The South Course at Arcadia Buffs
Teachers’ Comments: Unique geometry makes this a very interesting course.
Since it opened in 1999, Arcadia Bluffs has been in every conversation about the best golf course in Michigan. As a stay-and-play resort, however, it lagged behind others such as Boyne, Treetops, Gull Lake and Tulllymore/St. Ives., which could offer multiple courses for overnight guests.
In 2018, Arcadia bucked the nationwide trend of golf contraction by expanding with “The South.” Located just a couple of minutes south of “The Bluffs,” The South offers that much-needed second course. Golfers now can play one course, have dinner and stay overnight at the upscale facilities at The Bluffs, and play the other course the following day.
The South bucked another trend as well. While courses today are lauded for their minimalist, natural, organic looks, The South is aggressively geometric. Tee boxes are rectangular, with 90 degree corners; the large greens are squared; bunkers are rectangular and at precise angles to the fairway. It is Piet Mondrian, Cubist, Bauhaus.
Still, there is a lot of the traditional here. The fairways are wide, offering multiple lines of play. It plays firm and fast — for a Michigan course. The bunkers have steep grass faces. Promotional material for the course says that it is designed to channel the design philosophies of CB Macdonald and Seth Raynor. I have not had the good fortune to play a course designed by either of those luminaries, but have played “Old MacDonald,” which is Tom Doak’s tribute to CB MacDonald. It does indeed have some of the same vibe. It’s hard to miss the fairways, but often difficult to get the ball in the right position. The South is treeless. It plays fast. Wind is a factor.
All of those factors make Arcadia’s South Course a lot of fun. As soon as I finished, I wanted to play again. There are a lot of puzzles to solve here, but it doesn’t beat you up as you work them out.
The routing of The South at Arcadia Bluffs is very clever. The two nines each contain a mix of north, south, east and west-facing holes, bringing the wind into play in an ever changing rotation. With one hole you’re into the wind; on the next it’s coming in from the right. On the following it’s behind you.
From the back tees, The South stretches to 7, 412 yards and plays to a 75.6/132. The middle tees are in at 6, 380 and play to a 70.6/125. In all there are five sets of tees, ranging from 5, 2261 to 7, 412 yards. In a nice touch, three of the tees are rated for women players. We need to see more of that in golf. I have often wondered why people think that men need three choices of tees, while women all have the same level of skill.
Conditions on the day I played were very good. As 2018 is the first year The South is open, that is really encouraging. In recent years, I have played several newly-opened courses and none were in as good a shape as this.
My favorite hole was the par four fifteenth. A short par 4, it plays downhill with a slight dogleg right. The fifteenth is a short hole, but it is littered with bunkers: Three rectangular ones at 45 degree angles are located on the right, which along with a fairway center pot bunker, challenge anyone taking the short route to the inside. The outside has a bunker at the bend. A short rectangular bunker lies directly in front of the green while two other are left and right. The green is tricky and small compared to the others on the course. There is just so much to think about with this hole.
The most memorable features on The South Course are the bunkers. The rectangular shapes, set at 90- and 45-degree angles to the fairway, with their steep, grassy faces are unique in my experience.
While every hole has the distinct angular features, the bunkers on two stand out. On the thirteenth, long, narrow, high backed bunkers slash across the fairway in a nearly uninterrupted line. I suspect that the grass path between the bunkers is there only to facilitate movement. The bunkers are not likely to come into play unless you make a bad second shot, but they do get into your head.
The seventeenth at The South Course at Arcadia Buffs is a 417 yard par 4. Note the parallel, stepped bunkers on the left.The seventeenth features three very creative stepped, rectangular bunkers. You can see them in the photo above on the left. They’re like the Church Pews at Oakmont but elevated. They’re “Risers,” or “Bleachers.” The photo below shows the bunkers from the side.
Along with the rectangular tee boxes and greens, the ever-present rectangular bunkers really give The South a character that won’t soon be forgotten. This is a course that, in its way, is just as memorable as Arcadia Bluffs. It is a great addition to the resort.
I eagerly await Arcadia’s third course. Not that any has even been rumored, but one can hope. They’ve got a great track record.
The South Course at Arcadia Bluffs Golf Course Review was first published October 15, 2018 from a round played in September 2018.
A photo tour of Arcadia Bluffs South Course follows: