Centennial Acres Golf Course: One of Michigan's Best-Kept Secrets
SUNFIELD, Mich. - As we all know, Michigan is a great state for golfers. The state ranks third in the nation in total number of courses, and first in courses per capita. The happy consequence of this profusion of links is that you can be driving just about anywhere, doing just about anything other than thinking about golf, and all of a sudden, you will stumble upon a very inviting course that you've never heard of.
Practically any given small town is a candidate for a golf outing. I mean, how many of us would have heard of towns like Coldwater, Mason, Portland, Saranac, or Sunfield if it were not for the quality courses located in each? The last in this list--Sunfield--is home to one of central Michigan's best-kept golf secrets: Centennial Acres Golf Course.
I became intrigued by Centennial Acres when I heard that they had just this Summer opened a third nine when, to be honest, I had not previously heard much about the original 18. But I figured if the owners felt that the original course generated enough demand to build another nine, that the original course couldn't be all bad.
And, as I soon discovered, not only is the original course not all bad, it and the new nine are pretty much all good. Featuring water in play on twelve holes, serpentine fairways that wind through woods and farmland, and large, lush greens, Centennial Acres is well worth the 30-minute drive west of Lansing, especially considering the very reasonable rates of $20 walking (M-F, $24 weekends) and $11 for a cart.
Centennial Acres consists of the Sunrise, Midday, and Sunset nines, and the traditional layout of each allows for a comfortable walk. The Midday nine and the new Sunset nine are intertwined, so be sure to keep an eye on the signs pointing to the next tees. The Sunrise nine is located across Dow Road all by its lonesome.
The new Sunset nine was mainly still dirt last year at this time, according to Head Pro and GM John Nagel, but it has grown in remarkably well in a very short time. This new nine, opened just this year, is consistent with that of the first two nines, which opened in 1979 and 1986, although there are a few somewhat more memorable holes on it than the other two. For the most scenic round, I would suggest Sunrise and then Sunset (as in the song from "Fiddler on the Roof").
The greens throughout are largish, with about half of them relatively flat and the other half relatively undulating. They were in great shape when I played, even the ones on the new nine. I have been on several equally new, yet much more expensive, courses this summer and experienced far worse greens.
In general, I found the greens to contain less break than I was reading into them, but this could have been due to the recent rains as well. The fairways and tee stands are bluegrass, and were a bit longer than usual due to the three days of rain they had just had. They were, however, also in fine shape.
One quirky aspect of the course is that, aside from two holes on the new Sunset nine, there are absolutely no greenside bunkers. So if you struggle with hitting greens like I do, you'll enjoy--as I did--chipping onto the putting surface rather than blasting out of sand.
Only three or four holes have fairway bunkers, so, as you might guess, the main obstacles are the ever-present trees and the abundant water. Distances are also hard to measure, as aside from birdhouses on white poles at 150 yards, yardage markers are hard to come by. I felt like I was constantly guessing how far I had to the green.
None of the nines is overly long, measuring 3,397 (Sunrise), 3,292 (Midday), and 3,120 (Sunset) from the tips. Yet it is not easy to see where the yardage is lost, since each nine consists of at least one long (or longish) par 3, one 400+ yard par 4, and par 5s that all reach over 500 yards (some well over 500 yards).
I guess the number of medium length par 4s accounts for the yardage, but due to the numerous doglegs, I never really felt as if the course could be easily overpowered by the average, long-hitting medium handicapper.
Now let's take a quick swing around each of the nines, starting with the par-36 Sunrise nine. Several of the holes at Centennial Acres demand precise tee shots, or at least some local knowledge of where the best landing site is.
Take the 392-yard No. 4 of the Sunrise nine, for example. This is not a hard hole, according to the scorecard, but with a large tree directly off the tee, a pond to the right, and a narrow landing area to the left, the first-timer really wonders what to do. The fairway doglegs around said tree and pond rather severely to a green tucked behind a large bank, laying just beyond said pond.
So, if you're brave and fairly long off the tee, you can hit a driver between the tree and the pond and end up great. A lay-up to the left of the tee will leave a long shot to the shallow, wide green, which slopes off the aforementioned bank from right to left.
No. 6 is a 517-yard par 5 that defies even long hitters to try for the green in two. The tee shot is fairly tight, with trees short right and long left. The serpentine fairway narrows dramatically at the point where the trees start on the left. Water also lurks behind those trees on the left, and on the right side of the fairway where it narrows.
A long, slightly pulled tee shot leaves you totally blocked by trees with absolutely no chance to hit the green, which is tucked off to the right end of the fairway behind more trees and mounds.
The 384-yard 7th is a rabid dogleg to the left, and from the tips, the tee shot is extremely tough. A driver will go through the fairway on the right, unless you can draw your driver like Tom Lehman. So a fairway wood is the best choice, as long as you can get it to the corner of the fairway, because if you can't, you'll have a blind shot up to the elevated tee over a high bank and--surprise--a pond front left of the green.
And, you can't see it from the fairway, but the green is conjoined with that of No. 9, just like at Carnoustie. So if you fly your green, you may end up putting with another foursome.
The 9th on the Sunrise nine offers a lovely tee shot, with the tee box right next to a fountain. This is very relaxing, unless you have to pee. As on may holes at Centennial Acres, this hole is bordered by working farmland, and runs picturesquely past a big, red barn.
Now, I despise subdivision courses, but I found the barns to be very pleasing to the eye. If I can't be totally isolated in the north woods while I golf, I would much rather see well-kept family farms straight out of a Norman Rockwell print than cookie-cutter suburban McMansions.
The par-36 Midday nine is the least noteworthy of the three nines, but is nevertheless a very solid set of holes. The 515-yard, par 5 No. 4 is the number one handicap hole on the middle nine.
It is such a severe dogleg left that it is nearly impossible for the average player to go for the green in two. The fairway is banked as well, so from tee to green it resembles one of the turns at the Indy 500. Play down the right hand side of the fairway because everything funnels down to the left.
The 367-yard 7th is a tricky little hole, forcing nothing more than a five wood off the tee, as anything longer may run through the dogleg left fairway and into trees. The second shot is over a stagnant pond about 100 yards short of the green.
The 9th is a lovely closing hole with a tee shot over a pond onto a huge landing area. However, there is a fair-sized tree directly in the center of the fairway, so a long, perfect drive may not end up so perfect.
As I've mentioned before, I dislike trees or hazards that punish drives straight down the middle, but it's still a nice hole because you really do have a lot of room to shoot to on either side of the tree. Water lies in wait on the left and right for extremely wayward shots.
The par-35 Sunset course is the new nine, as evidenced by the as of yet uncompleted cart paths. Still, the fairways and greens are in fine shape, and it is in fact difficult to tell this nine apart from the others in terms of "maturity."
The only differences are, as I said, the cart paths and the presence of greenside bunkers on two holes. These bunkers are suffering from erosion problems, however, so something will need to be done to stop all of the sand from washing right out.
There is a wonderful elevated plank bridge running from the clubhouse to the new nine, and on the first hole, you might be confused by the sand trap next to the tee box. It's not a bunker for really pathetic drivers, though; it's a fairway bunker for the ninth hole of the Midday nine.
It is this new nine that is the most memorable on the course. The par-4, 391-yard 1st hole starts right off with a tricky tee shot. A big hitter can go straight over the squat tree in the middle of the fairway.
No. 2 is a par 3 (as it is on both the other nines, too), as is No. 4. Both are only about 180 yards, but they each have nice tee shots. No. 2's tee shot is over a sea of weeds, brush, and critters, with lots of trees left. The rolling green makes it crucial to aim for the pin.
No. 4 is a real gem with trees overhanging the back tees on the left. It is wide open right, so the best shot is a draw, especially to a left pin placement. I found out, though, that if you can't draw the ball and shoot directly over the trees on the left, the ball will likely bounce off mounds lying beyond the trees and head for the kidney-shaped green (if not the hole itself).
Nos. 5 and 8 are par 5s (556 and 520 yards, respectively). The question that arises when you tee up on each is, "Where the hell do I aim?" it's not immediately obvious where the fairway is, not to mention the green. The 5th is a big dogleg left around a wide swath of weeds and scrub trees. You aim your tee shot toward the front of the forward-most tees.
I hit a 265-yard fade to this very spot and didn't clear those tees by much, though. There's really no reason to try to cut any length off the dogleg on your second shot, since doing so will leave you with a blind shot up a steep bank and over a bunker to the elevated green (if you can't get it all the way home in two).
The 8th is likewise a dogleg, but this time right around lots and lots of trees. The landing area for your drive is a wide swale a good ways down the fairway, which is banked on both sides and lined with thick woods. Even a good drive will leave you a very tough second shot that will need to be very good indeed to stay clear of the trees and hold the small green.
Last but not least, the 407-yard 9th, the number one handicap hole on the new nine, is a truly lovely hole. At about 260 yards off the tips, a creek runs across the fairway, so a long iron or fairway wood off the tee is most prudent.
Trees run along both sides of the fairway all the way to the green. In the wet conditions in which I was playing, this hole played more like 467 than 407, and rightly deserved the top handicap.
As I staggered in to the clubhouse after walking a good portion of Centennial Acres' 27 holes (due to the soupy conditions), Pro John Nagel looked at me and said, "There's a lot of golf out there."
He wasn't kidding. There is not only a lot of golf, but it is very high quality golf for a very reasonable price. To be quite honest, I have played several more expensive courses than Centennial Acres that offer, in my opinion, far fewer memorable holes.
Best of all, Centennial Acres is such a great example of Michigan's small-town courses--courses that pop up like mushrooms in the rural countryside. These courses are understandably overshadowed by the world-class resorts also found in the state, but for the money, you've just got to love playable, enjoyable, well-maintained courses like Centennial Acres.
July 11, 2000