Hills Heart of the Lakes Golf Course Review

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Hills Heart of the Lakes Golf Course
Brooklyn, Michigan (near Jackson)

Grade: A
Teacher’s Comments: Best conditions I’ve seen all year. A fun course.

The “Hill” in Hills Heart of the Lakes is owner Mike Hill, former PGA and Champions Tour pro. A Jackson, Michigan native, Mike HIll won three times on the PGA Tour and eighteen times on the Champions (then Senior) Tour. He was the Champions Tour money leader in 1991. The story is that Hill bought the course after cashing the biggest winners check of his career in the early 1990s.

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Hill’s Heart of the Lakes consists of two distinct nines. The front nine (the original course before Hill expanded it) is definitely old school, with closely laid, parallel fairways. Light stands of mature trees define the spaces between the holes. You cannot possibly lose a ball in those trees, but you may very well find your line to the green blocked. The trees also work to prevent the front from becoming a shooting gallery between fairways.

All but the ninth on the front are straight shots. Elevation changes, however, keep it interesting.

I love the front nine and wanted to play it again immediately after finishing.

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The back nine meanders more, with greater space between the fairways. Just two of the fairways can really be said to run in parallel. On this nine, the first six holes are cut through fairly open terrain that clearly once was farmland. Even so, these are interesting holes with the elevation changes. Youngish trees dot the edges of the fairways there. The finishing three, however, are cut through forest.

Both nines are hilly, and elevation changes on virtually every hole make the layout interesting. It is still quite walkable. I was one of many on foot that day, including quite a few seniors and ladies.

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The entire course is fun, but where it really stands out is in the conditioning. It is simply the best-kept golf course I have played in many years, particularly on the front nine. The greens were immaculate—a major accomplishment after the harsh winter of 2013 – 2014. And the fairways … the fairways were like walking on a carpet. All grass and soft but not squishy. I imagine that Augusta National must have fairways and greens like Hills’. If there was a stray weed, I didn’t see it.

Spaces between the holes and on the course edges also are well kept. It is clear that Mike Hill and the management take great pride in the course.

The course is not long, playing 5,472 from the back tees. It does not have a slope or course rating listed, but I have seen it as 67.9/120.

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My favorite hole is the first (above) a 500 yard straight par five. It plays slightly downhill initially, then back up to the green. It sets a good tone for the course that follows. I think that all courses ought to start with a relatively easy par five. It gets people in, and gets them moving. The worst design decision is to start with a par three.

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The par threes on the front nine (there are three of them) are all fun. The third, a 145 yarder, plays across two knobs on the same hill. The green is at the same elevation as the tee box, but is across a dip. Miss right, and you’re in a steep bunker. Miss long or left and you’ll roll downhill. The fourth is a 195 yard par three that’s at least a club and a half downhill. Think about your club selection here. Finally, the eighth (above) is a 150 yard shot from an elevated tee that needs to traverse a valley and pond to an equally elevated green. I needed an extra club on this.

Another hole I really liked was the par four twelfth. It is a dogleg right that measures 365 yards. From an elevated tee, you need to clear a gully to get a view of the green, while avoiding the bunker left and a steep hill right. The fairway then dives downhill to another gully before climbing back upward slightly to the green. Lots of things to think about there.

I have a story about the eighteenth that I got from a friend who played the course quite a bit during his younger days: The eighteenth is cut tightly through a wooded area, measures 280 and bends slightly to the right. The second shot is very steeply uphill to a plateau for the green.

At any rate, my friend and his partners were having an awful time with the hole, smashing their drivers into awkward spots and cussing up a storm about how much they hated it. At that point, the nearby maintenance worker came over and said “If you guys would just play this hole smart, it’s easy.” It was Mike Hill. He then borrowed clubs and played with them, picking the hole apart with two precise irons.

Lesson learned. Play smart, and you can score better without a better swing.

Rates are very good: $18 walking and $27 with a cart.

Brooklyn, Michigan might be a little out of the way, but I think it is worth the trip. I used to play there on a regular basis, and after visiting to write this review, wonder how it got off my regular rotation. Highly Recommended.

Originally published August 14 2014

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