Forest Akers West in East Lansing ranks as one of the best courses in the Big Ten
EAST LANSING, Mich. -- Michigan State University has two 18-hole golf courses, Forest Akers East and Forest Akers West Course.
The East course measures only 6,559 yards from the tips, and its overall ease of play is perfect for novice and average players looking to work on their games. The West course lies across the road from the east course, and also lies in stark contrast to the East.
At 7,003 yards from the tips and with a much more challenging design, Forest Akers West ranks as one of the best collegiate courses in the Big Ten, and has earned a four-star rating from Golf Digest.
The West course was originally built in 1958 and is a Bruce Matthews design (father of Jerry Matthews, who is responsible for some of the area's best courses, such as Timber Ridge, Hawk Hollow, and the Majestic at Lake Walden). It was extensively reworked and redesigned, however, in 1994 by Arthur Hills.
Both architects have done a very fine job turning a cow pasture (no criticism intended) into a top-flight course and the host course of the 1998 Big Ten Men's Tournament.
The smallish practice green and tee of the West course are complemented by the positively expansive green and range on the grounds of the East course. The practice facilities on the east side are consistently voted the best in the Lansing area (and all of mid-Michigan) by readers of the Lansing State Journal, and feature a practice range with target greens that look to be in better shape than those on many public courses. If you're so inclined, you can also set up a lesson with pro John Dal Corobbo, winner and runner-up in several state-wide tournaments last year.
Rates at the West course are steeper than those at the East, but are substantially discounted if you happen to be affiliated with Michigan State University. Even if you have not chosen the life of academia (and its schedule, which clears nicely during golf season), the West course is well worth the price.
Unfortunately, the West course (and the East) has grown increasingly busy, especially during the months when 45,000 students flood into East Lansing. It seems as if there is always some outing or some league clogging up the links. However, you just might find yourself playing on the heels of a charity outing organized by the Michigan State football or basketball coach, or Magic Johnson, or some other local celeb.
Additionally, the popularity of the Forest Akers courses has made tee times for anything less than a foursome hard to book. For those of us with few golfing friends and little confidence in front of an audience, being paired up with another group can be uncomfortable.
The overall look of the West course is very classic, with some narrow rye-grass fairways, varied elevation changes, and large bentgrass greens that present players with some long, looping putts from outside of ten feet. You won't find tricked-up greens with multiple tiers or deep trenches running through them, but you will find enough lumps and dips to challenge your green-reading skills.
As for the fairways, I much prefer the rye-grass to spongy bentgrass, as tee shots get better roll and the lies aren't nearly as thin.
The course measures as follows: 7,003 from the tips, 6413 from the championships, 5,869 from the middles, and 5,251 from the fronts. Thus there is quite a difference between the tips and the championships, but it is a very consistent difference, at about 30 yards per hole. So if you decide to play the tips, you won't ever find yourself teeing it up 80 yards back from the next tee box and wondering if you'll even make the fairway.
The course is in fantastic shape, as well it should be with one of the top turfgrass farming, research and management programs in the nation just down the road. The horticultural and landscape design programs of the university have added to the course's quality as well. All of the mature trees, shrubs, and grasses are indigenous to Michigan, and each tree has been placed ideally to challenge the golfer and please the eye (unless, of course, your ball bounces off one of them and hits you in the eye).
A godly number of bunkers harass several tee shots and second shots on par fives, not to mention the approaches to all but two greens. Nos. 1 and 2, for example, feature two and three large bunkers, respectively, exactly at the distance you'd like to drive the ball. And I am not referring to the standard fairway bunkers lying well outside the short grass.
These bunkers (along with more of the same on Nos. 9 and 15) jut well into the fairway, or even lie squarely in the fairway, so even good shots are punished. I guess they figure that Big Ten tournament players should be hitting great, rather than just good, shots.
According to the Lansing State Journal, Forest Akers West is home to two of the nine toughest holes in Ingham County, Nos. 11 and 13, the latter of which is the signature hole. Nos. 3, 8, and 17 also received honorable mention. So let me walk you through these holes briefly.
Beginning with No. 3, we have a very tight, 430-yard par 4 lined by any number of very lovely trees, including a variety of willows, one of the defining characteristics of the course. These willows, while very pleasant to look at, are nearly impossible to shoot through or under, should you find yourself behind one. Perhaps it was a golfer who dubbed them "weeping" willows for this very reason.
Needless to say, the tee shot on the third must be perfect, or you'll find yourself punching out from the trees with your second. The entire hole slopes gently down toward the smallish green, so your approach will be tricky.
Number 8 is a 230-yard (213 from the champs) par 3, with O.B. close on the right and trees on the left. It is not nearly as scenic as the other par threes on the course (e.g., 5, 12, or 14, all of which involve elevation changes), but it is a very challenging hole, ranking as the number one handicap hole.
The number two handicap hole is the par-4, 436-yard 11th, which also features O.B. on the right. The shot to the elevated tee is uphill, and if you miss left, you find an enormous beach and a veritable cliff that needs to be flown for any chance at a sand save. So help me, if I hear, "Bring your suntan lotion" one more time, I won't be responsible for my actions....
The signature hole is the 545-yard, par-5 13th. In the fall this hole is quite scenic, as the fairway is lined with maples and oaks, all ablaze with autumn colors. Sadly, both power lines and a freeway run near it too, so it does not rank as near the top of the list of the area's scenic holes as it might otherwise.
Your tee shot will definitely need to be between the trees, and preferably on the right-hand side of the fairway, to have a shot around the slight dogleg left at the green. A bunker and some small mounds protect the front of the large green as well.
No. 17 (406, par 4) is one of the toughest tee shots on the course. A marsh cuts into the fairway at about exactly the place where you'd like to land your tee shot. So put the driver back in your bag and grab a fairway wood or long iron. You'll need to aim at a bank of trees on the left, but also run the risk of running through the fairway into or behind the trees, leaving a totally blind shot to the green. The marsh runs all the way up to the green and guards the right side of it as well. Don't even bother looking for your ball if you go in.
I'll close with a few notes on the 323-yard, par-4 18th. This is a slight dogleg right to left that used to be a lot harder before the tops of two tall pines standing between the tee and the green were knocked over in a storm. Now it is possible to drive over the pines, cut a good bit off the dogleg, and chip over a steep embankment onto the green from the rough.
But a word of caution for the wild big hitters: If you slice badly, your ball will fly the bank and trees to the right and land very near or on the practice green or the tenth tee. It is extremely embarrassing to have to go and retrieve your ball or hit a shot from up there. It is even more embarrassing to kill someone (unless there are no other witnesses and you haven't written your name on your ball).
Unlike many courses that call themselves "championship," the Forest Akers West Course is a bona fide championship course; the Big Ten Men's champ was crowned here just last year. You'll find a nice balance between holes requiring power and holes requiring precision off the tee.
The mature landscape is in top-notch shape and you won't find a bad lie in the fairway or any rough spots between your ball and the hole. And if you aren't paired with a wild, driver-happy student or an overly contemplative professor, you're certain to thoroughly enjoy your round at this Big Ten gem.
June 12, 2001