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 EIGHTH 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.
10: HAWKSHEAD LINKS’ 10TH HOLE
About a mile from Lake Michigan north of South Haven is an Arthur Hills gem that’s the 10th stop on the Dream 18. The par-4 10th hole at HawksHead Links is 396 yards from the back tees and 360 from the blues. A waste area splits the fairway and the green, filled with sand and fescue.
“The hole placement is key here,” HawksHead owner and General Manager Greg Ruppert said. “It’s got a well-guarded green, as you can see. The waste area around the green. It’s not a big undulating green, just enough undulation to make you think about it.”
You also need to consider the wind, which is generally pretty strong at HawksHead.
“It’s a two-club wind some days, against you or with you,” Ruppert said.
HawksHead sits on 250 acres that was once an asparagus farm and sand pit mine used in the construction of I-96.
11: BLYTHEFIELD COUNTRY CLUB’S 13TH HOLE
The par-3 13th hole at Blythefield Country Club in Belmont, north of Grand Rapids, looked like a postcard. The Rogue River splits up the tee boxes.
“We see a lot of fishermen — it’s a registered trout stream — and also kayakers. That makes this hole very unique. We wait for (them) to pass by before hitting a tee shot,” Blythefield PGA Professional and Director of Golf Will Burkhardt said.
To get to the back tee at 241 yards, you have to walk across the iconic “Bridge of Sighs,” built in 1945, which will get your heart pumping.
“(The back tee) is a test for even the longest of golfers,” Burkhardt said. “Then you go right into a green that is a Langford and Moreau original. They are known for their large greens and runoff areas. Just the sheer distance over water makes it difficult.”
Blythefield opened in 1929. It has hosted the Meijer LPGA Classic since 2014.
12: THOUSAND OAKS GOLF CLUB’S 10TH HOLE
At 634 yards from all the way back, the par-5 10th hole at Thousand Oaks Golf Club north of Grand Rapids is a “good test,” PGA Professional Eric Conroy says.
“It’s a challenging hole that requires a good tee shot and an accurate second shot to set up the that into that green,” Conroy said.
Pull out the driver and give it all you’ve got from the elevated tee, but don’t stray too far off the fairway.
“It’s a tight tee shot. You have woodline on the left and a fairway bunker on the right side that both come into play. Being accurate there and setting up for that second shot is important,” Conroy said, explaining that if you land in the penalty area along the right side of the hole or the boundary line on the left, you’re in trouble.
The big green slopes left to right, a tricky break. If you go long or left, you’ll have a tough time getting to the hole.
The Rees Jones-designed Thousand Oaks started as a high-end public course but is now private.
13: EGYPT VALLEY COUNTRY CLUB RIDGE’S 14TH HOLE
The backdrop of the par-4 14th hole at Egypt Valley Country Club’s Ridge is beautiful, with the tall pine trees surrounding the green reminiscent of North Carolina.
“It’s a demanding hole but it’s one you can make a good score on, so it’s that great balance. If you hit the good shots, you’ve got a good chance to birdie this hole. Of course, if you don’t, it’s not pretty,” two-time Michigan Women’s Amateur champion and Michigan Golf Hall of Famer Joan Garety said with a laugh.
The hole is a classic Arthur Hills design, with a lot of room off the tee and a challenging approach. From the back tees, it’s 441 yards with a big dog leg to the left. If you can play a draw, you can cut the corner. Garety said to go with a shorter club rather than driver so you can have more control in placing the ball. The big green has a large grass bunker on the left and there isn’t a flat spot to be found.
Egypt Valley east of Grand Rapids opened in 1989, with 36 holes on 357 rolling acres.
14: L.E. KAUFMAN GOLF COURSE’S 14TH HOLE
The beautiful par-4 14th hole at L.E. Kaufman Golf Course in Wyoming will challenge every level of player. From the back tee, it’s 407 yards along a fairway lined by tall pine trees.
“It’s a very challenging hole,” Kaufman Clubhouse Supervisor Ben Rabourn said. “For one, it’s a right to left. You need to hit a draw off the tee. It’s very tight on both sides. If you don’t hit the ball in the fairway off the tee, that’ll make the second shot pretty hard.”
The green is guarded by sand on the right and trees all around. Each shot requires thought and strategy.
“You don’t want to be in the front right bunker. You’ve got to get it over there,” Rabourn said. ”Once you get on the green, the green is a little subtle, it slopes back to front.”
Tucked into the trees, which were planted after Bruce Matthews built the course in 1965, and hidden from the bustle of the metro area, you may catch a glimpse of wildlife around the 14th hole.
15: DIAMOND SPRINGS GOLF COURSE’S 15TH HOLE
The par-4 15th hole at Diamond Springs Golf Course near Hamilton forces big hitters to make a big decision:
“Fifteen is a great opportunity for a golfer to have a little risk-reward play. There’s a lot of options off the tee box,“ Diamond Springs General Manager Kyle Lurvey said.
It’s 316 yards from the back tee, which doesn’t sound like much, but it’s all carry. There’s an unforgiving ravine that will happily swallow up your shot if you get too aggressive.
”There’s no safe area. The front side is straight down the ravine. There isn’t any room for error,” Lurvey said.
Pull out a short iron off the tee, Lurvey advised. Try to land it on the high side of the ridge for a view of the green and the most options of attack. And even if your tee shot is perfect, the second one is a challenge.
“The green is long with a lot of slope to it,” Lurvey said. “The ravine plays tricks on the eyes and makes it look pretty flat. You get people in position to make birdie and they don’t always make them.”
Mike DeVries designed Diamond Springs, which opened in 2000. The course, like many others, saw a boom during the pandemic as people looked for outdoor but still social activities and expects to have hosted more than 35,000 rounds of golf by the end of the 2022 season.
16: KALAMAZOO COUNTRY CLUB’S SECOND HOLE
The par-3 second hole at Kalamazoo Country Club is a test of your swing and target ability, with the shot from the tee usually into the wind and aiming at a small green. If you miss it short, the ball could land in the walkway and roll 100 yards to the bottom of the hill.
“On this hole, since it’s all carry, you can’t run the ball up,” club PGA Director of Golf Kyle Horton said. “You want to hit a shot that you are really comfortable with the yardage. I always tell students of mine, the higher you hit the ball, the more the wind affects it. On this hole, you try to make a nice smooth swing with a little extra club and make sure you carry it all the way to the putting surface.”
You should try to hit below the hole because the green slopes back to front.
Golfers have been playing the second hole at the club for 100 years. It’s the only one that remains untouched from original designer Tom Bendelow’s initial nine-hole course, which was built in 1910. It will stay just as it is in the course’s upcoming renovation.
17: STOATIN BRAE GOLF CLUB’S 15TH HOLE
Stoatin Brae Golf Club near Augusta is a famously beautiful golf course — it was the National Golf Course of the Year in 2021 — and the view from the tee box of the par-4 15th hole shows off why.
“I just like when you’re teeing off on the top tee on a clear day you can see downtown Battle Creek,” Gull Lake View Golf Resort President Bill Johnson said. “And then when you get up to the green when you see the whole golf course, you’re looking at just about every flag you can see. And that’s unusual for a golf course.”
The 15 is 374 yards from the back tee. You’re usually shooting into a harsh breeze.
“This hole, I want to keep it right of the 150 marker. The fairway definitely goes left and feeds to that bunker, that little pot bunker on the left,” Johnson said.
Stoatin Brae opened full-time in May 2017, the sixth course at the Gull Lake View Golf Resort. The Scott family built it with the help of famed designer Tom Doak and his Renaissance Golf Design team. The land used to be an apple orchard, but Johnson and late owner John Scott saw the makings of a special course.
“You could tell it had that Scottish feel to it,” Johnson said. “It was all wildflowers. We didn’t have too much much dirt on this course. The whole project was to bop this golf course on this land and give it that links feel. There wasn’t any trees cut down. It was all just already done and ready to go.”
18: WUSKOWHAN PLAYERS CLUB’S 18TH HOLE
We end the Dream 18, fittingly, on an 18th hole: the par-5 finish at Wuskowhan Players Club in West Olive.
“I think it’s a great closing hole,” Wuskowhan Director of Golf Kirk Scheerhorn said. “A lower handicap hole. It requires three swings. Nobody is reaching the par-5 in two.”
From the back tees, it’s 615 yards.
“You have a forced carry to start with, the bunker on the left. Then you try and lay up to a yardage that you like to hit into a green,” Scheerhorn said.
The green is well guarded with water, wetlands and stand traps. Scheerhorn says you should hit to a yardage you like and set yourself up for a quality third shot.
Wuskowhan is a private club that opened in 1998, designed by Rick Smith and Warren Henderson, the same team behind Arcadia Bluffs south of Frankfort. With the fall colors in full bloom, it’s a stunning spot.
“It’s spectacular,” Scheerhorn said. “My favorite time of the year, anyway. It’s a special place.”
He said the club prides itself on its quiet and calm. It has been ranked among the top five courses in Michigan by Golf Digest.