Salem Hills Golf Club
Overall Grade: C-
Teacher’s Comments: Slow play and bad conditions made this an unpleasant experience.
Salem Hills is a potentially good golf course looking for better management.
From a routing and hole design point of view, I think that Salem Hills could be very good, indeed. It has good length and plenty of opportunity for strategy. It’s also very walkable.
But the course’s management, I think, lets it down and for me turned a potentially good experience into a bad one.
Course conditions were very poor. The fairways were dry and dying; the tee boxes were untended and the greens just adequate. (see photo, second from top, on right)
In a state blessed with the water resources of Michigan (we have Great Lakes and lots of pretty good ones, too) bone dry, and dying fairways and greens are inexcusable. Salem Hills fairways were by far the worst I have encountered this sumer. I blame that on management; they have retainign ponds and sprinklers; they should use them. (A rumor I heard from another player was that management is letting things go because they intend to sell the course to a real estate developer).
Pace of play also was horrible. At one point, we had five groups waiting on the same tee, waiting for a trio of Japanese players. I kept looking for a ranger to complain to, but there were none to be found. Eventually, one of the three groups waiting just quit and went back to the clubhouse; another headed back to a previous hole.
But the slow Japanese weren’t the only problem … and may not have ben the worst. All over the course, there were players in carts skipping across fairways, replaying holes and cutting between groups. This, I am sure, just caused more traffic jams and confusion. I am not sure that the five grous waiting on the tee were all there legitimately.
So where were the Rangers. There was one … and he was taking a nap in his cart on the 18th tee. Ironically, there was a sign on the back of his cart warning people to keep pace.
Actually, I should have known that something was up when I called to see if I could get a tee time. The pro shop attendant told me that I could get on the course as long as I teed off before 11:30.
“What happens then,” I asked.
“Nothing,” the attendant said. “We just don’t take tee times after that so we don’t interfere with the leagues.”
“And what time do the leagues start?”
I should have known that a golf course that won’t start anyone after 11:30 to clear the way for 3:30 leagues would have pace of play problems.
Think about that one. Salem Hills’ expectation was that a group that started at, say, noon, would not be able to make the turn in time to get out of the way for the 3:30 league.
Management issues aside, the course does offer a good test of golf. From the blues, Salem Hills clocks in at 6,992 yards with a Rating / Slope of 73.0 / 124.
My favorite hole on the course was the par 4 thirteenth … strangely, the same one where I was waiting with all of those groups. From an elevated tee, the fairway bends slightly left to the green.
The green sits on an elevated peninsula with the front and right side abutting a pond. A massively long sand trap sits betwene green and water.
The tee shot is key to this hole. To have a decent approach, you must slip your tee shot down the right side of the fairway. This will give you the correct angle to avoid the water.
The left side, however, is tree lined and branches and trunks occasionally will obscure your line to the hole. At the very least, a shot from the left requires you to hit toward the water and sand, rather than across it.
My own tee shot went left, and decidign that discretion was the better part of valor, I pitehed to the right side for a better angle.I managed bogey and was glad of it. (It also didn’t help that I had an audience of twelve watching and waiting).
The par 5 fourth is just a lot of fun because it lets you go all out. Measuring 578 yards, the hole bends slightly to the right. The entire right side is an out of bounds tree line and fence.
A good tee shot will head left, where there is plenty of room in the light rough for hookers. This leaves you with a nice straight shot toward the green with a fairway wood (my favorite type of club … I love to hit three woods from the fairway). I fell a little short of the green, hit a wedge and two putted for a par.
I also particularly enjoyed the finishing hole, a 476 yard par 5. It starts with an uphill blind tee shot. From the ridge line, the fairway then slopes down toward a pond on the left and back up again to a elevated green. The green is small and slopes severely down to the fairway. You’re not going to get any roll here. The landing zone for the second shot is tight, lying between the pond on the left and a tree topped slope on the right. Shots that land flush to the right slope may not have a line to the hole because of the trees.
Most of the greens (and I use the word loosely here—since they’re more like browns) are protected by large bunkers that cut fof angles from the fairway and rough. This stymied my usual pitch and run strategy for ups and downs’ I had to hit a lot of (for me) riskier sand and “A” wedge shots. If I were going to play this course again, I might also pack a lob wedge.
In spite of good course design, I’m not going back to Salem Hills until I see a sign out front that says “Under New Management.”
Originally published August 6, 2006