Metro Detroit's best public courses

A 1990s building boom created a mecca of public golf surrounding the Motor City.

I witnessed the heyday of metro Detroit golf in the 1990s and the subsequent downturn of the game in southeast Michigan during the economic recession a decade later.

Although I'm not a Michigander anymore, I'm glad golf in the 'D' is experiencing a rebirth with the return of the PGA Tour - the Rocket Mortgage Classic June 27-30 at the private Detroit Golf Club.

The glory days were a fun ride. They kickstarted my golf writing career. Really good golf courses sprouted out of the ground like a spring bloom. From 1995 to 2000, Michigan led the country in new course openings, according to the National Golf Foundation.

Detroit went from a country club town with a solid core of munis to a daily-fee paradise. The opening of The Orchards by Robert Trent Jones Jr. in 1993 and The Majestic at Lake Walden by Jerry Matthews/Ray Hearn in 1994 fueled the building boom. Covering Livingston County at the time for a local paper, I was first on the scene for grand openings of the Golf Club of Michigan, now Huntmore Golf Club, in 1999; Hearn's Moose Ridge in 2000 and the Coyote Preserve by Arnold Palmer in 2001. Shepherd's Hollow (2000) by Arthur Hills and real-estate communities like Twin Lakes (1998), Blackheath (1998) and WestWynd (2002) blossomed in neighboring Oakland County.

The downward spiral starting about 2003-04 was tumultuous while the auto industry buckled, leaving Michigan essentially sponsorless for professional golf. Michigan lost two PGA Tour Champions events, including the Ford Senior Players Championship in 2006. The PGA Tour's Buick Open, two hours from Detroit in Grand Blanc near Flint, died in 2009 after a 50-year run. The 2004 Ryder Cup and 2008 PGA Championship at Oakland Hills Country Club were blips of light on an otherwise dark era.

The cycle has come full circle, however. Warwick Hills Golf & Country Club, the old Buick Open venue, hosts a new PGA Tour Champions event, the Ally Challenge, in September. There are even two Symetra Tour and two LPGA Tour events in the state now. If only the Lions, Tigers, Pistons and Red Wings could rise from the dead.

Should business or pleasure bring you to metro Detroit, take advantage of all the great public golf by packing the sticks. I've chosen a personal top 10 list, one that doesn't include the University of Michigan Golf Course, the Dr. Alister MacKenzie gem exclusive to alumni, students and faculty but recently started offering single-round packages to the public for $125-$150. I challenge another city in America to match its depth of quality, course for course, shot for shot.

How would you rank metro Detroit's best public courses? Let us know in the comments below.

  1. Shepherd's Hollow, Clarkston
    Just north of Detroit, Shepherd's Hollow Golf Club resembles a northern Michigan course with its hills and valleys.

    The natural, up-north setting; 27 holes and a fine clubhouse/restaurant operation set Shepherd's Hollow apart from the competition, even from its sister courses, Cherry Creek and Pine Trace. Calling the land leased from Jesuit priests "heavenly" wouldn't be a stretch.

  2. The Orchards, Washington
    The Orchards Golf Club is a popular tournament venue in southeast Michigan you can actually play.

    The Orchards bills itself as "Your Club for the day", meaning you'll get the service and conditions of a private club. The Orchards has the best tournament pedigree of any local public venue. It hosted the Michigan Open three times (2011-13) and even a USGA event in 2002, the now defunct U.S. National Amateur Publinx Championship.

  3. The Majestic at Lake Walden, Hartland
    A fall day view of a green from The Majestic At Lake Walden.

    The Majestic at Lake Walden by Jerry Mathews marches gracefully around Lake Walden. All three of the loops are equally good. Golfers who start on the back nine are escorted by pontoon boat to the 10th tee, a neat experience.

  4. Coyote Preserve, Fenton
    A view of the clubhouse at Coyote Preserve Golf Club

    With five par 3s, Coyote Preserve is as fun and it is beautiful. It might feature the best closing stretch in the state. Nicknamed the "Coyote Trap", the par 5-3-5 finish is epic. The 16th can feel a bit goofy until you play it a few times. I'm not shy to admit I never aim for the green on the 196-yard (white tees) at 17. The water is all carry, so you better hit it pure. The 18th, a nice risk-reward, will likely decide your match if a few lost balls on the previous holes haven't already done so.

  5. Eagle Crest, Ypsilanti
    Eagle Crest Golf Club

    Eagle Crest, where I learned the game in college, is my sentimental pick. Its scenery alone merits inclusion. The driving range and clubhouse atop a hill overlook Ford Lake. The 16th, a dramatic par 5, runs along the shoreline as one the most intimidating par 5s I've ever played. Ponds lurk throughout the round. The 10th is almost like a "road hole" copycat. Bash one around/over a tree and the hotel parking lot at the corner of the dogleg for a chance to reach the par 5 in two.

  6. Moose Ridge, South Lyon
    View of the par-3 16th hole at Moose Ridge Golf Course

    No homes in sight and that "up north" vibe of hills and trees endears Moose Ridge to anybody who tees it up. The log-cabin clubhouse is also one of a kind. Moose Ridge engages golfers with a scenic, target test of golf.

  7. Northville Hills, Northville
    Northville Hills Golf Club has a natural appeal with its expansive, untouched wetlands, nature areas and its golden brown heather.

    The competition to be called the best Arnold Palmer course in Michigan is fierce, considering there are four strong candidates. Northville Hills probably bats cleanup, but that's no knock on the quality of this course. The design is solid and the bunkering eye-catching. Two-third of the holes are lined by water or wetlands, as well as large homes, which takes away a bit of the beauty from the overall setting.

  8. Golden Fox at Fox Hills, Plymouth

    The Golden Fox is the signature experience of the 54-hole Fox Hills complex. Hills tricked up the greens with lots of undulations and they're kept firm and fast. He also buried a large elephant in a mound fronting one of the greens, providing a different look for this strong test of golf.

  9. Boulder Pointe, Oxford
    A view of green #3 at Dunes Course from Boulder Pointe Golf Club

    Boulder Pointe (2000) does push the boundaries of metro Detroit, but its 27 holes built on a reclaimed gravel mine are well worth the drive. The Dunes/Peaks combo is perhaps the best. There's 15 lakes/ponds to navigate and some nice elevation changes to boot. The Greystone Golf Club near Romeo is another former gravel pit operation worth playing.

  10. (tie) Pine Trace, Rochester Hills, and Cherry Creek, Shelby Township
    A view of a green protected by bunkers at Pine Trace Golf Club

    It's by design that these two courses owned by the same ownership group ended in a tie. Some people favor one or the other - me, Cherry Hills - but they offer the same commitment to quality service, conditions and facilities. Pine Trace (1989) by Hills feels more like northern Michigan than Cherry Creek, known for its sprawling clubhouse with some nice memorabilia inside from architect Lanny Wadkins.

Jason Scott Deegan has reviewed more than 700 courses and golf destinations for some of the industry's biggest publications. His work has been honored by the Golf Writer's Association of America and the Michigan Press Association. Follow him on Twitter at @WorldGolfer.
9 Comments
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TheoV

Your list is just a taste of the Metro Detroit Golf scene. Places like Lakes of Taylor, Lyon Oaks GC are tough tournament courses. Wyandotte has a 9 hole course that is a gem and do not forget Fieldstone GC that was a qualifier for the the Buick Open. I will agree that Shepherd's Hollow is No 1 in the Metro Area. Though the course I look forward to playing anytime is Blackheath GC, feels and plays like a links.

JR

You couldn't find one inner-city course to include? Hard to believe. I played several Detroit courses a few years back and had an absolute blast at Rouge Park. Not the prettiest course I've every played, but smack in the middle of the city, it's working hard a providing fee-friendly golf to the community. Don't miss the grilled hamburgers at the clubhouse!

Isaac

Good piece. I grew up a short walk from Pine Trace Golf Course and remember when it was being built. Glad to see it still gets some recognition as a daily public course. Another course, that merits attention is Leslie Park GC in Ann Arbor. It's probably the best managed course in SE Michigan!

MikeHope

Interesting list. The courses sound great.
I don’t know the area at all.
Do you have any recommendations regarding the best accommodations to book for these courses, especially for a trip with my wife. I’m not looking for Ritz-Carlton, but would like somewhere nice, in a nice/safe part of town.

Isaac

Royal Park Hotel in downtown Rochester. It's centrally located north of Detroit.

MikeHope

Thanks Isaac - I appreciate the prompt response.

Dave

Love Moose Ridge. Wife and I had a great day. ⛳

jim

How about Metamora Country Club. What a beautiful piece of ground and just up the road for Boulder Pointe

John

I like your list, think Shepard’s Hollow and Orchards should be reversed.
Orchards has better mix of long and short holes and open/ tight holes. Course conditions are impeccable.
Shepherds Hollow is beautiful and tough, greens are a bit “Mickey Mousey” though. Could probably score better hitting 3 wood off every tee, and that’s not as fun as a mix and able to let the shaft out on a few of the Orchards holes.

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Metro Detroit's best public courses
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