Arbor Hills Golf Club Review
Overall Grade: B
Teacher’s Comments: Fun. I can’t wait to go back.
There is an ethereal feeling of sadness at Arbor Hills Country Club. Once an exclusive retreat in Jackson, Michigan, it has in the last year opened to public play, having apparently fallen victim to the state’s general economic malaise. Where once there was a pool full of laughing children, there now is an empty concrete hole. A fine snack bar/halfway house sits at the far end of the course, unmanned where once it would have provided employment to local teens. I was told that in recent memory Arbor Hills had a strong caddy program. No more.
None of this, however, affects the quality of the golf. Arbor Hills is a well-maintained gem for those who, like me, appreciate a classic parkland golf course. Built in 1925, it was designed by Arthur Hamm, who has been described as a protege of Donald Ross. Arbor Hills certainly has the tricky small greens, the bunkering and the strategy that you might expect of that vintage.
Not surprisingly, Arbor Hills is relatively short (6,239 yards) and tight. There’s no room to pull tee boxes back by thirty yards to accommodate new equipment. But thanks to old growth trees many of the lining the fairways, the course’s tightness makes up for it. If you’re wild off the tee, you will waste a lot of shots trying to get back into position.
Arbor Hills may have fallen on hard times, but management has not cut corners on course maintenance. Tee boxes, fairways, greens and bunkers all were in very good shape on the hot summer day I visited. That the course has had ninety years to mature probably makes it a lot easier to deal with.
My favorite hole at Arbor Hills was the par five 6th. Measuring 529 yards, it begins by angling left from the tee, over a stream. From about three hundred out, it cuts back right, before heading back left again. The green is elevated, huge and cut into a hillside. The size of the green is a real bonus. I was able, with a terrific drive and a monumental wallop with a three wood to get to the green in two. But that three wood was a low screamer; a smaller green, and I would have skipped off the back.
Another hole of note is the devilish little 148 yard par 3 thirteenth. That unlucky number has a blind tee shot. From the box, the shot must carry uphill to the green, which is sits far enough back on the plateau to escape positive identification. You can see the top of the flagstick, but unless you know the course well, that won’t tell you much. I aimed for the stick, was off line left and ended up with a positive result.
An interesting visual touch on the course are a series of low rock walls in the spaces between fairways, constructed, no doubt, from material removed during course construction. The course also has a picaresque series of bridges on holes four, five and six, on which a stream and marsh come into play.
I had the course entirely to myself on a Thursday morning. That’s too bad. Arbor Hills is a wonderful golf course, especially for the bogey golfer who hits it straight, but not far. It deserves more players (especially at the price), and I hope it gets enough to maintain the quality grooming.
The Arbor Hills Golf Course Review was first published September 3, 2008
More Arbor Hills Golf Course photos follow.