The Emerald Golf Course Review

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The Emerald
St. John’s, Michigan

Grade: B+
Teacher’s Comments: Enjoyable, with lots of variety on the holes.

Anyone in Michigan travelling “Up North” along US 127 from Lansing will pass The Emerald on the left hand side just seven miles north of St. John’s. I passed by for years, each time thinking that “one day I’m going to stop and play.” In the end, I made a special trip, and am glad that I did so.

Originally a 9 hole private club, The Emerald reopened in 1996 after expansion and a reworking by Jerry Matthews. Since then, it’s been on several golf publications’ “Best of” lists.

The design offers a great deal of variety. There are doglegs left and right, and a double dogleg; open holes and tree-lined; downhill tee shots and uphill approaches; fairways that skirt water, and others in no danger at all. Add to this five ponds, and forty some sand traps. Some holes require target golf; others are grip-it-and-rip-it runways. The Emerald is generally flat, however, except for the holes that play along and over the creek that runs through much of the property.

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If you can’t find a hole (or three) at The Emerald that you like, you’re not looking. I actually enjoyed them all except the par 3 fourth, which I thought excessively long, even from the middle tees at 207 yards. There’s no reason for a par 3 of that length. In my mind, a par 3 should require something of the player other than distance (precision, or distance judgment). The average golfer hits the driver 200 yards. Thus, this is yet another driver hole for the bogey golfer.

Players could potentially punish themselves at The Emerald. From the back tees, it measures 6,599 and plays to a 72.3/142. There’s no need to do this. From the middle, the course measures 5,867 and with a rating and slope of 68.7/128. That’s a much more reasonable length and difficulty level for the bogey golfer. Unless you’re a single digit handicapper, play from the middle tees and you will have a lot of fun at The Emerald.


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Conditions on the day I played in late September were very good. Even in the “off-season,” fairways and tee boxes were in good repair. What leaves had fallen were cleared. Greens were excellent—fast and smooth.

After the round, I commented on the nice conditions to the manager, and he lamented that although they spend just as much—if not more—on maintenance during the fall, convention demanded that he lower his prices. I wanted to explain to him that it was a matter of demand, and not necessarily his costs, but ignored the impulse. Still, it was a good sign.

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The Emerald offers a good value even at peak.. As of this writing, the price is $35 with cart Monday through Thursday. On weekends, 18 with cart is $55. But don’t take a cart. Walk. I found it to be a very walkable course, with the exception of a couple of holes with will make your thighs scream.

Here’s my suggestion, though. Play The Emerald in the fall to enjoy the color. Then head just a mile further north to Uncle John’s Fruit House and Winery. There, you can get a fresh apple cider (or even better, a hard cider) and donuts or a piece of pie. Uncle John’s is a landmark worth visiting all of its own.

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The Emerald Golf Course Review originally was published September 2012

More photos of The Emerald follow:



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