Classic Golf Courses In Michigan You Can Play

Washtenaw Golf Club’s 18th.

Classic Golf Courses In Michigan You Can Play

While many of the most historic golf courses in Michigan are private clubs, there is an impressive list of publicly accessible courses with historically significant architects, including Donald Ross, Alister MacKenzie, Perry Maxwell, Tom Bendelow, Wilfrid Reid, William Connellan, Willie Watson and William Way.

The sixteenth at Washtenaw in 2021.

Washtenaw Golf Club, Ypsilanti

One of the oldest golf clubs in the state, Washtenaw Golf Club dates to 1899. In those days, members took a train from Ann Arbor to a station right outside the course’s entrance.

The original holes of the course were designed by Bert Way (Firestone, Detroit Country Club), while the remaining were built under the supervision of John H. Sweeny.

In 1955, three Major Championship winners teed it up at the Michigan Open at Washtenaw: Horton Smith (1934, 1936 Masters), Chick Harbert (1954 PGA) and Wall Burkemo (1953 PGA), along with future Michigan Hall of Famers Chuck Kocsis, Al Waltrous and John Barnum.

Long a private club, Washtenaw has been opened to the public under the ownership of Michigan Golf Hall of Famer Dave Kendall. Noted architect Ray Hearn has developed a master plan to restore Washtenaw to the design of its glory days in the 1920s and 1930s.

Washtenaw Golf Club is the GolfBlogger’s home course and I never tire of playing it. It is a must play for every Michigan golfer.

A view of the green on the ninth hole at Belvedere.

Belvedere, Charlevoix

Belvedere Golf Club, near Charlevoix, dates to 1925. The Willie Watson (Olympic Club) design has hosted the Michigan Amateur forty times. World Golf Hall of Famer Tom Watson spent summers on the course as a boy; a locker with his name is still in the clubhouse.

In 2016, Willie Watson’s original plans for the course were discovered in an old building in Charlevoix that had been marked for destruction. With the aid of architect Bruce Hepner and course superintendent Rick Grunch, the club used the plans to bring Watson’s original design back to life.

It’s one of my favorite courses in the state. Belvedere is another must-play.

Read GolfBlogger’s Belvedere Golf Club Review

The scary green of the sixth at the University of Michigan golf course
The green of the sixth at the University of Michigan golf course

The University of Michigan Golf Course, Ann Arbor

While most golfers will never get the chance to play Augusta National, Cypress Point or Crystal Downs, they can play another course by famed Architect Alister MacKenzie: The University of Michigan Golf Course.

Sitting across from The Big House, the course was built in 1931 and is a collaboration between MacKenzie and Perry Maxwell (Crystal Downs, National Golf Links, Southern Hills).

The course is surprisingly hilly (as is Augusta), and has imaginative greens complexes (such as the sixth, pictured above).

While naturally focusing on affiliated golfers (students, staff, alumni, donors and parents), there also are opportunities for “unaffiliated guests” to play.

A view from the fairway on Monroe G&CC’s eighteenth.

Monroe Golf Club, Monroe

Monroe Golf Club is on the short list of Donald Ross courses in Michigan open to the public.

Built in 1919, Monroe is utterly charming. The parklands course is tight, with tree lined, parallel fairways. Relatively small greens are flanked by bunkers. In so many ways, it reminds me of other Southeast Michigan Ross courses I have played (Oakland Hills, Detroit Golf Club, Western, Rackham, Warren Valley).

If you are a fan of Ross courses, or if you just want to experience one, Monroe Golf Club is one to visit.

You can read my Monroe Golf and Country Club review at the link.

The first at The Cascades is a 573 yard par five.

Cascades Golf Course, Jackson

Tom Bendelow was the Johnny Appleseed of American Golf. From 1895 to 1936, Bendelow designed more than 700 courses, including such classics as Medinah, Birmingham Country Club and Muskegon Country Club. Many of Bendelow’s course were later revised by other architects, so his courses often lie beneath.

The Cascades course in Jackson was designed by Bendelow in 1927. It’s a municipal course that has been played by both Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus. An old-timer I played with showed me where Palmer cut the corner on a hole to card an eagle.

For a muni, Cascades has a lot going for it.

Read GolfBlogger’s Cascades Course Review

Fifteen at Atlas Valley is a 442 yard par 5

Atlas Valley, Grand Blanc

Another classic Tom Bendelow design, Atlas Valley dates to 1912, when it was built for early automobile titans William Durant (GM) and Albert Champion (among others). The course has gone through numerous name and ownership changes through the years and now is open to the public.

Atlas Valley has an impressive routing that takes full advantage of a valley created by Kearsley Creek. More than half the holes play into — or out of — that valley. The remainder play in the valley or on the ridges above.

Bendelow did a good job here.

Read GolfBlogger’s Atlas Valley Golf Course Review

The eighteenth at Flushing Valley is a 399 yard par 4.

Flushing Valley Golf Club, Flushing

Built in 1930, Flushing Valley is a Wilfred Reid design (Olympic Club’s Lakeside course, the Old Course At Indianwood). The formerly private course now is open to the public.

As the name suggests, the course is routed along a river valley (the Flint River). It’s not a long course, but tight fairways and small greens should offer sufficient challenge.

Of note, however, only the original nine are Reid holes. The remainder were built in 1973.

Read GolfBlogger’s Flushing Valley Golf Course Review

Brae Burn Vista

Brae Burn, Plymouth

Braeburn, near Plymouth, opened in 1923 as a Wilfrid Reid and William Connellan design

As with many classic courses, Brae Burn is on the short side. It does, however, feature “The Monster,” a 617 yard double dogleg par 5.

The presence of The Monster, however, makes me a little dubious that all eighteen holes at Brae Burn are Reid-Connellian designs. Like any number of other places, it seems likely to me that this Brae Burn started as a nine-holer and later expanded.

The eighteenth at Arbor Hills is a 520 yard par five

Arbor Hills, Jackson

A former country club, Arbor Hills was built in 1925 by Arthur Hamm, who is said to be a protege of Donald Ross.

Hamm is not a household name, but Arbor Hills should delight fans of classic golf architecture. The course exudes history, with its back and forth routing and interesting green complexes.

Writing about it reminds me that I need to make another trip to play.

Read GolfBlogger’s Arbor Hills golf course review.

The thirteenth at Rackham is a 213 yard par 3.

Rackham, Huntington Woods

Rackham was designed in 1923 on land donated to the city of Detroit by Horace Rackham. Unfortunately, while it still has eighteen holes, just over half of Ross’s original design remains.

In 1983, parts of the course were commandeered for the construction of I-696. The front half of the course was redesigned and rerouted; only the seventh and ninth are original.

The back nine, on the other hand, is said to be as Ross intended.

There is a lot of history on this course. It was one of the few courses open to African Americans and so attracted many of Detroit’s luminaries, including boxer Joe Louis. Longtime Rackham pro Ben Davis was the first African American member of the Michigan PGA.

In addition to the Ross branding, Rackham also features an amazing clubhouse designed by Albert Kahn, known as the “Architect of Detroit.” Among other structures, Kahn also designed the Fisher Building and Detroit Golf Club’s clubhouse.

Read GolfBlogger’s Rackham Golf Course Review

Huron Hills in December

Huron Hills, Ann Arbor

Huron Hills is a Tom Bendelow from 1922.

The course is short, at 5, 071 yards, but interesting. The front seven is on one side of Huron Parkway; the remainder are in the hills on the other side, with some terrific views of the Huron River from the heights.

Warren Valley

Warren Valley, Dearborn Heights

Warren Valley boasts of two Donald Ross courses. As with Western Golf and Country Club, it is built along the heights and plains along the River Rouge. While I am dubious about how much of the original design remains — as with Rackham, roadways have intervened — I think the holes have a similar feel to Western, for which the provenance is unchallenged.

I’ve played on several occasions in outings, and unfortunately have found conditions there generally lacking. Hopefully, things have improved since my last playing.

Read GolfBlogger’s Warren Valley Review

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