Wisconsin/Michigan Golf Trip, Day Four: The Kingsley Club


If you've got a great site for a potential golf course, do yourself a favor and give Mike Devries a call. This guy should be getting more sweet architectural gigs.

We just saw what he did with that dramatic rocky site at Greywalls. On day four, we had the higlight of our trip, getting the opportunity to play the Kingsley Club, a private course outside of Traverse City and 18th-ranked course on Golfweek's Top Modern (post-1960) list. Kingsley was Devries' first solo effort...and wow, what a way to start your resume.

Someway...somehow, we've managed to get on a bunch of really sweet, private clubs this year. Ballyneal, Black Sheep, and now The Kingsley Club as the latest edition to our 2008 Heavy Hitters Tour. We've come a LONG way since beating the ball around at Burr Hill growing up. I'm still not exactly sure how we did it, but I sure am grateful that it happened. This year will be a career low in number of rounds played, but an all-time high in terms of quality golf courses.

Kingsley Club is about 15 miles south of Traverse City in Kingsley, MI (contrary to popular belief, it's not named after Sir Ben Kingsley), and it's quite an adventure getting there. Just like Ballyneal, you have to drive on some dirt roads that make you wonder if there's a glitch in the GPS. Then, all of a sudden...BAM! You're at the gates at one of the best new private courses in the country.

The similarities between Ballyneal and Kingsley don't stop there. Both are laid-back, understated clubs with predominantly national memberships. Both are inland links courses with firm and fast conditions that put a premium on the ground game. And both are in Jim Colton's top 10. Both courses have no weak holes.

Every club has different guest policies, so we had no idea what to expect. When checking in at the front desk, the guy at the desk told us he had us matched-up with Tommy Patterson, who just happened to be walking by. I figured that as a guest, they made you go out with with a member or one of the pros. Tommy told us he'd meet us down by the range, then as we blasted away, he slipped on a caddie's bib. Well, that crosses member off the list. Maybe he was just a caddie. There was only way to find out, so Jimbo asked him, 'Tommy, are you one of the assistants out here?'

'No. I'm actually the head pro.'

Oh. Faux paus number one. Never call the head pro an assistant. But why in the heck was the head pro forcaddieing for a bunch of hacks like us?

One thing was for sure, he'd have to dumb down his expectations. On the first, he MOB'd Jimbo's drive, fully expecting it to carry the bunker. In the air, Jimbo confessed, 'Nope. I'm a dinker. I fully admit it.' As I duck hooked my first drive, I had to go to confession as well. 'I'm a snapper.'

Speaking of the first hole, it's probably the best opener that I've ever played. It's a long par five from an elevated tee and deep center-line bunkers. Take the safe play left or right and play it as a three-shotter or carry one about 270 to get a giant turbo-kick forward and a chance to reach it in two.

The rest of the front nine is excellent (judging by this and Greywalls, it must be a common Devries theme.) The greens are wild, with lots of slopes and lots of opportunity to run a lag putt off the green if you're not careful (Tommy said he's seen it happen at least once on each hole.) Of course, you can also use the same slopes to feed your ball to the hole.

It was a birdiefest early on. Jefe used the slope on 1 to get his approach to within 5 feet. Then Jimbo rolled in a 25-footer on the 2nd hole, a devilish short par 3 with trouble and big numbers all-around the green. Both players simply listened to the local knowledge from Tommy and executed. On number 4, Jimbo bombed on in from over 50 feet and over a ridge. Jefe moneyed up an approach shot from the rough, running it up to the hole to kick-in range. Four birdies in four holes.

So where was I while all this was going on? Apparently, my invitation got lost in the mail. However on the par 3 5th hole, I smoked a 5-iron to within 4-feet. But I Sergio'd (now officially a verb), trying to jam it in the back of the cup when I should've cozied it in. Stick a fork in me. I'm done.

For the rest of the round, I basically tried to stay out of the way and let the real players play. It's gotten so bad that I've become the guy that nobody wants to play with...the guy who's lagging 100 yards behind making a mess of the hole while the other guys wait and shake their heads in disgust. On almost every hole, I was one stroke higher than the Tang boys. How'd we get to this point? Will they need to start giving me a stroke a hole? Any time I did get honors on the tee, it was met with gasps of shock and disbelief. 'Coltrain's got the tee? Really?'

Finishing behind the Tango's was nothing to be ashamed on this day. Jimbo was in the zone and had the blinders on. He was completely oblivious to the fact that I was sitting next to him in the cart. He followed his birdie on 4 with near birdies on 6 and 7, made a bogey on the tough par 3 9th (if you miss this green, you can ping-pong it back and forth and easily hit double digits. The hole can be played from two spots 90 degrees from each other, both equally tough.) The bogey gave him an even-par 35 on the front, by far the best nine by anybody on the trip. Jefe had a very respectable 37.

The back nine isn't quite as wild as the front, but it's probably a liitle tougher. 10, 12 and 15 are all 450+ yard par 4's, #15 with a brutal plateaued green. You get a break with the potentially drivable 292-yard 13th, but the 16th is a redan-style 225-yard par 3 with a target that's about 15-feet in diameter (and about 20 yards right of the putting surface! I hit my shot right where Tommy told me to. 'Finally a GIR!' I yelled, only to watch it rolled across the green and down off the front edge. That sums up my entire weekend.)

Jimbo struggled to keep it together, but his 35 gave him a few strokes to play with. His 43 on the back was a little disappointing, but you can't shake a stick at 78 on this course, even under ideal conditions. It was actually the first time he had broken 80 all season. Jefe just missed a birdie putt on 18 that would've given him 79.

You only get a chance to play a course like this every so often, so you want to make the most of it. We definitely wanted to head right back out there for another round. And the guys in the pro shop definitely did NOT want us to play again (I think because they were topdressing the greens as soon as play was done.) We pooled our collective metachloriants to pull-off a crucial Jedi-mind trick and get us back out there after a short wait. Originally we thought 54 holes was in the cards, but there was no way we could push our luck any further.

Jimbo expended all his energy during the morning round and was a shell of his former self in the afternoon. I continued to be the shell of somebody else, and that somebody must have a 12 handicap. I hit rock bottom when after hitting basically the same solid iron shot on the 5th hole, I was delighted to see that the ball was even closer to the hole than last time. A kick-in birdie! 'I'm taking that one!' Then I walk up to go kick it in, only to realize that it was Jefe's ball and Jefe's gimme birdie instead. I fully expected him to throw out one of those Simpsons-bully inspired 'Haa-Ha!' just to make these even worse. My only saving grace was a phone call that I took in between rounds...a phone call that I was anxious about getting and one that put me in a great frame of least until the first duck hook two holes later.

Other than a ping-pong triple on the 9th, Jefe played another solid round and moved up to #1 in our World Golf Rankings, overtaking the spot that I had held for quite a while. I had a good run.

My trip (and perhaps golf season) ended mercifully at 9:00 pm that night under a setting sun at Arcadia Bluffs. We planned on heading to the course for dinner and to watch the sunset right after Kingsley, but when we got there at 7:15 pm, the whole front nine was wide open. They have a $50 play til sunset deal after 6:30 pm, and since our planned replay the next day looked like a no-go, we jumped on the opportunity to get a few holes in. It served a number of purposes -- I got my Arcadia fix (I really like the course...Jefe and Jimbo love it.); Jefe and Jimbo got a preview and warm-up for their match the next day. We managed to get 13 holes in before it got dark, which was nice because we played nearly all of the best holes on the course. And I learned that just because you play twice as fast, it doesn't mean you should swing twice as fast. But I did get the opportunity to scope out good spots for my new role as golf commentator and cinematographer for the first annual 'Shell's Wonderful World of Golf' between Jefe and Jimbo the following day. Stay tuned for that one.


The sweet first hole at Kingsley Club

The cruel 5th hole

The par 4 6th hole (don't go long)

8th hole, a short par 4

The diabolical 9th hole

Another angle of the 9th green

12th hole, a long par 4

Three men and a Bernie

Jimbo hitting in the 14th green, a downhill par 5

#14 from behind the green

The 17th hole, a par 5 in which they are currently adding an alternate fairway. Much better hole with more angles.

#17 from behind the green

End of Year Rankings (Tentative) - Bold means played this year
1. St. Andrews (Old)
2. Pacific Dunes
3. Ballyneal
4. Blackwolf Run (River)
5. Whistling Straits (Straits)
6. Kingsbarns
7. Bandon Dunes
8. World Woods (Pine Barrens)
9. Kiawah (The Ocean Course)
10. The Kingsley Club
11. Carnoustie (Championship)
12. Bethpage Black
13. Pinehurst #2
14. Arcadia Bluffs
15. Bandon Trails
16. TPC at Sawgrass (Stadium)
17. Greywalls
18. Paa-Ko Ridge
19. Blackwolf Run (Meadow Valleys)
20. Black Mesa
21. Black Sheep
22. Whistling Straits (Irish)
23. Cog Hill (Dubsdread)
24. World Woods (Rolling Oaks)
25. Erin Hlls


  1. Tony Pitts said...:

    Great pictures!

    Bernie is awesome.

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