Island Hills Golf Course Review
Island Hills Golf Course
Teacher’s Comments: This course has a little bit of everything: Field, forest, parkland, marsh, prairie and lakes
Island Hills has a little bit of everything in terms of style: parklands, woodlands, marshlands, open prairie, lakes, flatlands and knolls. The only Michigan landscape that’s missing from Island Hills are are actual hills of any stature.
In his design, Ray Hearn clearly took what the land offered and built a golf course to fit. The holes are individually generally quite good. The overall result, though, is a bit disjointed.
The first hole is an open, linksy affair. I thought to myself: ok, this should be fun. You don’t often see a links style course in southern Michigan.
Then, the second turned out to be a shot over a marsh into a parklands setting. The second is a par three over a marsh. Then there’s a par five through woodlands. Four and five are open, flat and linksy. Six heads back into woodlands. Seven, eight and nine are wooded. Ten is a prairie hole, eleven is on marshland. Twelve and thirteen are open fields. Fourteen starts in open fields and finishes in parkland, as does fifteen. Sixteen wraps around a large pond. Seventeen is all marsh — a precipitous downhill par three. After a blast over marsh, eighteen is a par five parklands hole.
Plenty of Michigan courses have front and back nines that vary significantly in character. Island Hills’ character changed from hole to hole.
I think it is probable that Island Hills’ golf course was built with an eye toward development. That certainly would explain the meandering routing. You can see it in the aerial photo here:
The holes in the lower portion of the photo above (4 – 7) run through open areas with road and plots awaiting homes. The image below shows how the back nine also is routed to accommodate homes.
There’s nothing particularly wrong with this. The developers need to make money. And Island Hills is clearly being billed as a resort area located within a couple hours’ drive of Chicago (2 hours), Detroit (2 hours) and Indianapolis (3 hours).
A clever aspect of Hearn’s design is that it permits several smaller routings. There is a 12 hole course, for example, that consists of the first, second, third, eighth, ninth, tenth, eleventh, twelfth, thirteenth, fourteenth, seventeenth and eighteenth holes on the regulation course. One of two seven hole routings consists of the tenth, eleventh, twelfth, thirteenth, fourteenth, seventeenth and eighteenth. There’s also a five hole layout that consists of the first, second, third, eighth and ninth.
In each of these, the distance from tee to green is minimal, and the shorter routing flows naturally from one green to the next tee on the scorecard. It’s really quite brilliant, and should be a feature on more courses.
Of note at Island Hills is the three hole finishing stretch.
The sixteenth is a downhill par four that wraps around a lake and finishes on a narrow peninsular green. There’s plenty of room to the right side of the fairway, but that takes you further from the green, and makes it less likely you will be hitting the required short iron on the approach.
The seventeenth is classic Michigan with a twist. A steep downhill par three is a staple of northern Michigan golf. This par three is downhill, but to a green surrounded by a vast marsh. The green is large, but it still requires great precision.
Eighteen is a curving par five that begins with a shot over a marsh, and ends with a shot over a creek to a slightly elevated green. Much depends upon how much of the marsh you decide to take on off the tee.
From the back tees, Island Hills clocks an impressive 7, 104 yards and plays to a 73.9/135. The middle tees are in at 6, 167 and play at 69.6/126. A bogey golfer can have fun from those tees. More forward, there are tees at 5, 470 and a 66.8/121. In all, Island Hills has six sets of tees. The shortest are interestingly only 3,003 yards with a slope/rating of 57.7/90.
If you can’t find an appropriate tee here, you’re not looking.
Conditions on the day I played were just so-so. There were bare spots in the fairways, and a couple of the greens were suffering. But to be fair, in the summer of 2020, a lot of courses were being hit hard by the weather.
One negative to my experience was that the pro put me out behind a six group outing that — due to the obvious amounts of alcohol they were imbibing, were playing very slowly. It strikes me that — when someone makes a tee time — you ought to tell them what they’re up against. If the pro had said “hey, I can give you a tee time, but you’re going to be behind a large outing,” I would have said no thanks and asked about another day. As it was, the round was painful and the experience not particularly enjoyable.
The Island Hills Golf Course Review was first published on GolfBlogger.Com on October 21, 2020 from notes and photos taken on a round played in the summer of 2020. For all of GolfBlogger’s Michigan Golf Course Reviews, follow the link.
A gallery of Island Hills Golf Course follows: