Blackberry Patch Golf Club Sprouting with Great Challenges
COLDWATER, Mich. - Blackberry Patch Golf Club just opened at the end of June 1998 and it's already a fantastic southern Michigan course. The folksy name and out-of-the-way location belie the sophistication of design and beauty of the surroundings.
Most impressive of all are the hallmark patches of brambles that may well yield blackberries (and most certainly yield bushels of balls) and the impressively sculpted greens. When the course matures in a few years, it should rank very high on the list of south and mid-Michigan courses.
Before I launch into an effusive description of the course, however, I'll need to mention the catch: Since the course is so new, it shows a few signs of immaturity. Strategically placed trees along fairways are still saplings that for now pose little hazard.
The tee boxes (bentgrass, as are the fairways and greens) on some holes are a bit grubby. And the memorable, unique greens are covered in only very light turf, lacking a developed root system. Consequently, they are overly receptive to high shots--I've never seen balls actually plug on greens before. And at times it feels more like you're putting on dirt than turf.
Even so, putts roll very true, hold their line, and are not impeded by bumps or dips. So you can imagine how nice the greens will be when they do grow in.
The fairways were quite lush and in very good shape. They where, however, very wet--even soupy in spots--but I do not know if this was due to recent rains or to drainage issues. Players should be warned to not only keep carts in the rough, but to be wary of low places in the rough and avoid them so as not to damage the turf.
Now the real catch. If you want to play "The Patch," but figure you'll wait until it matures some, you should know that at least eight holes are lined with lots just waiting for houses to be built on them. Some of these lots looked quite shallow, which can only mean that the houses will be cheek-by-jowl with the fairways.
Personally, I don't much enjoy playing through subdivisions, especially if I can practically hear the TV through an open window as I'm trying to tee off. One also worries about being embarrassed when you send an errant tee shot through some family's dining room window.
Take No. 14, for example. The par 4 doglegs left, directly off the right corner of the fairway--only about 260 yards off the white tees-and there sits a lovely house that might as well have a bulls-eye painted on it. If someone decides (ill-advisedly) to take a driver off the white tees and pushes it, they will be looking for their ball in someone's family room.
We are left, then, with a catch-22: Play now and miss out on what will mature into a truly outstanding course (despite the houses). Play later and miss out on some of the natural beauty and seclusion that the course currently offers. Of course, you could play now and later and get the best (and worst) of both worlds. And, since The Patch is already one of the best southern Michigan courses, this latter option is probably the one you want to pick.
As I mentioned, The Patch opened at the end of June, 1998. It is an Ernie Schrock design and incorporates wide tracts of natural wetlands and protected natural land into a meandering, aesthetically pleasing, ball-eating design. Some of the cart drives over the numerous elevated wooden paths are almost worth the greens fees themselves.
At 7,133 yards from the tips, 6,551 from the whites, 5,615 from the golds, and 5,173 from the berries, the course presents golfers of all skill levels with challenges. A few holes in fact look totally different off the black tees than they do off the whites. On No. 11, for example, the black tees appear to be in a different county from the other three sets of tees.
True to its name, brambles serve as hazards along many fairways and lie between many a tee box and fairway. In fact, some of these bramble patches measure thirty to one hundred yards, forcing a carry off the tee that might intimidate novices and intermediate players.
Novices who occasionally hit worm-burners might experience an extremely frustrating round and loose lots of balls, as looking for lost balls in the thorny undergrowth will yield more torn pants and cut legs than golf balls.
The clubhouse is scheduled to open in the spring of 2000, and from the description it should be a first-rate facility. Until then, a trailer serves sufficiently as the clubhouse, although the restrooms leave something to be desired.
The practice range is open now and it is already first-rate. >From the air, it looks like one of those tall cactuses, and target greens tip each of the branches. The practice facilities also include a nice practice green, short game area, and bunker.
Rates are quite reasonable for the quality and uniqueness of the course. This may be due to the remote location (which lies equidistant, nevertheless, from several metropolitan areas). Greens fees are $25 walking, Mon.-Fri., and $39 Sat., Sun., and holidays, walking or riding.
While carts are not mandatory, I cannot imagine walking the long distances between some of the holes, and I love to walk and carry my own bag. My advice is, unless you're an expert hiker and are carrying only five clubs in your bag, spend the extra $10 on a cart Mon. through Fri. Your feet and back will thank you later.
It is interesting that most of the courses I have reviewed this summer start out with rather mundane holes, and then by the fourth or fifth they become memorable.
In stark contrast, The Patch starts right off with four very nice holes. In fact, there are only one or two holes on the course (mainly par 3s) that don't deserve special mention in a review like this. Unfortunately, I must limit myself to only the best of the best, which is still a substantial portion of the course.
No. 1 is a par 4 that plays shorter than its 413 yards as it slopes severely downhill all the way to a ditch of scrub and water about 60 yards short of the green. The second shot, is uphill to the tiered green.
With all the interesting shapes and contours in the greens, it would be nice to have some indication of pin placements either on the cart or on the scorecard. Perhaps this amenity is in the offing, but for now you basically have to guess on some holes.
The par-3, 213-yard No. 2 is a bear. I would swear that it is even longer than the stated yardage, but the deep bushy ravine you have to shoot over to get to the elevated green probably plays tricks on one's distance judgement.
The tee shot is not only over some thick brush, it is also between trees. Bunkers guard the front and back of the green, which is bisected straight down the center by a tier, with the left side low and the right high.
All of the par 5s are over 500 yards from the tips (No. 11 is 616 yards, even). And No. 3 (550 yards) is a prime example of the challenges presented by these longer holes.
First, there is the trademark drive over the brambles. When the trees on the left side of the fairway grow, it will be a very tough tee shot indeed. Your second shot must land on (or sail through, if you're a pro) a narrow ribbon of fairway closed in on both sides by trees. Long approaches to greens are often punished, as they are here, by steep drop-offs or even hazards just behind the putting surface.
The 429-yard par-4 4th is a wonderful hole, with another long carry over brambles off the tee. The hole doglegs slightly to the left, and then calls for a second shot to an elevated, deep, narrow, three-tiered green. Again, the greens are really impressive in terms of their design.
I hope that when the root systems thicken, the greens remain as fast as they are now; it is really a sense of accomplishment when you read such dramatic undulations correctly, judge the speed well, and sink putts on challenging greens like these.
Nos. 5 through 8 will eventually run through the subdivision, and except for No. 8--a pretty, but easy 387-yard par 4--aren't quite up to the standard set by the first four holes. Nevertheless, I know of many courses that would gladly trade some of their holes for any of these.
The par-5 9th forces an iron off the tee to land short of yet more thick brush (unless you carry your drives over 300 yards). Your second shot must be straight down the middle or you'll find woods.
At this point I must admit that holes 10 though 12 not only brought me to my knees, but almost made me quit golf forever. The combination of my swing going horribly wrong and the collective hazards of these holes nearly ended my golfing life.
No. 10 is relatively long at 391 yards, and yet you feel comfortable only with a long iron off the tee. Woods loom on both sides, the fairway is as narrow as you will ever see, and it doglegs right downhill. As I recall, even the green is practically enveloped in brambles.
The 11th is a 616-yard par 5 whose first 100+ yards consist of nothing more than ball-munching, flesh-tearing, spirit-breaking thorny undergrowth. I swear I heard a sinister laugh rise up from deep within this wasteland just as I began my downswing.
Once you emerge from this dark wilderness, you will see water all along the left-hand side of the fairway and a rather ugly pond guarding the front left of the elevated green. This is the number one handicap hole on the course, and deservedly so.
To be quite honest, the rest of my round is a bit of a blur. I remember No. 14 as a nice hole where someday someone in the yard of the house just over the fairway bunker on the right will be killed. I recall that No. 15 (par 5, 524 yards) can be reached in two--unlike the hell that is No. 11--and that No. 16 (par 4, 419 yards) is wide open off the tee, and I was grateful for it.
The 3-handicap 17th floats dimly in my mind as a very nice, 192-yard par 3, once again calling for an uphill tee shot over scrub. I would very much have liked to sit down on this hole and pick blackberries and never look at another golf club again. But I trudged instead to the drop area on the other side of the brambles at the urging of my photographer, who was, I think, embarrassed to witness my total emotional collapse.
You will likely have gotten the impression from what I have written that Blackberry Patch is a challenging course. But it is a good kind of challenge, like marriage or childbirth. Despite the pain, you'll be very happy that you did it.
I predict that when word gets around about The Patch, it will be flooded by golfers from nearby urban areas like Battle Creek, Jackson, Kalamazoo, Lansing, Ft. Wayne, South Bend, Elkhart, and Toledo, all of which are less than a 90-minute drive from Coldwater. But be sure to get good directions, because it is not easy to find the course even when you get into Coldwater, and asking for directions will likely prove pointless.
Apparently even the locals haven't yet discovered this marvelous, top-flight course that is poised to develop into one of southern Michigan's best (especially if no one buys those damned lots).
April 25, 2000