Indian River Golf Club
Teacher’s Comments: An oft-overlooked gem.
Indian River is a classic “Up North” golf course, featuring cathedral-like tree lined fairways in a beautiful, gently undulating setting. It is one of my favorite courses.
The course design at Indian River offers a nice variety. Six holes turn left, while an equal number bend right. Two of these are dead 90 degree turns; the remainder are more gentle, although they still require players to worry about which side of the fairway to hit. Two of the par fives have double bends. There’s really something here for every player.
Slicers will find Indian River friendly, with wide landing areas right in their wheelhouse. Hookers (such as The GolfBlogger), on the other hand will likely put a few into the woods. The holes tend to be more tight left than right. Water comes into play on five holes and there are some thirty sand traps, mostly around the greens.
One of the holes—the par four fifteenth—has over the years impressed me as a perfect golf hole. Measuring 392 from the tips, it is a 45 degree dogleg right with thick woods lining both sides of the fairway. From an elevated tee, the golfer is face with a choice: try to fly the bunker at the bend right, or play it safe to a wide landing space left.
Bold hitters can challenge the bunker, trying to fly the high back face to set up a wedge shot to the green. Hitting that bunker, however, will extract at least a one shot penalty.
More conservative players can play left to the wide landing area, but then will have a 150 or 160 yard shot to the green. The wide option, however, gives a nice clear angle to the green. Players who have flown the bunker for a shorter shot often have to contend with the right bunker and a mound in front of the green.
There is also the option of aiming the outside edge of the bunker and trying to fade the ball around it. Big hitting slicers also can try to challenge the bunker, but are at high risk of putting the ball into the woods.
From the back tees, Indian River stretches to 6,692 yards and plays to a 73.4/125. The more forward tees come in at 6,173 and are rated 71/122. Bogey golfers should plan on playing from the white tees. From the backs, the par fours typically stretch over 400 yards. That means that the typical bogey golfer—who statistics show drives the ball 200, but THINKS he hits it 30 yards longer—would be making 180+ yard second shots. Not fun. Play it forward so you can use a mid iron or shorter.
Conditions on the numerous times I’ve visited Indian River over the years have always been better than average. Greens and tee boxes are always in good shape. Some of the fairways can be a bit dry in the summer, and not all is entirely grass—there are always a few weeds. I’ve never seen any bare spots, however, and no signs of the dreaded wilt, either.
The club has made some good improvements in the last couple of years. The par 4 fourth has had a pond added. The par 3 seventeenth has been opened up with the removal of trees and the softening of the edges around the green. Both of those are an improvement on the old holes. In addition, some tee boxes have evidently been upgraded, most noticeably on the third.
I’m also a big fan of the uncut wild native grasses and plants that now fill the spaces between holes on the front four. I think the club should also do the same thing in the open, often bone dry areas between holes 12 and 14.
Indian River dates to 1922, and the card credits Warner Bowen with the design. However, Bowen’s other Michigan projects date to the 1960s and 1970s. The opening of Indian River seems too early for Bowen (although I can’t find any biographical info on him.) Several outside sources I’ve found credit the original nine to Wilfried Reid, who also produced the Olympic Club and Indianwood among others. Nineteen twenty two is right in the wheelhouse of Reid’s productive years in Michigan. If so, the expansion and reworking then likely go to Warner Bowen.
Prices are what you expect for a resort area course. Midweek peak hour rates are $61 with a cart. However, walking at twilight keeps the rates down to $39. My advice: walk at twilight. In midsummer, you can play golf in Northern Michigan until 9:30 at night, and Indian River is a very walkable course.
More photos follow: