Eggsplorations is back from a nearly two-year hiatus! This series delves into trips for budget-conscious golfers who are looking for compelling architecture. Our first installment focused on Northern California.
In this edition, we head to Grand Rapids, Michigan, which boasts perhaps the best combination of affordable golf, quality course design, and fun non-golf activities in the United States. Within an hour of the city you’ll find four courses designed by some of the brightest minds in modern golf architecture. There’s also plenty to do between rounds and after the sun goes down. Add it all up and you have one of the most underrated golf destinations anywhere.
A DeVries trio
Diamond Springs (Hamilton, Michigan)
$40 weekend walking rate
The Grand Rapids area features a trio of courses designed by Mike DeVries, a renowned Michigan-based architect whose best-known courses include Cape Wickham in Tasmania and Greywalls on the Upper Peninsula. DeVries’s Diamond Springs, a 40-minute drive from downtown Grand Rapids, is inspiring from both a design and an agronomic standpoint. The routing and hole concepts are well executed. On sections of the property with less topographical interest, DeVries created drama with bold hazards and greens. The first five holes include a Lion’s Mouth, a reverse Redan, and a stunning hybrid of a Redan and a Biarritz. Starting on the 9th hole, however, the terrain takes center stage. A large ravine system runs through the next several holes, and DeVries uses simple designs, letting the land speak for itself.
Agronomically, Diamond Springs nails the value golf approach. The course maintains two heights of grass: a green cut and a gang-mown fairway cut. Fairway irrigation is handled by a single-row system, and the grasses bordering the fairways are natural, unirrigated, and supremely playable. So in terms of maintenance as well as design, Diamond Springs is an example that other low-budget courses can follow.
The 5th green at Diamond Springs, an example of Mike DeVries's more intricate work on the flatter sections of the property. Photo credit: Andy Johnson
Pilgrim’s Run (Pierson, Michigan)
$69 weekend walking rate
North of Grand Rapids is a Mike DeVries design in a drastically different landscape. Pilgrim’s Run is cut out of a dense Michigan forest and offers an intensely secluded experience. The course’s architectural backstory is a curious one: each of the six owners co-designed three holes with DeVries. This could have resulted in a hodgepodge disaster, but DeVries seems to have maintained control over the style of the course. His talent is especially evident at the greens. The contouring forces power players to execute precise shots while affording lower trajectory golfers slopes that can feed the ball to almost any pin. It doesn’t hurt that the site is stunning as well, with the stretch from 14 to 16 navigating particularly dramatic landforms. Of all the Grand Rapids-area public courses, Pilgrim’s Run is the most picturesque and maintains the highest standards of conditioning.
Above the 4th green at Pilgrim's Run. While the course is nestled into a dense forest, there is plenty of room to play. Photo credit: Andy Johnson
The Mines (Walker, Michigan)
$50 weekend walking rate
In the shadow of the Grand Rapids skyline (if you can call it that) is The Mines. Here Mike DeVries got to build on a former gypsum mine, which provided him lively terrain as well as heaps of sand. The property did come with some constraints, however—namely, power lines and a road. Since the routing has to hop around these obstacles, walking the course can be tough, and a few holes are squeezed together. But The Mines more than makes up for these limitations with several spectacular holes that can go toe-to-toe with any in Michigan. The opening four occupy one side of the road, and all are standout par 4s. Later, the sequence from 12 to 17 is nothing short of world-class. The Mines is a tremendous value—the only thing to keep in mind is that it’s closed on Sundays!
The 16th green at The Mines, in the midst of the course's best and most topographically exciting stretch. Photo credit: Andy Johnson
A unique collaboration
Stoatin Brae (Augusta, Michigan)
$75 weekend walking rate
With Tom Doak busy building another Michigan course (The Loop at Forest Dunes), the owners of Gull Lake View Golf Club and Resort hired Doak’s Renaissance Golf Design associates Eric Iverson, Brian Schneider, Brian Slawnik, and Don Placek to collaborate on the design at Stoatin Brae. This talented crew built a wonderful course on a tight budget. They allowed the natural movement of the land to stand out, particularly on the back nine, where holes 10-15 play over, along, and around a prominent knoll. To go with its restrained tee-to-green work, the Renaissance team created varied, thoughtfully shaped greens and surrounds. Lately, though, Stoatin Brae’s native grasses have become a bit of a problem, behaving for all intents and purposes like a water hazard. We can only hope that this exceptional design gets the stewardship it deserves.
Holes 9-14 at Stoatin Brae, which use the central knoll in a variety of ways. Photo credit: Andy Johnson
Elsewhere in the state…
If your trip to Michigan is a longer one, the state is filled with excellent public-access courses, from high-end resorts like Forest Dunes to a variety of courses that won’t break the bank.
More than golf…
What puts a bow on a Grand Rapids golf trip is the variety of appealing activities off the course. The city has a population of 200,000 but punches well above its weight culturally. It attracts musical acts, has a minor-league baseball team, and hosts one of the Midwest’s most vibrant craft beer scenes. A few local breweries to check out are Jolly Pumpkin, Brewery Vivant, Mitten, and of course the famous Founders.