by Art McCafferty
Rick Smith is right where he wants to be, on the shoreline of Lake Michigan, looking out at the big blue body of water, the second largest of the five Great Lakes. It's a breath-taking sight and site, and Smith is like a kid let loose in a toy store at Christmas as he gives an "in the dirt" tour of Arcadia Bluffs, his latest design in northern Michigan.
Arcadia Bluffs is on M-22, a state-designated scenic route between Manistee and Frankfort. This golf course will make it a must designation for golfers who love beauty, challenge, enjoyment, playability -- take your pick or take them all.
The lake is visible from every hole on the basically treeless course and yet there isn't a single water hazard. There are Smith's trademark directional bunkers and, a first for him, sodwalled bunkers, reminiscent of those on Scottish and Irish courses.
"My goal is a downsy look, getting pieces of England, Ireland, Shinnecock Hills and Crystal Downs in there as well, Ballybunion, Royal Portrush. H.S. Colt (he did Portrush in Northern Ireland) is one of my favorite designers. I love his work and Portrush is my favorite course," said Smith, Director of Golf at Treetops Resort and designer of two 18 hole courses and a unique par 3 at Treetops plus award-winning Wuskowhan Players Club north of Holland, MI.
Arcadia Bluffs is owned by Ron VanderPol who is a member of exclusive Crystal Downs at Frankfort. VanderPol thought public course players should have a Downs-like experience so Arcadia, which will open in July 1999, will be upscale public.
Steve Leonard, the new Executive Director of the West Branch Chamber of Commerce and West Branch Ogemaw County Travel and Visitors Bureau, has plenty to crow about. With four courses, Apple Valley, The Dream, Green Briar and West Branch CC joining eight lodging properties: Clear Lake Resort, LaHacienda Motel, Quality Inn, Rose Valley Motel, Scenic Motel, Super 8, Tri Terrace Motel and Welcome Motel, golf packages have become the norm in this town. Dave Clouse of the Quality Inn and Forward Conference Center said, "The golf packages really started to kick off last year when The Dream opened and this year we are way ahead of forecasts. We have had a terrific response from the golfing community." John Thibault, who has been the golf professional at West Branch Country Club for the past nine years, concurs; "our golf business just continues to grow in West Branch."
For further information on golf packages and area attractions, contact the West Branch/Ogemaw County Travelers &Visitors Bureau 800-755-9091.
The new Apple Valley Golf Course has nine new holes and a new name. Formerly, Crapo Hills, Apple Valley has thrived under the new ownership of Sharon and Gary Tedford. Gary and son Mark, attended an MSU turf school and put to practive what they had learned in the designing portion of the class. Opening in July of last year, the course has begun to capture more than local interest. It has an expansive and rolling look to its 5024 yards. Golfers will find a very young and affordable course here. 517-345-2971, 2100 Maes Rd, West Branch
If anyone thing has transformed this area into an emerging golf destination it is the emergence of The Dream. Designed by Jeff Gorney, for brothers Tom and Dan Courtemanche, The Dream is a spectacular course. Highlighted in June '97 issue of the Michigan Golfer (michigangolfer.com), The Dream has lived up those advanced reviews.
Darcy Courtemanche, GM at the Dream, said the spring weather has been a Dream as he has booked "a ton of rounds." Also, they are getting a terrific response from their clients. "They really enjoy the course and happily they are telling a lot of their friends," said Courtemanche. Jeff Granes, course superintendent, has done a nice job with this relatively new course.
Just north of West Branch, it is the course drivers see on their way south on I-75. 1-888-TE-DREAM
Edgewood Forest, owned by Gordon and Mary Girard, is a fine heavily wooded nine hole course, measuring some 2613 yards. Rick Weavers is the head groundskeeper. The Girards want everybody to know that they have some great flowers in the summertime. 517-873-5427, S. Sage Lake, Prescott
Ernie McPherson, Green Briar's general manager, represents the interests of a number of Lupton families. They took the McPherson dairy farm and decided to grow bent grass rather than hay, alfalfa and corn. The course, designed by Jeff Gorney, is entering its fourth year and is really coming into its own. McPherson feels that Gorney did an excellent job. "Jeff gave us lots of room on the tees and ample space on the greens. This allows us to have a well manicured course now, as we wait for some younger trees on some holes to grow a little, said McPherson. "I think the start and finish of a golf hole stays foremost in a golfer's mind, and Gorney has designed our course to leave a good impression on both those notes." The course plays to a little over 6,000 yards, is very affordable and the restaurant boasts a great fish dinner. 517-473-4900, 3379 E. Sage Road, Lupton
Golf Professional John Thibault is finishing up his 9th year at West Branch. John opened up Eastern Michigan University's Eagle Crest Resort with Tom Pendlebury, before opting for the north courtry. He starred on EMU's golf team after all state honors at Fenton High School.
John has developed a very successful golf lesson program at the club. He also participates in other programs like the Michigan PGA's Learn to Golf series and Golf Digest's new Cure the Slice program. West Branch also features a Hogan Golf Club fitting program.
West Branch CC, celebrating its 70th year, brought in Jerry Matthews to update the course. He basically created a new 5th hole, by stretching it out from 125 to 175 yards. He also added 40 yards to the 14th hole and put a new bunker in at 18. Thibault indicated that the added distance will toughen up the course a little, but it will still remain a pleasant experience for the golfer. West Branch is kept in immaculate shape by superintendent Bob Steinhurst, who has been bringing great golf conditions to the membership for the past 17 years. The club also features the Willow Tree restaurant for fine dining. 198 Fairway Road, West Branch, 517-345-2501
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