VanderVeen / Courtesy Blackheath
When it comes
to golf in Michigan, getting “blacklisted” is
a good thing.
At least a
half dozen Michigan golf courses — Black
Lake, Black Forest, Blackshire, Blackheath,
Black River and Blackberry Patch — are
back in black.
Besides their names, they all share some other common traits:
scenic settings, challenging greens and pristine playing
So while the old debate about
whether or not black is actually a color or the
absence of color may be intriguing, the answer
will be obvious after playing the greens on these
Black is beautiful.
The name says it all: Black Forest.
“ Northern Michigan hardwoods,” says
owner David Smith. “It was literally carved
out of the forest. It took us a whole year to
clear the woods out of the way.
“ What used to be a dense
forest now has a fairway running through it.
An amazing transformation took place.”
Black Forest, designed by renowned
golf course architect Tom Doak, opened in 1992.
Its name is derived from the
Alpine Village theme of Gaylord.
“ Black Forest region of
Germany is very Alpine as well,” Smith
said. “When you look around the country,
some of the more difficult courses use the name ‘black’ in
the title, like Black Diamond Ranch in Florida
and the U.S. Open course, Bethpage Black.
“ It really is a dark forest
until you get to the openings in the fairways.
(The name) seemed to note the difficulty and
the Bavarian theme all in one name.”
A trek into Black Forest is an
adventure into the Northern Michigan hardwoods.
Every hole in Black Forest is surrounded by woods.
There are no home sites. It is a feeling of isolation.
“ The greatest thing about
Black Forest is the isolation it provides,” Smith
said. “You can always hear your drive echo
through the woods.”
Black Forest’s beauty hole
is the par-3 eighth hole, recognized by the USGA
Golf Journal as a featured great golf hole. The
hole plays 166 yards from the back, black tees
and requires an all-carry shot over a non-maintained
valley with bunkers up the face toward the green.
Its antithesis is the beastly
No. 2 hole, which Smith offers as “the
hardest second hole in the world.” The
443-yard, par 4 is difficult to reach in two
because the second shot is usually off a crooked
lie, and the shot is into a two-tiered green.
In his book “Golf Architecture,” Doak
lists the No. 10 hole at Black Forest as his
favorite because of the way its sets up in the
valley with two maple trees that provide an hourglass
approach into the green.
The par-5 No. 7 hole features cross bunkering through the middle
of the fairway between the second and third shot that “at
the time it was introduced, it was very unique,” Smith said. “I
watched Tom Doak build it, and I can really appreciate the thought
that went into each and every hole with the way he followed the
lay of the land and the strategic bunkering.”
The challenge of Black Forest
comes from playing the back tees. It is 7,044
yards from the tips.
But, as Smith says, “The
adventure doesn’t really begin until you
get onto the greens. There is a lot of movement
and no two greens putt the same.”
There are also massive amounts
of bunkers on the course, especially on No. 18.
“ Tom Doak likes to joke
that he had a few extra bunkers left at the end
of the course so he threw them on 18,” Smith
Located in Southeastern Michigan, Blackheath is another Black Beauty
designed by Kevin Aldridge. Combined with Devil’s Ridge
Golf club, it provides a destination, of sorts, within an hour's
drive of Metro Detroit.
Unlike Blackshire, however, Blackheath
is a “heathlands” course.
“ It’s a traditional
links-type course, with a lot of mounding and
a lot of heather,” Director of Golf Rick
Fleming said. “They tried to build a true
Scottish links style course, and they’ve
come very close.”
There is not a tree on the golf
course, and the greens are small and undulating
with a lot of bunkers surrounding them.
“ It’s like a miniature
Gailes,” Fleming said. “The hazards
are the heather, the mounding and the bunkers.”
The four sets of tees at Blackheath
play 6,770 yards from the tips (with a slope
of 137), 6,127 from the middle tees, 5,354 from
the senior tees and 4,572 from the forward tees.
Blackheath opened for play in
1998. The course derived its name from the old
style courses in England.
“ There are links golf courses and heathland golf courses,” Fleming
explained. “A links course is seaside and this is more of an inland course.
In England, an inland golf course is heathland, and hence the name, Blackheath.”
Situated on 150 acres — including
driving range — most of the holes at Blackheath
“ It’s packed in pretty tight, and rounds usually take less than
four hours to complete,” Fleming said.
One of the more awe striking — and ball striking — sites
is the No. 12 hole. It is a stunning 212-yard par 3 that has bunkers
fronting the green with a gully running across.
While Blackheath plays straight
and open, Devil’s Ridge is the complete
opposite with elevation changes, trees and wetlands.
“ Devil’s Ridge is
truly a Northern Michigan style course,” Fleming
said. “We have quite a contrast between
“ It’s quite interesting.
If you were to ask 100 different people about
the differences between the two courses, you
would get 100 different answers.”
As a playing partner with the renowned Scottish links course, The
Gailes, Blackshire provides an amazingly different type of round.
All the holes at Blackshire are cut right through trees with
some gnarly pine groves scattered throughout.
“ The Gailes is very demanding
and fairly difficult to play, so we took a lot
of effort and time to make sure Blackshire didn’t
get too tough,” Lakewood Shores Director
of Golf Craig Peters said. “If you hit
it into trees at Blackshire, you can find it
and play it out.
“ The fairways are spacious.
It doesn’t make you feel like you are suffocating,
or that you have to thread the needle from the
tee all the time. It makes you think more off
the tee depending on a person's level of ability
and what tees they are playing. You don’t
always want to hit driver off the tee.
“ It’s always fun
to play a course where you have to think.”
Blackshire’s layout, designed
by Kevin Aldridge — who also designed the
award-winning Gailes — is similar to that
of Pine Valley in New Jersey, with large waste
areas alongside tees, greens and fairways.
“ It’s different than typical golf courses up north,” Peters
said. “We wanted to do something different to draw people to it and that’s
where we came up with the Pine Valley look to make it stand out and look different.”
No. 1 sets the tone for the course.
It is a medium length par 4 that plays up to
a plateau off the tee. A huge waste area is set
below the plateau to about 10 or 15 yards short
of the green.
“ It lets you know right
off the bat that you’re playing something
different,” Peters said. “There are
not a lot of forced carries on the course, but
this is one hole where a forced carry is required.”
No. 11 is a short par 3 that
plays just 120 yards from the back tees. There
is an awesome backdrop of trees behind a very
The par 5’s have cross-bunkers
running through the fairways with an expanse
of rough, and then the fairways begin again.
“ It’s pretty unique
and different,” says Peters. “There
are just so many good holes that it's hard to
pick one over another.”
Blackshire, which begins its
second full year of operation in 2003, derived
its name from English lore.
“ It’s a very rugged style course and we wanted a name that was rugged,” Peters
said. “Shire means battleground, and Blackshire creates an old-world, rugged
The course is an outstanding
complement to The Gailes as part of the Lakewood
Shores Resort in Oscoda. The difference between
playing Blackshire and The Gailes is like night
and day, or black and white, according to Peters.
“ The Gailes is a pure Scottish
links-style course with berms that meander the
course and 138 sod-faced bunkers dotted all over,” Peters
said. “There, you get all the glory and
the pitfalls of a British Open-type golf course
with a nice contrast between brown mounds and
green fescues and grasses.”
The other course at Lakewood
Shores is the Serradella, named after the founders
of the old family farm where Lakewood Shores
now resides. It is more of a traditional course,
which provides the resort with three totally
different styles of golf.
Lakewood Shores Resort offers
a golf package that includes one round at each
of the three courses, two overnight stays and
two dinners for under $275 per person.
“ It’s like going
to three different locations all in one spot,” Peters
said. “You have the Pine Valley style course
at Blackshire, the links course at The Gailes
and a traditional course at Serradella.
“ We have beautiful scenery,
three different styles of golf and a lovely setting.
We give people reasons to come back again and
River Golf Club
Classic Black River Golf Club — formerly known as Black River
Country Club — has opened its doors to the public.
Situated between Detroit, Flint
and Port Huron, Black River was built during
the golf course construction boom of the mid-1920s.
It is not a long layout by any
stretch. Three sets of tees play 6,500 yards
from the back, 6,250 from the middle and 5,500
from the front. The challenge at Black River
comes on the greens.
The course features a classic
design in an old-time, country club setting.
“ It is enjoyable for all
skill levels — men, ladies and seniors — and
we get a lot of play in all three of those areas,” Black
River’s Jim Ransberger said. “It’s
a classic piece of property that is very hard
to reproduce or replicate.” The course
was re-designed by William Diddle in the 1950s.
Nine holes and the clubhouse
sit atop a small ridge that overlooks Black River.
The other nine holes traverse the bottomland.
There are subtle elevation changes, including
an elevated tee and an elevated green at No.
Tree-lined fairways run along
the course, and there are no home sites on the
Ransberger regards the 430-yard,
par-4 No. 3 hole as the most challenging on the
course, calling it downright “treacherous.”
“ It creates the toughest
second or third shot on the course,” said
the club pro.
“ You don’t want to
hit it above the flag, because coming back, the
ball can roll right off the two-tiered green
if the putt is too hard.
“ The rule of thumb is to
not hit it above the hole. The holes may not
be long in nature, but they can be very treacherous
Black River was a private course
that was once owned by military contractor Meuller
Brass and then was bought out by membership.
The golf course has a rich history and originally
opened in 1926. During its heyday, it hosted
several tournaments and qualifiers.
“ It has a classic, private
club setting,” Ransberger said.
Membership dwindled, prompting
the course to be sold again, reopening to the
public in 2001.
“ We look at it like a new venture,” Ransberger said. “It’s
like we’re opening up a new course with a lot of history behind it.”
Black River has men’s and
ladies’ locker facilities, a practice area
with short game targets, putting green and driving
“ It is just like a private
facility,” Ransberger said. “The
amenities of a private club are here, and it
can now be enjoyed by the public. A lot of people
didn’t have access to the club when it
It seems like any project Rees Jones touches turns to gold. Black
Lake is a perfect example.
It has been ranked fourth best
course in the state of Michigan behind the private
clubs at Oakland Hills, Pointe O’ Woods
and Crystal Downs, as well as in the top 100
in the United States.
And it has been living up to
its lofty billing.
Carved out of pines, hardwoods
and wetlands, Black Lake is a stunning visual
marvel that is as enjoyable to look at as it
is to play.
“ Every hole is a great
golf hole,” says director of golf Pam Phipps. “It’s
a very traditional, classic design. The conditioning
is about as good as you can find anyplace. The
golf course is in great shape.”
Jones is renowned for his outstanding
bunker work as evidenced at the U.S. Open course
at Bethpage Black. Black Lake is another example
of how sand and bunkers can shape and make a
course interesting, challenging and beautiful
at once. Close to 175 bunkers are strategically
positioned around the golf course.
“ It’s challenging,
but it’s fair,” Phipps said.
Bentgrass areas in front of the
greens remind Phipps of another Jones classic.
“ It’s similar to
what he did at Pinehurst. You can either chip
and run or putt it up.”
There are some slight elevation
changes at Black Lake, but they aren’t
as drastic or heavily tree-lined as some other
courses in Northern Michigan.
The combination of its outstanding
reputation, the variety of holes and the immaculate
conditioning of the course have made Black Lake
a must-play destination venue.
“ We don’t have what
we you would quote as a signature hole,” Phipps
said. “Some will say that every hole out
here is a signature hole.”
But there are a number of highlights
that will grab you.
They include the par-3, No. 14
hole which features a huge, winding Sahara bunker
along the right side; the short par 5 at No.
6 that requires a risk-and-reward carry over
water; and the elevated tee of the long par 4
at No. 13.
Black Lake opened for play in
2000 and immediately grabbed the attention of
the golf industry, garnering honors from many
major publications, including a No. 2 ranking
for “Best New Upscale Course” by
“ It can be very colorful
around here,” Phipps said. “Another
nice thing is that you don’t see any homes
around it and never will.”
The course, located in Onaway,
derives its name from the proximity to Black
Lake where the United Auto Workers Walter Reuther
Education Center and campgrounds are located.
“ Everyone refers to the
area as Black Lake,” Phipps says. “We’re
right at the tip of the mitt, centrally located.
It’s sort of in the middle of nowhere,
but only 30 minutes from Mackinac City, 40 minutes
from Cheboygan, 40 minutes from Alpena and 45
minutes from Petoskey.”
The Blackberry Patch is a golf course filled with fruits and thorns.
The fruits are the rewards for solid play, while the thorns are
penalties for those who attempt to bite off more than they can
Although it is located just four
miles from I-69 in south central Michigan, playing
the Blackberry Patch creates a secluded, isolated
and unhurried feeling.
“ It has been a neat, little
hidden gem, but we don’t want it hidden
anymore,” head professional Matt Lough
said. “It’s the premier Southern
Michigan public facility that people can play
for under $50 at prime time.
“ With this golf course
and the pure bentgrass tees, greens and fairways,
it’s quite a deal. It’s very unique.”
In its previous life, the Blackberry
Patch was farmland that featured — you
guessed it — blackberries. There are still
some native blackberry brambles growing in the
secluded areas of the course.
Architect Ernie Schrock transformed
the rolling terrain into a fun, playable golf
course that opened in 1999 for its first full
season. Schrock has designed many courses in
Indiana, including Autumn Ridge, Cherry Hills,
Pine Valley and Spring Meadow Farms.
“ I think this is Ernie’s
best work, and I've played a lot of his courses,” Lough
said. “No two holes look the same. Each
time you step on the tee box, you get a different
look of the golf course.
“ You just don’t get
that feeling that you've played a similar hole
out here, because each hole is definitely a unique,
There has been a slight redesign — or,
more fittingly, a re-designation of holes — from
the original course. The front is now the back
and vice versa.
The new No. 1 hole is a tester;
a 360-yard, par 4 from the white tees that doglegs
slightly to the right. The fairway slants left
to right and hitting into the green is almost
like going through a tunnel, but it takes a person
into the outstanding visuals of the course right
The old No. 2 is the new No.
11, which is a par-3, 213-yard hole from the
tips. It requires a forced carry of 130 yards
from the forward tees and 170 yards from the
back. The all-carry shot to the green features
an elevation change of 40 feet. The front of
the green is guarded by a bunker, creating a
challenging shot from any of the four tee stations.
The old No. 11 — which
is the new No. 2 — plays 616 yards from
the tips with a forced carry over the wetlands.
There is a pond to the left and wetlands to the
right with a tight driving area. For those attempting
to cut off some distance and go for the green
in two, they must contend with a pond in front
of the green and a bunker strategically placed
to the side.
“ It's a course where you
have to use some strategy to get around,” Lough
said. “You don't just grab a driver at
every tee box and bang it. You have to hit the
right areas to get at the greens.”