Green Oaks Golf Course Review
Green Oaks Golf Course
Teacher’s Comments: My home course. A terrific value.
Green Oaks, in Ypsilanti Township (MI), has been my home course for more than a few years. It is in many ways the best of what a municipal golf course can be. Green Oaks is tidy, with challenging golf at a good price. Everyone I have met there — from the staff to the players — are friendly and welcoming. My poor play aside, I never fail to have a good time at Green Oaks.
Like many Michigan layouts, Green Oaks is a tale of two nines. The front nine is a more open parklands style course, with holes running in parallel, separated by narrow lines of trees. While it looks relatively flat, there are just enough elevation changes to make an experienced player think about club selection.
The par 4 fourth is a good example. At first glance from the tee, it looks like a straight shot. However, starting at the 200 mark, the fairway runs slightly downhill to a depression anchored on the right by a pond (you can’t see it in the photo because it’s on the other side of the trees).
Shortish tee shots often will land on the downhill slope, making a long shot into the green that much more difficult. From the depression — at about the 180 mark — the fairway then runs slightly back uphill to a green that slopes back to front.
With the slight uphill, and the green that slopes back to front, players in all likelihood, will need a half- to a full extra club. I often find myself thinking: do I hit a hard six into the green, or choke up a tad on the five hybrid?
My favorite hole on the front nine, however, is the par 4 seventh. The 404 yard hole is a dogleg left, with a huge tree on the inside of the bend. The trick is to either a) bend your shot around the tree, or b) hit a straight shot out that stops short of the tree line on the right.
The illustration shows a bunker at the turn that no longer is there, but the tree line is difficult enough to avoid.
The second shot is into a green that slopes left to right, with a large mound anchoring the left, and bunkers on the right. The safe shot is into the green left of the bunker. Most of the green, however, is to the right of that line.
The back nine is more hilly and wooded. My favorite hole on that nine is the par 4 thirteenth. This 403 yard par four plays uphill from the tee to the bend. A bunker is on the inside corner, and again, a tree line threatens the outside line. Cutting the inside corner can take twenty yards off your approach shot, but brings the bunker and more trees into play.
The green slopes severely from back to front and has a large false front that visually makes it seem closer than it is.
Another great hole on the back nine is the par four fourteenth. The 394 yard hole begins over a pond (which really is not a threat to any but the worst tee shots), and then doglegs right to the hole. Any attempt to hug the inside of the turn to shorten the shot brings all sorts of trees into play. From the tee, the hole dips down to the pond, then rises again to the 150 mark, where it plateaus to the green.
Green Oaks demands a lot of accuracy off the tee. Fairways are narrow and the trees are mature. A shot that wanders offline is likely to get stuck behind a trunk, adding a shot for extrication. I have become quite the expert at playing a punch shot out of the trees back to the fairway.
Like any good golf course design, Green Oaks rewards repeated play. There are a lot of subtleties. The approach shot on seventeen needs an extra club even though it looks downhill. It’s better to be wide on the dogleg eighth. Play the sixteenth as though it’s a par five. And so on.
No one I have ever spoken to seems to know who designed Green Oaks. In several places, the architect is listed as R.W. Bills. However, I have seen the course’s longtime pro, Leon Jackson (for whom the pro shop is named) listed as the designer.
In any case, I find it hard to imagine that much dirt was moved to create Green Oaks. The course was built in 1967 (or thereabouts) on a site that once held housing for the nearby Willow Run bomber plant, which built the B-24 Liberator during WWII. To me, the course feels entirely “found,” rather than sculpted.
From the tips, Green Oaks stretches to 6, 787 yards, where it plays to a 72.4/126. I generally tee it up from the whites at 6, 163. The white tees play to a 69.7/120. The course will likely need to be re-rated by the Golf Association of Michigan, however, because in recent years, the greens have gotten significantly smaller.
Conditions at Green Oaks are good for a muni. The greens are always in great shape. The fairway are covered with mowed green stuff that, if not always grass, usually provide a good lie. The dry hardpan that once plagued the course largely is gone, thanks to aeration.
In the interest of full disclosure, here are some criticisms to go with my otherwise glowing review:
Curiously, the greens seem to be shrinking in size. No one in charge admits to knowing anything about it, but long-time players all have noticed. The reduction is happening slowly, and over the course of a couple of years. It’s almost as if they are taking the “how to boil a frog” strategy. I suspect that reducing green size is reducing costs.
Bunkers also need some care. Whoever rakes them with the machine needs to get the rake higher off the ground before leaving the bunker, because sand is being dragged out, creating strange tails.
Further, in places, ancient underground pipes are springing leaks, creating tiny impromptu ponds on some of the fairways. Grounds no sooner gets one fixed than another opens up. It doesn’t really interfere with play, but if you’re walking, you’ll notice it.
No one will mistake Green Oaks for a plush country club course, but then again, you’re not paying country club prices.
And speaking of walking, I have yet to find a course that is as walking friendly as Green Oaks. It’s not just that Green Oaks is relatively flat and the holes follow closely one-on-the-other. There’s a culture of walking at Green Oaks. On some courses, the pro shop and other players give you strange looks if you are a walker. At Green Oaks, it almost seems to be encouraged.
Depending on when I tee off, I can usually walk a round at Green Oaks in well under three hours. As far as I’m concerned, there’s no better exercise.
If you have not been back to Green Oaks in several years, I recommend you give it a try. The current grounds crews are doing a really good job with the apparently limited budget they’re working with. The pro shop staff, featuring Kirk and Clayton are friendly, helpful and dedicated.
I honestly think that Green Oaks offers the best value for golf in the Ypsilanti – Ann Arbor area. Ypsilanti Township has a real treasure on their hands with this course.
The Green Oaks Golf Course review was published October 16, 2019, and is based on impressions from playing the course a couple of times a week for many years.
A course tour of Green Oaks follows: