The Orchards Golf Club in Washington: Your club for the day in Michigan

By Jason Scott Deegan, Senior Staff Writer

WASHINGTON, Mich. - The Orchards Golf Club is sure to be the apple of any golfer's eye. Meandering through several mature apple orchards, this premium, upscale course in a 525-acre housing community provides bogey and weekend golfers with the forbidden fruit of golf - a feeling that they, too, belong to a country club.

In fact, the Orchards' motto is "Your Club for the Day," and the staff works overtime to deliver on that promise. Of course, you have to pay to feel like a king - but it's worth every penny.

Designed by Robert Trent Jones Jr., this facility has gained a reputation as one of the best golf courses in Michigan, public or private. It's a shot-maker's heaven or a hacker's nightmare. The awards started pouring in the minute Orchards Golf Club opened in 1993. Golf Magazine and Golf Digest honored it as one of the top 10 new courses in the country in 1994 and 1995, respectively.

Golf Digest followed suit by naming it as one of the "Top 75 Upscale Courses You Can Play" in 1996, putting it 65th on the list of the nation's best public courses, and ranking it the 16th best course in the state in 1997. Golfweek called it one of "America's 100 Best Modern Courses" in 1997, but The Detroit News delivered the topper, ranking it the No. 1 public course in the state in 1997.

That's quite impressive considering how close the course is to metro Detroit. With apologies to some of the other great courses within an hour's drive of Detroit, like Hartland's Majestic and Plymouth's Golden Fox, there's nothing quite like the Orchards in the lower half of the state. Each blade of grass seemed to be trimmed to an exact height and colored to a deep shade of green.

Orchards Golf Club plays from four sets of tees, although several holes have five different tee boxes. The championship gold tees play 7,036 yards with a rating of 74.5 and a slope of 136. The disparity between the blue and the white tees is significant, making a challenging afternoon more playable for just about anybody. The blues are 600 more yards (6,487 to 5,872) and six more slope points (129 to 123) than the whites.

Showing his mastery of golf-course design, Jones sprinkled the tee boxes on several holes far away from one another, giving course officials a chance to change the dynamics and angles of those holes whenever they want.

Beside a quick warm-up on the putting green or the range, I would recommend you practice some sand shots in the bunker on the far side of the largest putting green I've ever seen. You'll need it.

There are an astounding 93 bunkers on the course - 48 on the front and 45 on the back. All of them have the Jones' family trademark with steep faces and huge edgings to blast over. I had more than a few shots from the 40 different fairway bunkers snuffed back in my face when I was foolish enough to use my woods.

Besides the unnerving amount of bunkers, a sampling of long heather grass, marshy wetlands filled with prairie grass and tree clusters are Orchards Golf Club's other threats. Fortunately, water only comes into play on three holes and Jones didn't trick up the huge greens too much. Every putt seemed speedy but true.

To navigate through this minefield of trouble, read the course yardage book like a bible before every hole. It shows every hidden hazard or bend in the fairway and even tells you where the green slopes. Kirby yardage indicators on either side of the flowing fairways and pin sheets will also help.

The day's very first tee shot on No. 1, a 399-yard par 4, is a blind one. It is said that on a clear day you can see the tallest buildings of downtown Detroit from this perch, but I wasn't so lucky with my round on a windy, overcast fall day in mid-September.

After a manageable 151-yard par 3 over wetland, things get hectic on Orchards Golf Club's third hole, a 549-yard par 5 that doglegs left. If you don't land in one of the 13 bunkers on this hole or the eight more on the short 346-yard fourth hole, make sure your playing partner checks your temperature.

The par-5 sixth (509 yards) and par-4 seventh (376 yards) are both dogleg holes that require carries over sensitive marshlands on their first and second shots. Mercifully, the two are devoid of fairway bunkers.

With apologies to some of the other great courses within an hour's drive of Detroit, there's nothing quite like the Orchards in the lower half of the state.

The front nine finishes with the day's toughest hole, an uphill, 408-yard par 4. You need the two best shots in your bag to avoid four fairway bunkers and seven more green-side hazards for the remote chance at birdie.

No. 10, another up-hill par-4, greets you with your first taste of water, although you really have to shank one to find it. The 575-yard par 5 11th is one of the longer holes you'll ever play, especially if your ball rolls into the heather or a bunker. This tee provides possibly the day's best view, looking down upon many of the luscious green fairways of the back nine. The next three holes enter a dense, wooded area, before emerging into an uphill, 497-yard par-5.

No. 16 is Orchards Golf Club's shortest hole at 335 yards and also one of its most strategic. Jones created a masterpiece, taking into account every shot. There's a huge wetland pit 200 yards from the tee on the left and five fairway bunkers on the right with less than 30 yards of short grass in between.

Knowing the golfer's tendency to end up to the right, Jones created a green that slopes left, leaving you a tough approach shot from that angle. Three green-side bunkers will catch any errant attempts, too.

If your confidence is waning after 17 holes, a gentle finishing hole might restore it. This 385-yard par 4 plays much shorter downhill. Still, the green is guarded by two bunkers on the left and a huge pond on the right.

After the round, let the workers clean all that sand off your clubs and enjoy a sandwich or a burger at the Orchard Grille. Private and group lessons, junior golf camps and golf school sessions and a range plan are some of the other amenities available.

Jason Scott DeeganJason Scott Deegan, Senior Staff Writer

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.

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