GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — News 8 is bringing you to our Dream 18: A collection of the most fun, beautiful and challenging holes in West Michigan that together create the ultimate course.
The first iteration of this list was created in 1990. A lot of great golf courses have been built or redesigned since then and we figured it was time for an update.
So News 8 sports director Jack Doles put together a committee of experts — writers Terry Moore and Greg Johnson, Greater Kalamazoo Golf Association President Nick Carbary, West Michigan Golf Association President Nate Golomb and Michigan Golf Hall of Famer Joan Garety — to submit candidates. The panel then narrowed it down to the best 18.
These are those 18:
1: MUSKEGON COUNTRY CLUB’S FIRST HOLE
We tee off the Dream 18 with one of the best starting holes in the state: the par-4 first hole at Muskegon County Club. It’s 396 yards, but with a pretty constant stiff breeze at the tee, it plays longer. The green has a false front and slopes back to front.
“It’s one of the most challenging starting holes you’ll find,” Muskegon County Club Director of Golf Stephany Pawlowski said.
Muskegon County Club was built by famous golf course architect Tom Bendelow in 1908 and redone by Scottish-born course designer Donald Ross in 1920.
2: TULLYMORE GOLF RESORT’S 18TH HOLE
The 18th hole at Tullymore Golf Resort near Canadian Lakes, east of Stanwood, is a wonderful challenge. This par 5 is 535 yards from all the way back, and that distance is just the first thing to contend with.
It’s bordered on the left, from tee to green, by a beautiful and dramatic water hazard. That water started out as a pond to protect the green but evolved as designer Jim Engh built the course.
“Every time he would keep coming back and the earth movers were here. he’d say, ‘Dig a little further.’ Our owner decided Jim is going to keep telling us to move it further, so let’s dig it all the way back to the tee. As soon as Jim came back and saw that, he thought it was sensational,” Tullymore PGA Director of Gulf Gary Lewandowski said.
When you get to the green, you’ll see Engh’s signature bunkers.
“He’s known for that dramatic bunkering. He makes it great. It’s not your average bunker, they’re all a little deeper, a little more difficult to get out of. His belief is a bunker is a hazard,” Lewandowski said.
If you walk away from 18 with an eagle, birdie or par, you’ll have a story to tell.
3: CASCADE HILLS COUNTRY CLUB’S THIRD HOLE
The par-3 third hole at Cascade Hills Country Club just east of Grand Rapids is 230 yards from the back tee, with a pair of bunkers guarding each side of the green.
“Pound for pound, it’s the hardest hole on our golf course,” Cascade Hills PGA Director of Golf Adrian Jolliffe said.
You want to play from the tee you’re comfortable at and make sure you hit below the hole. If you hit over, good luck — there’s a 4-foot drop from back to front, with the highest point at the back left.
Cascade Hills is a private club that first opened in 1921.
4: AMERICAN DUNES GOLF CLUB’S 16TH HOLE
The par-4 16th hole at American Dunes Golf Club in Grand Haven, designed by golfing great Jack Nicklaus, is a masterpiece. From all the way back, it plays 503 yards into the prevailing wind, so unless you can really bomb it off the tee, play it forward.
Avoid the dune that carves out the hole. If you do find the fairway, you’ll have a lengthy second shot into an enormous green.
“The cool thing is, looking at the green, there is a lot of area around the green for the ball to come to rest. So you’ve got some forgiveness from that factor,” American Dunes PGA Head Golf Professional Ian Ziska said. “But if you hone in on the pin and a very difficult undulating green, you’re going to get a little misplaced.”
American Dunes (on the site of the former Grand Haven Golf Club) is a stunning course. All profits go to Folds of Honor, which supports the families of service members and first responders who were wounded or killed in the line of duty.
5: KENT COUNTRY CLUB’S SEVENTH HOLE
Kent Country Club in Grand Rapids is the oldest private course in Michigan, designed by one of the greatest golf architects ever: Donald Ross. Ross redesigned it after 1914, making a number of changes, including turning the par-3 seventh hole into a par 4.
“He moved (the tee) way back,” club member and historian Craig Welch said. “Without the trees, some people came in from the right, some from the left. And he loved approaches that went uphill because you had to factor in the yardage difference, what the wind will do to it.”
The tee boxes range from 250 yards at the forward tee to 391 at the back. On the second shot, you’re hitting into a two-tiered green with two traps on the left, one on the right and big trouble if you go wrong. The biggest challenge is the demanding elevation of the green.
“It’s very unique going up this high on an approach shot where you can’t see the top of the flag, if at all,” Welch said.
If you miss it, you can put up a high number.
6: PILGRIM’S RUN GOLF CLUB’S SIXTH HOLE
The sixth hole at Pilgrim’s Run Golf Club northwest of Sand Lake, dubbed ‘Vainglory,” is the kind of hole that gives you choices and rewards you for hitting good shots. It’s a challenging but attainable par 5, 498 yards from the back tee. There’s a sand trap in the center of the fairway and three bunkers lining the last 80 yards or so on the left side of the hole.
“The second shot is always difficult because it’s a narrow green that does have the elevation change. You have to play an extra club, club and a half,” Pilgrim’s Run PGA Director of Golf Michael Rey said.
Pilgrim’s Run was designed by Mike DeVries and a party of five.
“Mr. DeVries had five of his guys who all hung around. They all drew numbers out of a hat and whatever numbers you got, those are the three holes you designed,” Rey said. “I don’t know if I trust five of my friends to do that, but what a creative way of going about it. Then they brought in Mike DeVries to put on the finishing touches. The 18 holes is incredible. You’re out here in peace and harmony with nature and the feeling is unreal.”
7: HARBOR SHORES GOLF COURSE’S SEVENTH HOLE
The par-4 seventh hole at Harbor Shores Golf Course in Benton Harbor is one of the most picturesque in all the Midwest. You’ll negotiate a tee shot over wetlands to reach a small green that sits atop a dune.
“Once you get up top and see Lake Michigan, it looks more like an ocean than anything else. It’s breathtaking,” Harbor Shores PGA General Manager Josh Doxtator said.
From the back tees, it plays 435 yards and then wind often blows hard straight in your face, so you need to play the right set of tees.
“It demands two really good shots out of your arsenal,” Doxtator said. “You have to hit the ball in the fairway and you have to hit an accurate approach, up the hill to a very small green. Like I said, there are some bail-out areas. If you miss right, you’re in trouble. If you miss it in the bunker short, good luck. If you miss it in the bunker right, good luck.”
The course was designed by golfing great Jack Nicklaus. Before that, the land was in ruins. Nicklaus was initially skeptical of it but Whirlpool and other local and state entities were committed to remediation and revitalization. Some 120,000 tons of waste was removed. What once was an eyesore became a thriving golf destination.
8: THE MOORS GOLF CLUB’S 15TH HOLE
When you step up to the tee at the par-3, 150-yard 15th hole at The Moors Golf Club in Portage, you should be armed with two things: courage and proper yardage. The peninsula green is surrounded by trouble — that is, water on three sides.
The water is the most visible obstacle, but it’s not the only one. The tee box is tucked back in the trees, so you won’t feel it, but there’s a crosswind over the channel. And the bunker at the neck of the green can trip you up: if you hit before it, you’ll have to chip it up over a sand trap.
“Aesthetically, there is a lot going on. Let’s say you are playing here every day as a member. It’s not the same every day. It’s not a boring hole, ,” The Moors Golf Operations Manager and PGA Professional Eric Smith said. “…These guys will walk up and go, ‘Oh my gosh, that pin.’ And then the next day, it’s behind the bunker and the next day, it’s in front. It’s constantly evolving and changing. It’s hard to build a golf hole that’s like that.”
9: POINT O’WOODS GOLF AND COUNTRY CLUB’S 8TH HOLE
The Point O’Woods Golf Club in Benton Township touts the par-3 ninth as its signature hole, but it was the par-4 eighth hole that was right for this list. At 327 yards, it’s playable for all levels of golfers. Leave the driver in the bag if you want to make par or a birdie.
“Aside from the percentage of success being really low, the fairway bottlenecks at around 100 yards,” Point O’Woods PGA Head Golf Professional Matt Flaherty said. “So you’ll have overhanging trees on your left. You’re going to have a ravine, which acts as a penalty area on your right. And the ball loves to bounce right. So you really minimize your landing area to about 40 yards when you are inside the 100-yard marker.”
Once you get to the green, the fun really starts. It looks accessible from the front but it’s a tough shot. It’s a little flatter and easier from the back. There are penalty areas to both the left and right.
Point O’Woods, which features maple, oak and pine trees across its 200 acres, was designed by Robert Trent Jones in 1958.
“…He refers to this as his greatest American masterpiece,” Flaherty said.
Join us each Monday, Wednesday and Friday at 4 p.m. as we visit the best golf holes in West Michigan.