The new South course at Arcadia Bluffs will introduce what many people will think is a new style of golf course architecture when it opens up in northern Michigan in summer 2018.
The reality is, the South's linear look - characterized by its square greens and rectangular, steep-faced, flat-bottom bunkers - isn't new at all. The South course is being built as an ode to the Chicago Golf Club. Dating to 1894, the oldest 18-hole club in the United States is also one of golf's most exclusive. Only those with serious connections get to play its classic C.B. MacDonald and Seth Raynor design.
Architects Dana Fry and Jason Straka aren't just building another course. This one will be unique to public golf. The buzz for the second course at Arcadia Bluffs is growing.
Fry, a recognizable name after the 2017 U.S. Open at his Erin Hills Golf Course in Wisconsin (co-designed with Ron Whitten and Dr. Michael Hurdzan), has visited the Chicago Golf Club nearly 10 times within the past year to study its intricacies. He emphasized that the new course does not copy exact holes in any way. Replica holes were never on his agenda.
"We did not copy one golf hole at the Chicago Golf Club," he said during a phone interview in August. "What we did try to do was capture the same style and feel and setting of the Chicago Golf Club. It has got flat-bottom bunkers with steep faces. All the greens have elements of straight lines, including some square ones."
Video: Ginella discusses Arcadia Bluffs' new course
The 310-acre site, set a mile or so inland from Arcadia Bluffs celebrated original course on Lake Michigan, is an old orchard rolling with 60 feet of elevation change. The average size of the greens (9,200 square feet) and fairways (50-55 yards wide with 16-18 feet of rough on either side) are massive even by today's standards. Tall fescue, thin enough for recovery shots, will eventually line the fairways. No homes will desensitize the experience. From certain vantage points, players will be able to see upwards of 16 holes.
One of the biggest challenges has been training shapers who are used to creative license to cut linear lines. Shapers normally don't use bunkers as drainage points, either, but that's part of their job description to stay true to the CGC mantra. At least four greens are nearly completely square: Nos. 3, 9, 10 and 18.
"There are a lot of straight lines on almost every green," Fry said. "Now that I have seen a lot of aerials, the lines from a drone, they look harsh. When you look on the ground, it doesn’t look like that. It looks natural. I can’t explain it. You have to see for yourself."
Fry admits he wouldn't be able to pull off such a project if it was the first course at Arcadia Bluffs. When coupled with the linksy style of the Arcadia Bluffs Golf Course, however, it creates a 1-2 punch as unique as any in the Midwest, on par with The Loop (a reversible course by Tom Doak) and the Tom Weiskopf course at the Forest Dunes Golf Club in Roscommon, Mich.
How will everyday golfers respond? Is it hip to be square? That's the question.
“The resort golfer or normal country club (golfer), probably when they first get out there will be shell-shocked," Fry said. "I don’t know (what they will think). I do know it will be fun to play. There are wide playing spaces, for the most part. I think if you are an 18 handicap, I don’t think it will play that hard, except for the bunkers. Most bunkers average 3 to 4 feet deep. Because they are flat bottom, your ball can roll close to that bank. That will be different. You can’t reach the green (while hitting out of them).
"The length of putts will be different," he added. "You could have a 115-foot putt. How will they like it? I don’t know. It just depends on how adventurous the person is. People who are into design and well traveled will appreciate it. It feels like an old course already. It hugs the land like old golf courses do.”
To prepare for the presumed influx of golfers next year, the Bluffs Lodge debuted earlier this summer. Located near the Main Lodge at Arcadia Bluffs, it offers 16 guest rooms as well as a workout facility. All the rooms with two queen beds and double vanity sinks are spacious enough for an extended stay, something golfers will certainly take advantage of when the South course debuts next year.