West Branch, Michigan
Teacher’s Comments: A fun and beautiful course. Management needs to allow people to walk.
I’d be surprised if there’s a course more inappropriately named than The Nightmare. No bad dream, it’s instead a fun and beautiful layout that gives the bogey golfer a good chance to score well.
Cut through pine and broadleaf forests near West Branch, Michigan, The Nightmare’s most notable feature are the generously wide fairways and lack of trouble off the tee. If you’re even moderately accurate with the driver, you can grip it and rip it on every par four and five. The course tips out at 7020 from the blues and plays to a 73.9/132. I played from the white tees at 6527 (71.4/130) and don’t think it was as difficult as that might suggest. Had I not been stiff from the drive from Ann Arbor and blown up with a nine on the final hole, I think I could have broken 80.
The greens on the course are quite large, making the course even more accessible for the bogey golfer. There’s really no excuse for missing too many of these, but your first putt may be a long lag from the hole. That’s ok, though, because I found that the ball did just what I expected with the flat stick. There were no particularly tricky reads, or putts where I thought “wow, I didn’t see that coming.”
The Nightmare has two principal defenses: length and bunkers. Sixty five hundred-plus from the whites is quite a course. With the elevation changes, holes frequently played much longer. Fairway bunkers are the other threat. By my count, there were 34 such guarding the left or right (or both) sides of landing areas. An equal number guard the areas around the greens. Together, they have the potential to catch a player who is careless in lining up his shots. But playing out of the sand is not a certainty. I managed to avoid all until the 18th, when I caught two.
Course conditions on the day I played were terrific. The tee boxes, fairways and greens all were in top shape. Flowerbeds, fieldstone retaining walls, and other landscaping features added to the already beautiful north woods setting. The cart paths were in better condition than most of the roads in Ann Arbor. Mid afternoon, everything was still nicely cut.
It’d be difficult for me to pick a hole as my “favorite.” I thought the par 4 first, at 321 yards was a nice warm up. There’s no trouble off the tee, and the “rough” is so wide, I don’t think its possible to lose a ball here. The sixteenth (shown above) was a lot of fun, requiring a decently aimed tee shot, and an accurate iron to a hole set near water. The par 5 eighteenth is a nice way to finish. But in truth, all of the holes were pleasant. You can see a gallery of photos here.
The clubhouse is nothing to talk about, and the food is greatly overpriced, basic 7-11 fare. The Nightmare needs better meal facilities to match its ambitions as an upscale resort course. Eat in West Branch before your tee time, or play to return there after. That’s a minus for the course.
There are two other reasons why I don’t give The Nightmare top grades. The first is that they don’t allow walking. I asked at the clubhouse if I could walk, and the clerk said “its way too hilly to walk.” Pshaw. Aside from some graceful elevation changes and the long uphill sixth, there isn’t a topographic feature there worthy of the name “hill.” In fact, the course is perfectly designed for walking, with tees following relatively closely to greens (my guess is that the architect intended walkers). Ironically, my cart gave out on the last hole and I had to abandon it and walk in—carrying my bag. The truth is that carts are a cash cow for management, and they don’t want to take a chance of losing that money machine.
And that brings me to the other issue. As beautiful as the course is, The Nightmare is overpriced: $60 weekdays and $70 on weekends (Fri. – Sun.). That’s in the price range of top Gaylord resort courses. For me, West Branch is the place where we stop to refuel on the way to those Up North resorts, not a destination in itself. In my opinion, they’re over reaching. On the Friday I played, went around the entire course and saw just one other group, who kindly let me through. My recommendation is to play if you can get a steep discount.