Elk Ridge Golf Club
Teacher’s Comments: One of the best examples of Northern Michigan Golf
An exemplar of “Up North” Michigan golf, Elk Ridge features the wide tree lined fairways, elevation changes and sense of immensity that are the hallmarks of the type. Built on 400 acres of hill, wood, marsh and field, each hole at Elk Ridge remains a private world.
Elk Ridge was designed by Bruce Matthews and is regarded as one his best works. The course was ranked as #95 in Golf Digest’s 1993 rankings of the 100 greatest public golf courses.
From the back tees, Elk Ridge measures 7,072 yards and plays to a 76.8/145. That’s brutal.
The white tees are at 6,113 yards and play to a 71.8/130.
More important than the distance difference in the tees, however, is that on many holes there is a significant difference in the angles. Different tees require players to bite off different chunks of the course.
The first three holes play downhill from the clubhouse through thick, forested terrain. The course then opens up a bit, introducing marsh and water to the mix. Starting on the eighth hole it climbs up and away from the marsh back into woods.
The first (above) actually was one of my favorite holes. From an elevated tee, the hole drops steeply to a dogleg right, guarded on the bend by a bunker. From there, it runs straight, dips down, then rises again to an elevated green. The hole is 393 from the blues.
This is one of nine holes on that favor the player who can hit a fade—or at least a controlled slice.
Another memorable hole on the front nine is the 529-yard par five third. This double dogleg par five starts from a slightly elevated tee, then doglegs right just where a good tee shot would land. A bunker protects the far edge. I ended up in the bunker. From there, the second rises uphill to a dogleg left protected by a corner bunker. The hole then finishes at a slightly elevated green beautifully framed by trees with a lake in the background.
The tenth hole (above) is a par three which features a precipitous 100+ drop over a curiously pig shaped bunker. The whimsy can be excused though, because owner Lou Schmidt, is also the founder of Honey Baked Ham.
The clubhouse serves Honey Baked Ham sandwiches, which are to die for.
The “bombs away” par three has become a staple of Northern Michigan golf since Robert Trent Jones introduced it at Treetops on his 1985 “Masterpiece” course. That course features a 120 foot drop into the Pigeon River valley. The hole is as imitated in Michigan as is Pete Dye’s Sawgrass island hole across the country.
Once you’re back in the valley, the course wanders gain through a mix of woodland and marsh, with rolling terrain.
The course’s official “signature” hole is the 367-yard par four sixteenth (above), which starts at an elevated tee, then wraps left around a lake. It measures 381 yards, and long drivers could possibly cut off a big chunk of the distance by flying it over the lake leaving just a wedge. A more sensible line of attack will leave you with a shot of 130 or so yards to a steeply elevated green.
For my money, though, the best hole on the course is the 554 yard par five thirteenth (at top of the page). The tee shot is wide and safe, but then the hole turns right and narrows dangerously around a lake that runs along the left side. The right is threatened by trees set very close to the fairway. The third shot will be to an elevated green, protected by front bunkers.
In spite of warnings to the contrary, I walked Elk Ridge and found that—but for two stretches—it was a reasonable hike. The two tough stretches are from the ninth green uphill to the clubhouse, and again from the eighteenth green to the clubhouse. Indeed, those climb are so steep I wonder how the carts manage.
Conditions on the day I played were terrific. The tee boxes, fairways and green were all in top shape. The entire course exudes that certain air of quality that you find at top end resorts and private clubs. Elk Ridge actually doesn’t schedule late afternoon tee times so it can perform maintenance. In fact, when I finished at six pm, the clubhouse was closed and the place basically deserted.
That was disappointing, because I wanted to get a ball marker.
Rates for Elk Ridge are pretty reasonable, given the course quality. The 2014 summer rates are $50 during the week and $75 on the weekend. That’s significantly more than a Michigan muni, but is also somewhat less than some other comparable quality Northern Michigan resort courses. In the end, I think it is a good value.
More photos follow: