Angels Crossing Golf Club spreads its wings on a southwest Michigan village
VICKSBURG, Mich. - When Fox River Paper Co.'s mill in Vicksburg, 12 miles south of Kalamazoo, closed in 2001, it represented nearly a quarter of the village's tax base. The mill owned 900 acres and Vicksburg was in desperate need of something, anything to fill the void left by its closing.
So in hopes of saving the community, the land was sold in order to be turned into a new golf and real estate development. Later that year, Angels Crossing Golf Club was conceived.
While the real estate market continues to soar-much to the disbelief of many analysts - it's no secret the state's golf bubble has burst. To stay afloat in these times, developers must certainly offer something different. So far, Angel's Crossing Golf Club appears to be setting itself apart in a variety of ways.
A year after its opening, 70 percent of the golf course's play is from repeat customers, and it's nominated as one of 2005's "Best New Values" by Golf Digest. Weekend tee sheets are most often booked solid.
Angels Crossing Golf Club opened in May of 2004, in hopes of becoming a classic course with a brand new outlook on how things are run. The property, once owned by the mill, hadn't been touched for more than a century prior to construction, giving the land a rustic feel beyond the course's year-old infancy.
Architect Bruce Matthews III broke ground in 2001 and was given 350 acres of the development's 750 acres of untouched land. He let the land, not the shovels, do the talking.
"Construction moved just 25 percent of what is normally moved at an 18-hole facility," Head Professional Mike Hill said. "Usually courses move three to four times the soil than we did."
Hill said this is especially evident in the lack of pine trees on the course.
"Pine trees aren't indigenous to southwest Michigan," Hill said. "So anytime you see one in the area it's been planted. You won't find any on the course."
Several pines have been planted near the temporary clubhouse, which will in time turn into someone's home. But out on the course, every tree is aged, so in 20 years the course should play nearly identical as it does today aside from greens that may be a little softer and more mature.
Currently only one house is visible, from the 15th hole, and Hill said only seven total will be built within sight of the original 18 holes.
A third nine, slated to open in 2007, will feature most of the development's real estate. Nearly 100 home sites are currently planned, with 43 fronting the nine holes. No hole however will have homes on both sides of the fairway.
While this nine will feature home sites the original 18 lacks, it will also feature a variety of "Old World" design features that didn't make it into the original 18. Highlights include a double-green, punch bowl green, a cape-style hole, tee shots over desert-style waste lands and church pew bunkers.
How Angels Crossing Golf Club plays
Angels Crossings' five sets of tees play a par 72 and stretch to 7,179 yards from the championship tees and 4,845 yards from the front tees. Par 3s all require a different club and par 4s range from the middle 300-yard range to the 450-yard monster 18th, which features a slew of trouble on both sides. Par 5s run the gamut from the 616-yard fourth to the reachable-in-two 17th.
One thoughtful design feature is found on the par-3 third, where the back four sets of tees play over a significant patch of marshland. However the front tee plays off to the right at a 90-degree angle and has no such carry, as well as its own fairway leading up to the green.
This fairway also serves as a bail out zone for tee shots from the other direction. This feature may also give some confidence early in the round to women and beginners nervous Angels Crossing Golf Club is yet another course catered to long-hitting men, where forward tees are just stuck wherever found convenient. Here, it seems each set of tees was given an equally strategic placement.
While hilly at times, Angels Crossing is very walker-friendly. Tees are often just a few steps from the previous green. The longest trek a walker faces is from the clubhouse to the first and 10th holes. Walking is also the same price as taking a cart.
"Our carts are complimentary," Hill said. "Just like our coffee."
The greens at Angels Crossing Golf Club can be baffling at times, making the pin placement sheet every golfer's most necessary guide. It's not uncommon for 30 to 40 yards of depth and greens can run anywhere from 10,000 to 14,000 square feet and often have three or more tiers.
On the par-5 eighth, the tiers actually become a golfer's best friend- if the pin is in the middle right. On this day, my playing partner and I both hit our approaches from 100 yards out, only to see our balls take a sharp kick off the slope towards the lower tier where the flag stick was tucked.
When we approached, one ball had nestled to four inches. The other had disappeared - for an eagle.
It's these greens however that gives each hole a different look every time.
"It plays different every time you play," Hill said. "There are five tees and so many pin locations, it's like you're playing a completely different course."
The verdict on Angels Crossing Golf Club
Angels Crossing is a great value at just $39 weekday and $44 weekend in southwest Michigan. Thanks to the course's location and little land movement during construction, it appears mature well beyond its age.
Facilities aren't fully in tact yet, but a small golf shop and refreshments are available. The only thing modern-looking about the course are its mind-boggling greens, but tall trees and natural undulations certainly make the course feel, like designer Bruce Matthews III told me in the fall, "Golden Age."
Matthews pays homage to classic golf design on a few holes. He tributes the "Redan" hole at North Berwick in Scotland on the 12th, where the green slopes back and to the left. He named the sixth the Biarritz after the "Golf du Biarritz" club which dates back to 1888. Here, the green where the front and back tiers are the same level, where the middle swales several feet.
July 7, 2005