at an explosive rate. Instead, it remains steady with about 12 percent of the general population playing golf while the number of courses has doubled. There are now about 900 golf courses in Michigan, the third highest total in the nation behind California and Arizona.

She said this was sustainable during the boom economy of the 1990s, but now corporate golf outings and even some individual golf use has leveled off or dropped as the economy sputters.

Terry Moore, a Grand Rapids golf promoter and former editor of Michigan Golf Magazine, said there is only so much land available, and golf courses represent a juicy target for developers.

"It's another insidious aspect of urban sprawl," Moore said. "It's also a free market correction."

He said the death of golf courses is good news for those that remain as the market becomes less saturated.

But for Mark Dreisbach, the loss of the Kentwood course was the emotional equivalent of a sand trap.

He opposed the rezoning and eventual development of the Meadow Lane Golf Course behind his home near Shaffer Avenue SE. But for the past two years he's had to accept the fact that at least another 179 homes will be coming to his neighborhood.

"I've been depressed," Dreisbach said. "I would say it's disappointment more than anything else."

He said the golf course made for a pretty good neighbor for the past 12 years or so and now it's anybody's guess what will end up virtually in his back yard.

He said he can't blame the developer for wanting the land, but he does blame the city for allowing it.

However, Byron Township Clerk Joel Hondorp said there is only so much control a municipality can exercise.

"It's private property, people have a right to use it as they see fit," Hondorp said.

He said that while three-quarters of the township remains zoned agricultural or rural, the Byron Hills Golf Course on Burlingame Avenue SW offered developers many services from Wyoming that made it very valuable.

The price has not been revealed, but estimates say it went for more than $5 million that went to the Florida-based owner Ferrell Moore.

Byron Hills Manager Ben Baird said he understands the economics, but is sad to see 25 people lose their jobs and golfers who have hit the medium-level course for decades displaced.

He said people have been married on the course, celebrated anniversaries and even had their ashes spread there.

"Everyone wishes it could have remained a golf course," Baird said. "I don't know who keeps buying all these houses. They aren't what I'd call affordable for normal people."

Still, not everyone is ready to call a mulligan in the face of market forces.

"I think there's more of a need for The Pines Golf Course than more development," Burrill said.

Copyright 2005 Michigan Live. All Rights Reserved.

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Wilderness Summary

My chipping was fairly sharp tonight, but I couldn't buy a putt except for on
8. After the first couple holes I uncorked some decent wood play, but my long
irons weren't there. Avoiding disaster on the first two could have had me flirting with 45. Score: 49. Woods B; long irons C-; short game B+; putting C+.


Wilderness 9

Par 4, 290 yards

Out comes the driver again. I keep my head down almost a full second after contact, and look up and find I've hit it straight. I can't get my 9-iron far enough, and then I shank my sand wedge over the green. My 7-iron coming back is too strong and I have 15 feet of work left. I really want to sink this putt, but it won't fall. I finish with a 6, for a round of 49.

Wilderness 8

Par 4, 335 yards

I catch a solid 3-wood that curves to the left side of the faiway, then catch my 8-iron thick but land it just short of the green. Sand wedge time again; this time I have a 6-footer with slight break to the right. I tap it tremulously and it drops in the left side of the cup. Finally, a one-putt! And a par: 4.

Wilderness 7

Par 4, 300 yards

I hit driver again and muscle it straight onto the fairway. I choose 7-iron from there but catch it left and leave it 20 yards to the left side and slightly short of the green. My sand wedge gives me a 5-footer, but I slide this one right. My putter just will not cooperate--though this one had some jitters in it. 5.

Wilderness 6

Par 4, 305 yards.

Here begins a series of monotonous straightaways with minimal trees--or what would be monotonous if I could hit it as straight as the holes are cut. I almost wonder if this is the best layout, given that there's a dense clump of woods in the middle of the property that is going unused except for being a barrier for the 4th and 5th holes.

Since there's no punishment for losing it left, I pull out my driver and plant the ball square in the middle of the 7th fairway. From there it's just a 9-iron, but I leave it short and have to scoop my sand wedge onto the green, where I two-putt. 5.

Wilderness 5

Par 3, 190 yards.

Another no-nonsense par 3, though I'm impressed that a course this short doesn't have gimme 100- to 120-yard par 3's to save it space. The shortest tee shot on the property is the 4th hole's 180 yards. I've never played a course with a "short" tee that long.

I flub my 4-iron short and left, then, shooting into the sun plant a 9-iron within 8 feet. I play for about an inch of break to the right, and it's a good read, but doesn't sink. 4.

Wilderness 4

Par 3, 180 yards

This par 3 is reachable (esp. since I didn't see the white tees carved 30 yards back into the woods, but a clump of trees and a mound obstruct the shot. I hit a thick a 5-iron right, clear of the clump. Then my pitching wedge is short, and my sand wedge brings me to within 10 feet. I can't sink the bogey putt so I leave with a 5.

Wilderness 3

Par 4, 260 yards

My 5-wood straightens out and lands in standing water. I was wondering if this would be a factor, given the hard rain over the last day and a half, but Greg said on the phone that this was the only hole with H2O on the fairway. I take relief and whack my pitching wedge short. A 7-iron chip leaves me an 8-footer, but I slide it by the left edge. At least I've gotten my score back into the same county. 5.

Wilderness 2

Par 4, 325 yards, sharp dogleg left

This hole is a blind tee shot that wraps around the woods on the east side of the property. I'm curious what righties do on this hole; a slice will send the shot traveling 180 degrees away from the hole. Is the righty play a lay-up with an iron? My lefty slice is suited perfectly to this hole--but hopefully not too suited--Without aiming far enough right I could send it to no-man's land out of bounds to the east.

My 5-wood flies well but slices dangerously close to the woods, so much so that I drop a provisional ball, before locating the original on the left edge of the fairway. My 6-iron goes right and short, and then a thick 7-iron checks up a good 30 yards from the green. But I air-mail my pitching wedge over the green and make a mess coming back, with a sand wedge and a 3-putt. Ouch. That's a quad 8.

Wilderness 1

Par 4, 485 yards

The first is the longest hole. I usually prefer an honest-to-goodness par 4 to start out with--par 5 is too daunting without any holes behind you, and par 3 is too discouraging that if you don't play the first one well, you've got a lot of yardage to go.

The hole is straight enough, though some mounds and a water hazard (marsh hazard now) make it interesting. I send a 3-wood across the street and into the woods--that's my mulligan--then flub a 4-iron short and slightly right. I send one 6-iron to the middle of the fairway, then scuff another 6-iron off to the side. My 9-iron won't carry the darn marsh hazard and stops short, so I pitch it within a couple paces of the green. A 7-iron chip gets me to within one putt, but the strokes have piled up and I have a double-bogey 7.

Wilderness Intro

Wilderness Golf Course
Wilderness Golf Course
10500 Cecil Bay Rd
Carp Lake, MI
9 holes
Scorecard Map Review

The aptly named Wilderness Golf Course seems to be in the middle of nowhere, reached by a two-lane road that winds through the woods west of Makinaw City. The trees give way to what seems to be a converted farmer's field with nine holes shaved into it. The two owners -- Greg and Kathy, in a bona fide Mom and Pop setup -- live in the house behind the ninth green. The clubhouse is a
converted barn. The setting is thoroughly charming, distinctive, and nearly
silent. You can play several holes without hearing anything--a car, a four-legged animal, or, if no one's on the course, as was the case when I played, a human voice.

The dry summer seemed to be taking its toll on the fairways the evening I visited. The fairways were speckled with brown patches and crabgrass. Bald spots marred some of the greens, which were otherwise impressively lush and soft (but deceptively fast). Despite an online description that calls the nine holes "challenging," it's actually mostly plain and straight. After a few holes that wrap around patches of dense woods, the closing holes run straight back and forth, back and forth. Of course, this is the kind of course I hate, since I can't actually hit the ball straight.

Tales of these and other misfortunes follow.


Wilderness links;2&p=G8254

Programming Note

This blog will mostly cover courses in the Grand Rapids area, but it begins with a little gem in the shadow of the Mackinac Bridge.

Monday, August 22, 2005

Golf and Writing

The golf bug bit again during a trip to northern Michigan. I only played nine holes the whole time, but just breathing the area air and seeing the billboards for gorgeous courses along the highway seemed to have an effect. I lapsed into old habits; phantom swinging in front of the mirror, an urgent follow-up session at the driving range after the round. I thought I was over this after graduating from college a few years ago and being too busy for the game. But golf isn't so easily passed from your system.

So I tried to justify the apparent relapse of my obsession. What was it that was drawing me to golf, despite all the rational reasons not to play (its snooty country club ethos, the complex and elusive physics of properly hitting a ball, the time, energy, and expense that could be put toward better things.) Soon I realized what the issue was: golf is like writing. I'm a writer. And relatedly, I'm a golfer.

Writing requires intense concentration, finicky perfectionism, constant revision, endless practice, nagging flaws, steady patience, and a passion for the occasional satisfying result. So does golf.

Maybe the analogies justify this sibling obsession. Then again, maybe I have enough neuroses in my life.

The Kind of Golfer I Am

My preferred golf attire is blue jeans and comfy tennis shoes. My clubs don't match. I don't get to play more than a few times a month (in Michigan's four or so golf-able months). I try to play at the least busy times, and at a moment's notice, so I usually play alone. I play courses under 6,000 yards. I've never taken a lesson. Mid-nineties is both a good score for me and the age at which I hope to stop golfing. I'm neither boastful of what a pure amateur I am (because if I had the time and the social standing, I might practice all the time and join a snooty country club), nor whiny about how bad I am. What's the point? Scrub or snob, you play golf for the rush of that perfect shot (however occasional), and for the serenity of walking down a fairway toward a green. What follows in this blog are some of the things that happen along the way.