A great design has a way of uplifting your golfing soul. After walking 54 holes in a little over 28 hours, I didn’t expect to have one of those moments when we arrived at Diamond Springs Golf Course. Sure enough, two holes in, I was swiftly walking from green to tee, eager to see what was next.
To say this Mike DeVries design in Hamilton, Michigan is easy on the wallet is an understatement. For $35 to walk on weekends it is among the very best values in all of golf. Eight holes into the round, I found myself in a state of euphoria. I turned to Will Knights and said “if I could play this course everyday, I’d be a happy man.” In a way, that’s the greatest compliment you could pay a golf course. The amazing part is this statement came before Diamond Springs’ design kicked into full gear.
The lion's mouth 2nd green at Diamond Springs
Diamond Springs is everything that public golf should be. In 2002, a group of investors hired a talented young architect. They gave him a nice piece of land and the task to build an affordable golf course. The end result is a layout that can stand up against some of the best architecture in the midwest at a price point few touch. The course’s aspirational qualities go far beyond its architecture. 95% of public golf courses should take a close look to Diamond Springs’ maintenance practices. It employs a single cut height of grass across the property and native grasses for contrast. It’s functional and promotes an ideal playing surface for a public golf course. The turf is maintained with a simple single-row irrigation system that struggles to reach the outskirts of the fairway. The fairways are by no means tight, but they play firm, especially towards the edges. The lack of water allows the native grasses to play perfectly. They are light, whispy and easy to find balls in – the perfect mix of playability and unpredictability.
DeVries’ routing at Diamond Springs is stellar. The opening holes wind through the property’s least interesting topography. He counters the flat land with some of the course’s boldest green complexes.
The land gets a nice roll to it on the par-5 8th and cresting the back of the green offers a dramatic reveal, Diamond Springs’ beautiful ravine. The 9th gives golfers a tease of what’s to come before heading back to the flatter land for the start of the back nine.
The 9th tee shot plays over a dramatic ravine
The 10th through 13th holes play across modest rolling land before the routing hits it’s closing crescendo along the ravines. The final five play over, around and along the ravine. It’s cadence, variety and landscape reminded me of one of my favorite courses, Shoreacres.
Before I keep gushing…
I’d be remiss to not mention, there are a two offensive aspects to Diamond Springs. The first, a centerline pond on the par-4 6th. This was not in the original design. It was a bunker that became a pond shortly after the course was opened. It should be drained immediately.
The second is a set two centerline pines on the 11th that I gather the owners insisted be kept. Will managed to split these two trees when we played. I would prefer to split them with an axe.
Diamond Springs has holes that are good enough to stand out on any course:
Hole #2 – par 4 – 358/310/265/231 yards
The shortish par four makes the most of what it’s got. A bunker and bold mound on the left generate interest off the tee. It provides a number of options – play over, next to or around. Each option has a different benefit depending on the day’s pin position on the stunning lion’s mouth green.
Hole #5 – par 3 – 189/159/137/98 yards
The green at the par-3 5th blew my mind. It is one of the boldest greens I have seen from a modern architect, especially on a public course in rural Michigan. DeVries pulled off a putting surface that plays like the love child of a redan and a biarritz. In the front portion of the green a kicker slope on the left funnels shots toward the center before a deep swale divides the green in two parts.
Hole #9 – par 4 – 426/389/378/333 yards
DeVries resisted the temptation using the ravine too early in the round. The result is a reveal that provides a great deal of shock and awe. The 9th tee shot tests a players appetite for risk. Cutting in front of the tee and down the left side, the ideal angle to approach the green is from the bold left line.
Hole #15 – par 4 – 322/280/224/167 yards
One of the most dramatic short par-4s in golf, the 15th fits the land beautifully. The drivable par-4 plays around the ravine to a shallow and wide green which slopes from left to right from the tee. The hole allows a safe layup left, but will leave a semi-blind approach shot to a narrow green that runs away. The best layup challenges the ravine on the right and will leave a flat lie and clean view of the green.
The 15th bears a shocking resemblance to the 7th at Cal Club, a hole built four years after Diamond Springs.
Cal Club's 7th
Hole #18 – par 4 403/319/285/257 yards
After two more holes along the ravine, Diamond Springs comes to a close with the beautiful par-4 18th. The play off the tee forces a choice – playing up the right shortens the approach but brings into play the ravine. Playing up the left is far safer and provides a better angle to the green but will leave a far longer approach shot. A fitting closer to a course that asks stimulating and varied questions on each hole.
One of the most beautiful aspects of golf is never knowing when or where you will find a hidden gem that reignites your passion. During my round, I found myself dreaming of what Diamond Springs could be with a country club maintenance budget. I had to pinch myself and realize that what Diamond Springs is today is everything that a community golf course should be. Endlessly interesting, playable for all types of players, walkable and affordable.