Teacher’s Comments: Icing without the cake.
The Gailes gets a lot of national press for its faux links design, but I’m going to take the contrarian stance and say that I wasn’t that impressed. My thought as I played was that someone had a checklist of links design cliches and just checked them off building proceeded. Double green? Check. Pot bunkers? Check Redan? Check. Putting approaches from the fairway? Check.
Then there the lack of a significant body of water. Cedar Lake is a thousand feet or so away; it is all of a mile or more to the shores of Lake Huron. The course also is surrounded by scrub forest, so I felt no lake breezes to account for. On the day I played, the air was entirely still. After the round, I drove to the shore for some photo-hunting, and noted that there were indeed breezes on that day. They just hadn’t made it to the course.
The result for me was something less than honest. I’ve not played a Scottish or Irish links, but somehow this didn’t feel right. I’ve never been to Morocco either, but I know the Morocco exhibit at Epcot Center isn’t authentic.
In my not-so-humble opinion, inland courses should drop the links pretense and instead embrace their own climate and geography. A wide open, grassy, treeless stretch of land in the interior of the United States is a “prairie.” Designers and course owners should embrace the prairie and make it as much a badge of golf honor as a links. Don’t say that your course is in the style of the great Scottish links; boast instead of unique prairie design. “Up North” golf in Michigan has its own brand cachet. So too should prairie golf.
The Gailes was built in 1992 from a design by Kevin Aldredge.
“So aside from that, Mrs. Lincoln, how did you enjoy the play?”
My skepticism about the links experience aside, the Gailes does offer challenging and often thoughtful golf. At the Gailes, golfers will find amoeba-like fairways that don’t always offer an evident line to the hole. In choosing from the many possible lines, golfers need to be acutely aware of the position of bunkers, many of which are in the middle of the fairways or blocking a direct line to the green.
On holes that are set up for the bump-and-run approach golfers must be able to anticipate the twists and turns of the mounding. Bunkers on other holes prevent that approach entirely.
The sometimes enormous greens offer another challenge. On the second hole, for example, I was unsure which flag on the double green I was supposed to target. The double 11th/14th green is so large that club selection is difficult. There’s probably a two club difference between front and back. Other greens are tiny, crowned things made more difficult by bunkering.
From the back tees, the Gailes extends to 6,954 yards and plays to a 74.0 / 138. The middle tees are at 6,073 and a 70/122. As usual, I recommend that the bogey golfer tee it forward to have fun.
Play on the day I visited was exceptionally slow. It is a difficult course, and too many are playing from the wrong tees. Finding a ball in the shaggy rough can be time consuming. Enormous, mounded greens slow down play as golfers take too much time plumb-bobbing putts that they aren’t going to make anyway.
I honestly don’t know how to rate the conditions. The rough was brown, scrubby and irregularly grown; the fairways and greens were less than lush and somewhat hard. Was that a deliberate move on management’s part to make it more “links-like”? Was it a particularly hard summer? Or was it just lack of care? I want to believe that the conditions were deliberate. However, since I spotted a number of dead or absolutely bare areas in the fairways, I am not entirely sure. It does occur to me, however, that maintaining “links” conditions in a non-links climate must be a delicate task with little margin for error. That’s especially true when the course tries to mow closely enough to allow players to use the links style strategy of running a ball to the hole from the fairway, especially with a putter.
The Gailes always seems to make the list of ten best public courses in Michigan. I have played most of the others that regularly make that list, and think the Gailes is a notch down from that elite company.
I think that there are two reasons the Gailes gets so many rave reviews. First, it is unusual, and the course does make as best an effort as it can to simulate links. Second, Lakewood Shores caters to buddy trips and outings. The resort has three courses, and lodging on site. I know two groups of 30+ who take trips to Lakewood Shores on an annual basis. They all swear that the courses there are the best in the state.
I suppose that if they’re having that much fun, who am I to argue?