Wednesday 28 November 2012

Kingsley Club

I had the good fortune to visit the Kingsley Club in the summer of 2009 on a golf trip organized by golf course architect Mike DeVries, who designed the course which opened in 2001.  While most die-hard golf course architecture enthusiasts are familiar with the Kingsley Club, I'm positive the general golfing public is unaware of this modern masterpiece, tucked away a half-hour south of Traverse City, Michigan.

The Kingsley Club is a great example of a golf course being found rather than constructed.  The site has remarkable golf contours, although in some places, they are a little more severe than desired.  Mike DeVries negotiated the previously clear-cut land wonderfully, taking full advantage of the macro and micro undulations, offering boldly contoured greens, heaving fairways and rugged, strategically located bunkers that combine for a thrilling round.  The freely-draining soils and club policy have conspired to develop a successful maintenance regime of firm and fast conditions which further accentuates the contours of the land, amplifying both the good and bad bounces.  Finally, the Kingsley Club has room to play, offering plenty of width to provide golfers with strategic decisions and encourage quicker rounds.
The simple entry into Kingsley Club.
An inviting opening tee shot, with a big reward to those who execute and carry the central bunker complex.
The green at No. 1 illustrates the many humps and bumps to be encountered throughout the round. 
No. 2 is a short par-three that becomes more intimidating with each round, here seen from behind, the front lobe of the green in tightly guarded by deep grass depressions right & sand and waste left.
Sand and waste protect the left side of No. 2 green, yielding the potential for a card-wrecker early in the round.
No. 3 provides an example of the rolling nature of the fairways at Kingsley Club.

A healthy percentage of drives at No. 4 end-up in a depression on the right side of the fairway, leaving a blind approach into a double punchbowl green.

This receptive punchbowl green comes at the end of the 222-yard semi-blind par three 5th.  Recovery shots can use the surrounding slopes in a variety of ways to get the ball near the hole.

The severe right-to-left slope of the fairway ay No. 6 demands players challenge the visible fairway bunkers to end up in the fairway with a clear view of the green.
The tee at No. 7 offers plays to a severely pinched landing area.  From a more forward tee, the hill encroaching into the fairway right sets up a nice diagonal carry to the hidden fairway beyond.
The bunker complex set into the right side ridge at No. 8 hides a wide fairway that serves as the ideal angle of approach.  The central bunker bisecting the fairway means many players will throttle back from the tee.
The southern tee at No. 9 plays to a narrow plateau green set at a slight angle to the tee.  A delicate recovery shot awaits any missed green.
The west tee at No. 9 is 60 degrees of orientation removed from the south tee, providing a very different look and yardage. Here the target is much shallower, although a generous bank left can funnel balls onto the green.
No. 10 plays through a shallow valley.
The 11th green plays much smaller than its size, with a false right side that rejects balls easily and yields dicey chips and pitches, especially to pins located on the back shelf.
On a course with plentiful bunkers (140 in all), No. 12 playing from a high tee into a deep valley is the only hole without sand.
The drivable par four 13th demands accurate approach play to avoid a tricky two-putt as the green is broken up into numerous compartments by the deep swale exiting the back right of the putting surface.
Bunkers hide the right hand portion of the 80-yard wide fairway at No. 14, steering players further left from the tee and lengthening the hole.
No. 15 is a dogleg left playing to a reverse cambered fairway, the long approach is best missed short of the narrow plateau green.  Unlike the others, this green appears to have been built on a fill pad and not at grade.  

No. 16 is a redan with plenty of slope and short grass right of the green to utilize in running a tee shot onto the putting surface.

If successful, a drive could slip by the central bunkers on either fairway at No. 17 and receive a giant roll-out making the green easily accessible in one less than regulation. (The left hand fairway has since been abandoned) 
Taken from the crest of the hill in the 17th fairway, drives or second shots reaching the bottom of the hill face a steeply uphill approach to a green with a devilish false front. (A new back tee makes driving beyond this point much rarer)
The final fairway in undulating and wide, a necessity for some after taking a swig from the bottle of scotch hidden in the stone wall beside the tee.  The green is tucked away in a hollow, potentially blind from out-of-position.
Kingsley Club stretches out over a 400 acre parcel of land, however, the course maintains an intimate feel by locating a number of tees and greens in close proximity to one another.  This close relationship between greens and tees also helps make the golf course walkable, for at times, the topography can be more than a little steep and arduous. 
By clearing trees beyond the 15th green and creating the diagonal line of bunkers between the holes, the 16th hole merges seamlessly with the preceding hole.
The figure eight routing at the start of the front nine creates a tightly pack group of holes that help the course feel whole, and not a collection of eighteen individual holes.  Here, in only 7 acres Mike DeVries has managed to incorporate the 1st, 2nd, 4th and 5th greens as well as the 2nd, 3rd, 5th and 6th tees. (Photo: Google Earth)
Everything about the Kingsley Club feels right, even the small temporary clubhouse.  This is a golf course I could play everyday and never tire of it as their appear to be myriad means by which to successfully navigate the complex assortment of hazards and undulations.

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