Huge thanks to editor extraordinaire Neal Kotlarek on his assistance with many of these stories for Golf Chicago Magazine.
From Motown to Golftown
One of the greatest aspects of golf is the game’s diverse playing fields. While tennis courts, bowling lanes and football fields all look alike, I’ve never come across a new golf course that was identical to another. The assortment of designs differ dramatically from state to state and region to region. And if any of those topographies or design styles ever get boring, a plane ride across the pond opens the mind and soul to topographies and golf lore that are both remarkable and inspirational.
Andy Staples is a bright young golf course architect whose work appears to be heavily influenced by the world’s legendary architects. Meadowbrook Country Club in suburban Detroit just re-opened following a top-to-bottom Staples renovation. Critics may argue that it was heresy to give the course a facelift on the club’s 100th anniversary. Leave sentimentality to poets and lovers of 8-track cassette players. The fact is that the course desperately needed a facelift. Originally laid out by Scotsman and 2-time Open champion Willie Park Jr. (Olympia Fields and Maidstone), this engaging, rolling layout is an ideal place to play the game. Each hole is a different experience thanks in part to the vast terrain changes, occasional tree-lined holes, well-placed water hazards, and thought-provoking green complexes. The green on the 3rd hole is a guaranteed discussion topic on the 19th Hole. It is modeled after No. 4 at Huntercombe Golf Club outside of London, another course designed by Park Jr. The green is basically separated into two large shelves. When the pin is located on the front you don’t want to miss on the right side, and vice-versa when the location is reversed. Creative shot-making is put at a premium on this hole and many others. There are also a variety ground game shots that can be played at this Motown delight so you don’t always have to carry all of your shots over bunkers. Meadowbrook is flawless in manner with superb conditions featuring the industry’s best in Pure Distinction turf on the greens.
As can be assumed with any course with a 100-year-old history, the course holds an amazing legacy. The 1955 PGA Championship was held here. The course was also used as a PGA Tour stop back in the days when the immortal Ben Hogan was a champion. Staple’s work on Meadowbrook was recognized by Golf Inc. magazine for Renovation of the Year. Do yourself a favor and check out Meadowbrook the next time you visit Detroit. You will find that the course pays homage to the past while providing great fun for everyone from the weekend warrior to the scratch player.
A must-play course in nearby Ann Arbor is the University of Michigan Course designed by the legendary Alister MacKenzie (Augusta National, Cypress Point). Basking in the shadows of Michigan Stadium, this outstanding layout rests on gently rolling territory garnished with conditions that are absolutely superb. This is pure MacKenzie and serves up the master’s signature bunkers and green sites. Save for an ocean or a green sports jacket, there is virtually no difference between this course and the architect’s most recognized works. While preferential tee times are provided Michigan alums and current students, the public is welcomed through a variety of options. Home to the Wolverine’s men’s and women’s teams, this not only one of the best college courses in the country, it is also one of the best public-access courses you will find anywhere.
The newly opened $14 million Richard L. Postma clubhouse is one of the more unique and modern golf facilities in the nation. Stunning views of the course and campus can be taken in and appreciated from the upstairs of this elegant structure.
Polo Fields Country Club in Ann Arbor is another delightful romp through the undulating Southeast Michigan terrain. Plenty of water hazards and natural areas protect the course and make nearly every shot a challenge. Terrific conditioning and tour speed greens highlight the links-style track designed by William Newcomb in 1995.
When in Detroit it’s always fun to take in a Tigers game at beautiful Comerica Park. Not a single seat is bad here at one of the coolest baseball stadiums in the major leagues—made even better when future Hall-of-Famer Miguel Cabrera is at the plate. Do yourself a favor and walk around the inside of the park to see the statues of Tiger greats, historical plaques, interactive displays, plus a variety of bars and dining choices. Everything at the park is really well done to a T (think Tigers) and thought out for baseball fans and non-baseball fans, alike.
St. John’s Inn is the ideal place to play when visiting the Detroit area. This former monastery brings amazing soulfulness through comfortable rooms in an inspired setting. Located in the upscale Metro Detroit suburb of Plymouth, this breathtaking landmark offers gourmet restaurant dining, corporate meetings & events, weddings, receptions, executive meetings, charity galas, and special events. Plus, they have a fun 27 holes right on property that all players will relish. Features include:
AAA Four Diamond Detroit, MI area luxury full service hotel
Classic Romanesque architecture, marble floors, handcrafted woodwork and majestic stonework
118 tastefully appointed and elegant guest rooms
Breathtaking gardens and grounds
Beautiful ballrooms and conference rooms
5ive Steakhouse- chic ambiance, imaginative menu, local brews, award-winning wine list and al fresco dining in season
There are also a bevy of other terrific courses in the area, making St. John’s the perfect place to set up shop for a visit in the greater Metro Detroit area.
While Motown earned its reputation by creating hit records by the Supremes, the Four Tops and Martha & the Vandellas, the great city has quickly and quietly become a golf destination that has visitors dancin’ in both the streets and the fairways.
Texas prides itself on being the land of superlatives. Most anything and everything in this state–from barbecue joints, to observatory telescopes, to the 160-ft Jumbotron erected in the new Dallas Cowboys Stadium–are purported to be either the best or the biggest of their kind (the state slogan is, after all, “Everything’s bigger in Texas”). But even skeptics have to acknowledge that time after time and instance after instance, most every boast made here is supported by fact.
All that said, golfers should not be surprised by the fact that the capital city of Austin is home to the state’s biggest and best golf resort. Barton Creek Resort and Spa in Austin boasts some 72 holes of world-class championship golf that will truly leave you exhilarated. The hills come alive here thanks to the work of Tom Fazio, Arnold Palmer, Ben Crenshaw and Bill Coore. When you play golf here you are astounded by the elevation changes and by the one-of-a-kind views. The destination’s rocky hills and spectacular vistas are uncharacteristic of the rest of Texas. Indeed, if you ignore the cowboy boots and occasional Stetsons sported by visitors and locals, you’d swear that you were staying in Tuscany, Italy, rather than in the Lone Star State.
Along with the scenic beauty, the resort’s epicenter are the four championship golf courses that do nothing but accentuate the beauty and tranquility of the region.
In fact, the resort was recently bestowed the inaugural "Green Star Award” featuring America’s Best Environmental Resorts from Golf Digest in September 2009. It became the first resort in Texas to be certified as the “Audubon International Signature Sanctuary course” in 2003 and has been awarded the same honor every year since. Golf Magazine rated Barton Creek as #4 in its “Best Ecologically Friendly Golf Resorts” issue in 2008 and USA Today named Barton Creek as the “Top 10 Places to go for the Green and Be Green” just last year.
The limestone spring-fed streams are clean, clear, and just plain appealing to view. They draw a wonderful contrast to the bunkers and all of the plush, manicured green grass of the courses.
Architect Tom Fazio displayed some real magic on The Foothills and The Canyons course. Each hole sits alone as they were carved harmoniously throughout these sprawling layouts. Tree-lined fairways are the norm here; but it’s the magical waterfalls on The Foothills holes #16 & 18 that etch permanent memories of your experience. I’ve been fortunate to play golf at a number of courses around the world, and I have seen a layout that is so beautiful, yet fair and challenging. One must pay close attention to slopes out here, as club selection is key in reaching the greens, rock outcroppings, meandering creeks, comfortably-sized fairways all make for a pleasurable trip around these Longhorn links. In Fazio’s book, Golf Course Designs, the author makes a statement that typifies his philosophy at Barton Creek. “In my opinion golf should not be easy, nor should it be overly difficult. We try to hit a middle ground between hard and easy so that, depending on how the course is set up, it can be made to play either fairly hard or fairly easy. I believe golf courses should be designed in the middle ground because it is the one most like to bring the greatest enjoyment to the greatest number of people.” Finish a round on The Foothills and The Canyons course and you fully comprehend why Tom Fazio is the most appreciated designer in the game today.
Excellent food and an attentive staff complete the perfect picture in this Texas Hill Country. What are the criteria in rating a golf destination? Forget about the reviews. Just book a reservation at Barton Creek Resort and Spa and find out up-close and personally. While I’ve never had the pleasure of playing golf in Tuscany, I am comfortable venturing a guess that Barton Creek has far better golf courses than one could locate in any part of Italy. And, if I may add, a place worthy of all the superlatives heaped upon the resort over the years.
On a side note, Austin, Texas is recognized as one of the country’s most livable cities. With year-round golf, comfortable temperatures, the University of Texas, friendly people, good food, and a tremendous music scene it’s an easy place to visit, and an even harder place to leave. (All images courtesy of BartonCreek.com)
A two-foot putt is certainly not a big deal for an accomplished world-class player. But with the 1969 Ryder Cup at England’s famed Royal Birkdale in the balance Jack Nicklaus conceded such a putt to England’s Tony Jacklin. It resulted in the first-ever tie in the events storied history. It was a move that drew some controversy, but in essence it was true sportsmanship that helped define the game.
Jack said - “I don’t think you would have missed the putt, but under the circumstances, I’d never give you the opportunity.”
And Tony replied- “I think it was the greatest single sporting gesture in golf. If there was a greater one, I don’t know of it.” Thus a friendship was born between the two iconic players, and in the mid-2000’s they collaborated on a stellar golf club known as “The Concession.” Built on the outskirts of Bradenton, Florida this track started receiving accolades immediately with Golf Digest naming them best new private course in 2006.
The design is one that challenges the mind and tests your gut. There are reachable par 5’s, fair par 4’s, and par 3’s with a good disparity in yardages. And being in Florida there is naturally water, and the sand abundant, but certainly not over the top. The beautiful sugary white sand helps define each hole. This is high quality stuff which insures that your ball will always be sitting up, and never plugged. Whew!
A couple of holes (from the gold tees) that you will surely remember is the 507-yard par 5 13th and the par 4 18th. If you have two big hits you can get home in two shots, but you will be happy just to be on the putting surface in three. The elevated green can be described in one word, “severe.” In fact Nick Faldo had a little tug of war here going back-and-forth over the green, PICKING UP after his 7th shot! The finishing hole is a classic 436-yard par 4 with numerous bunkers, water coming into play on the right and the relaxed Concession clubhouse as a backdrop.
Superintendent Terry Kennelly is truly a hands-on kind-of-guy, and treats this land like it was one of his own children. The course may be located in a gated community, but you will not find any homes in view from the course. It’s just you and your playing partners, and nature. Truly peaceful surroundings. The greens were always a challenge at The Concession, but last year Kennelly undertook some needed softening of the front nine’s undulating surfaces. This also added more hole positions ensuring that shot values could vary day-to-day. He likes The Concession to have a little brownish tint to the grass too- assuring that the grounds will play firm and fast. Numerous courses around the United States are taking to this is welcoming philosophy which is similar to links courses across the pond. Hey, what’s wrong with saving water, getting more roll, and never getting a plugged lie in the fairway?
In April the club will play host to The Concession Cup, a unique new Amateur tournament. There will be two eighteen-player teams- one from the United States, and the other from Great Britain/Ireland. Each team will have three categories: (8) Mid-Ams, that’s age 25 and older, (8) Seniors up to age 65, and (2) Super Seniors that are 65 and older. The big nugget of this match play competition is that Jack Nicklaus and Tony Jacklin will serve as honorary captains. This is truly a wonderful opportunity for the amateurs to meet these two icons, and the architects of The Concession!
Victorious United States 2008 Ryder Cup Captain Paul Azinger has been a fixture here since the club’s inception and is always sharing plenty of entertaining knowledge, and fodder of the game. Plus, world-renowned instructor David Leadbetter can occasionally be seen around the grounds. While he works with many of the top players around the globe he is more than willing to help us mere mortals with the golf swing.
Ryder Cup influences are sprinkled throughout this warm and welcoming facility. All of the electric carts have Murifield 1969 on the front, and there are numerous historical plaques on the world-class driving range depicting some of the famous matches. They also have a top-notch friendly caddy staff that will definitely help you shave a few strokes off here and there.
Moreover, the future will continue to shine when in 2015 the club plays host to both the Men’s and Women’s NCAA Championships in 2015. While The Concession may be a private club, it won’t be long before it becomes public knowledge.