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Thousand Oaks: Grand Name for a Grand Golf Course
By Don VanderVeen

Thousand Oaks is a grand name for a grand golf course located very near Grand Rapids.

The name lends itself to tradition. Thousand Oaks sounds as if it has been around forever.

Carved out of a previously untouched forest of red oaks in northeast Grand Rapids, Thousand Oaks is actually less than a year old, but is already playing to rave reviews.

Thousand Oaks is every bit as playable as it is beautiful. The plush bent grass conditions, rolling fairways and elevated teeing areas make for one memorable shot after another.

The site was spectacular even before it became a golf course. The heavily wooded terrain and dramatic elevation changes made it like a Northern Michigan golf course waiting to happen in West Michigan.

The traditional design aspect of the golf course brought to the project by renowned architect Rees Jones turned the land into an enchanted forest for golf.

"That piece of property was always there for a golf course," Thousand Oaks head professional Gary Smithson says. "It is as natural of a setting for a golf course as there has ever been."

Then along came Jones. The son of renowned architect Robert Trent Jones, Rees Jones magically transformed the forest with a sea of greens.

"The site gave us an opportunity to build a course that should be compared favorably to the other great ones in the state of Michigan," Jones said. "This course has a good chance of earning a lot of acclaim, and is one that the public is going to want to play again and again."

Thousand Oaks is a golf course where no water comes into play. It provides golfers with shot options and is a course that can be scored on.

"Rees' style of design gives every player every opportunity not to hit the ball totally out of play," Smithson said. "There is always an opportunity for safe shots."

The fairways are wide and flat. The natural sidehill shaping and directional bunkers help keep balls in play.

"It's a golf course that is playable for every level," Smithson said. "There are no water hazards and every hole is accessible from the front of the green, which gives everybody an opportunity to run the ball up the middle of the fairway to the hole."

Thousand Oaks is cut through 450 acres of hardwood with a terrain featuring dramatic elevation changes. As a result, there are several elevated tees, some providing panoramic views for miles and miles.

Jones designed the fairways between the large, sprawling oak trees with more of a classic feel with directional bunkers, wide fairways and large, undulating greens.

"We were able to weave some spectacular looking holes that are very playable," Jones said. "We wanted golfers to have shot options."

A mountain-top view accessible from the tips at No. 11 is breathtaking. The No. 12 tee provides another long-range sweeping peak of the landscape below. Both tee boxes provide views that golfers live for. It's like that throughout much of the course.

Thousand Oaks is a multiple shot course with up to seven tee boxes on some holes. It can play as long as 7,250 yards from the back tees or just 6,100 from the front.

"You can make it as easy as you want or as difficult as you want," Smithson said. "There's just not a weak hole on the course."

The large green complexes are firm. Many subtle breaks on the greens put putting at a premium.

"Putting may be the most difficult part about playing this course," Smithson said.

The first hole -- a downhill par-4 with a soft landing area on a large, receptive green -- provides an easy entry into the round ahead.

There are four par-3 holes on the course and none play exactly the same way. The difference in length -- even on the same hole -- may vary from a 9-iron to a 3-iron. No. 3 has seven different tee areas.

"Diverse options like that are neat," Smithson said. "You can come out and change things so drastically just by moving the tees and pins. There's a lot of flexibility there."

The bunkers are big, bold and beautiful. They exist more to enhance the chance of staying out of trouble than to intimidate.

"The bunkering looks like it's been there forever," Smithson said. "There is nothing artificial looking about this course."

All of the greens are accessible from the front. There are no forced carries over bunkers, although a couple shots require some negotiating over wetlands.

"There are few bunkers placed directly in front of the greens and no real water hazards," Jones said. Some of the par-4s are friendly. Some are decidedly more difficult, and there are some stretches of what Jones refers to as "muscle holes," especially the final three. That stretch of holes includes an elevated tee shot and an elevated green at No. 16, a 200-plus yard par-3 at 17 and a 465-yard par-4 finishing hole.

"They holes are fantastic finishing holes and also pretty demanding," Smithson said.

Jones has designed golf courses in 20 states, Africa, England and Canada over the past 20 years. His original designs include noteworthy courses such as Atlantic Golf Club in New York and Ocean Forest Golf Club in Sea Island, Georgia.

"Designing seems to be reverting back to the old way, and this is more in line with the older, more traditional styles of golf courses," Smithson said. "This is traditional and classic as you're going to get. It's a real, big classic golf course."

Call 616-447-7750.

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