by Terry Moore
If a picture tells a thousand words then the photo album of The Heathlands is working on a encyclopedia. At the West Michigan Golf Show in March, patrons were awestruck by the stunning photo display of this new course opening this year in Onekema, 15 minutes north of Manistee. The reaction doesn't surprise Lance Avery, one of the principals behind the project.
"The first time I saw this site for the course, I was drooling," said Avery, a PGA head pro who also leases/manages Indian Trails in Grand Rapids. "I kept saying to myself, 'Yes, there should be a golf course here.' " Designed by Jeff Gorney (of Little Traverse Bay fame), The Heathlands has scenic views of Portage Lake on five of its holes. A par 72, the windswept layout will be a just under 6800 yards from the back, 6224 from the blue, 5605 from the white and 4596 from the forward tees. For sure, the design is congenial and aimed at pleasing your average public golfer. "We have only a few forced carries here," said Avery. "There's a small creek fronting the par-3 15th hole and there's a large irrigation pond that fronts the 18th green. That's it; the rest of the layout allows for run-up, open approach shots to the greens."
As most proud owners are wont to be, Avery had trouble identifying his pet holes. But pressed, he mentioned the fifth, 16th and 18th holes. The fifth is the number two stroke index hole, measuring 445 yards from the black boxes. It starts off with a tee that would make Robert Trent Jones Sr. proud of his colleague Gorney. It's a Pointe-of-Woodish runway of some 80 yards in length. From that launch point, the fifth will be known for its tough second shot to an elevated green site. Fours and fives will be most welcomed scores here insists Avery.
Avery also thinks the 363 yard, par-4 16th hole will generate plenty of 19th hole banter. "From the tee to the green, there's nearly an 80 foot rise in elevation," says Avery. "The elevation will lengthen and test the second shot."
But for sheer test, golfers will spend their entire day waiting for The Heathlands number one stroke index hole, the par-five 18th hole. Calling to mind the challenge posed by The Thoroughbred's last hole, this 616 yard juggernaut will require three or four (it's a par-six from the red tees) good shots to reach the putting surface. As mentioned, a irrigation pond guards the greensite, although there is an alternate "dry route" if one wishes to take an extra shot and not fly the water. But for most players, the last shot to the green must fly a good 100-140 yards to carry the pond. "We think it's an excellent finishing hole," says Avery.
Due to the agreeable composition of the native sandy soils and grasses (truly a heathlands by definition), golfers will be hard-pressed to find a firmer and drier playing surface. Also, Gorney says "taking an extra season to let the course grow-in" was key. "Too many courses ask players for their $30 or $40 and then have the golfers saying to themselves, 'this course isn't ready yet.' We didn't want to hear that," says Gorney. Penncross bentgrass was used on the tees, approaches and greens while the fairways and intermediate roughs were seeded with bluegrass. "Cut at 3/4 of an inch, our fairways will allow the ball to sit up nicely--just what most golfers want," says Avery, who also has a background and experience as a golf course superintendent. In fact, Walnut Hills' superintendent Kurt Thuemmel, who played the course last fall, says "The Heathlands has the nicest bluegrass fairways" he's ever seen.
Avery and his partners-- John Read Jr. and Sr., Gorney and original landowner Randy Wood--are not afraid of a little stormy weather for their course. "We needed zero drainage tile here," boasts Avery. "If we get an inch of rain in morning, the course should be ready to play in an hour."
So, come rain or shine, The Heathlands is poised to please golfers from across the state. Green fees with cart are $35 on M-TH; $40 on F-Sun & holidays. Call 616-889-5644. One more thing: drooling is permissible.
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