Get outta town! For the best public golf in Ann Arbor, go beyond the city limits

By Brandon Tucker, Managing Editor

ANN ARBOR, Mich. - It's the kind of town that could make certain liberals feel painfully right wing. It's also a place where art and music rule - and the University of Michigan reigns.

Leslie Park Golf Course in Ann Arbor - 4th hole
Ann Arbor's Leslie Park is one of the top municipal golf courses in Michigan.
Leslie Park Golf Course in Ann Arbor - 4th holeLake Forest Golf ClubStrategic Fox at Fox Hills Golf & Banquet Center
If you go

Ann Arbor is close enough to Detroit to be considered a suburb, but tell any resident that and they'll probably hurl their cup of java in your face. It's little more than a half-hour drive east on I-94 to downtown Detroit and is the home to many auto industry execs, but has its own unique identity as a college town and magnet for artists and musicians. And as the colors change in one of the Big Ten's most picturesque towns, the maize and blue faithful gather in college football's grandest stage.

Golf in Ann Arbor features golf design's biggest names: Pete Dye at Radrick Farms, Donald Ross at Barton Hills and Alister MacKenzie at the University of Michigan Golf Course. However, all of these are private, so the masses are left with works by Arthur Hills and a host of "no names."

While there is good variety in Ann Arbor in terms of price and layouts, they merely scratch the surface compared to the hundreds of offerings in the surrounding areas. Most golfers in the Ann Arbor will tell you golf in their hometown certainly suffices, but it's definitely worth a trip outside city limits to get a true taste of how ripe the scene is.

Ann Arbor golf

There are six private clubs in Ann Arbor, outnumbering public offerings. Golfers without a membership definitely miss out on the finest the city has to offer, but no public facility is terrible and the diversity in courses, much like its inhabitants is strong.

Stonebridge Golf Club: Arthur Hills designed Stonebridge, which opened in 1991. Several years ago a new, state-of-the-art clubhouse was built and the first and 10th holes were flipped, making No. 1 one of the most difficult openers in the area.

The course was built in the golden age of subdivision golf and most holes are tightly lined with housing. The design caters to slicers a bit, as many holes dogleg right.

In the late summer months, the course can get extremely dry, which makes the long layout (6,932 yards) play a little shorter. However, this course is still the premier public course in Ann Arbor and extremely penal, featuring water on 15 holes.

Lake Forest Golf Club: Lake Forest opened in 1999 and is across the street from the back of Stonebridge Golf Club on Ann Arbor's west side. With the Stonebridge market in its sights, it boasted superior golf at half the price.

It also left the Lake Forest home development off the course property in an attempt to draw players fed up with the scores of houses that butt right up against Stonebridge. The design, however, has drawn mixed reviews with several quirky short par 4s.

The 12th used to feature a row of trees in the middle of the fairway until they were removed. The sixth is another short dogleg with controversial in-course out of bounds.

The two nines play totally different. The front side is "links-style", featuring wide, rolling fairways and fescue grasses. The back nine is tree-lined and features a variety of wetlands and wildflowers. Lake Forest plays 6,600 yards from the back tees.

Leslie Park Golf Course: A local favorite and one of the top municipal golf courses in Michigan, Leslie Park opened in 1967 and was closed for renovation in 1995 by Arthur Hills to solve some drainage and design issues.

Leslie Park features great hole variety and holes Nos. 4 thru 6 might be the most difficult stretch of holes in Ann Arbor. The course is extremely undulating and features "Cardiac Hill" a path between the 13th green and 14th tee that is infamously steep and long and makes the 14th tee shot probably the most difficult on the course for walkers whose legs turn to mush once they reach the summit.

Huron Hills Golf Course: Leslie Park's little sibling, Huron Hills is a walking-only, par 67 course that is the perfect area option for beginners and youngsters.

The back nine is par 32 and extremely tight, while the front is a little longer and wide open. It plays at slightly more than 5,000 yards total and the ninth and 18th tee boxes are elevated and feature fantastic views of the Huron River Valley.

The course is also among the oldest in the area, opened in 1922 but in decent shape. Pull carts are available.

Consider these courses near Ann Arbor

Pierce Lake Golf Course: Located west of Ann Arbor off I-94, this Washtenaw County-owned course has five sets of tees and a challenging layout and ranks as one of the area's best bargains.

Eagle Crest Golf Club: Located East on I-94 in Ypsilanti. Eagle Crest has lowered greens fees and improved course conditions. It's now a must-play in the Ann Arbor-Ypsi area.

Fox Hills Country Club: Southeastern Michigan's mega facility is 20 minutes east of Ann Arbor on M-14. They've got everything from a cheap, classic 27-hole course, to the ritzy Golden Fox to the new par-3 Strategic Fox.

Also: Timber Trace Golf Club in Pinckney, Moose Ridge Golf Course in South Lyon and The Inn at St. John's in Plymouth are worth the half-hour's drive. For cheap, better-than-average muni-golf, try Green Oaks G.C. in Ypsilanti.

Ann Arbor area's best golf shop

The area's best golf shop by far is Miles of Golf, located between Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti on the corner of Carpenter and Packard.

The shop has everything, used and new. The practice range features grass hitting areas and mats and is heated in the winter. The "Cluboratory" is also an extensive club-fitting system. Golf World Business rated "Miles" a "Top 100 Golf Facility."

Places to eat

Ann Arbor features the best dining scene in southeastern Michigan. Start out at Main Street, which features a host of good Italian at Gratzi and Palio, southwest at Prickly Pear and hibachi at Chop House.

There's also Mongolian barbecue on Main Street for more casual dining. Just off Main Street, The Earle offers a fine wine list, food and live jazz nightly.

These places all charge top dollar, however. For good food off the beaten path, try Paesano's on Washtenaw Ave., right off US-23 and for the best sandwiches anywhere, head to Zingerman's Deli in historic Kerrytown.

Off course

There is life in Ann Arbor between college football seasons. The nightly outdoor Summer Music Festival lasts a month beginning in mid-June and features a host of musical and comedy acts like Bebe Neuwirth, Bobby McFerrin, Sandra Bernhard, Salmagundi, The Capital Steps and Chuck Corea of Weather Report.

A movie is played certain nights after sunset as well. The best spots for music any time of year is the Firefly Club, Heidelberg or Blind Pig.

The Ann Arbor Art Fair is the city's biggest draw each summer and happens in mid-July each year. If you aren't into art, however, stay far, far away.

Hotels, restaurants and roads are packed and most townies who can't make any money off art buffs take their vacation this week.

Places to stay

Weber's Inn is the premier hotel, locally owned on Jackson road on the west side of town. Campus Inn on Huron Street is where the UM football team stays before home games. It's one of Ann Arbor's tallest buildings and is in a great location if you're looking to explore the town.

The University of Michigan's Bell Tower Hotel has a limited amount of rooms and is at the heart of campus. There's also a variety of bed and breakfasts in town if you're looking for something a little more quaint.

Brandon TuckerBrandon Tucker, Managing Editor

Brandon Tucker is the Managing Editor for Golf Advisor. To date, his golf travels have taken him to over two dozen countries and over 500 golf courses worldwide. While he's played some of the most prestigious courses in the world, Tucker's favorite way to play the game is on a great muni in under three hours. Follow Brandon on Twitter at @BrandonTucker and on Instagram at BrandonTuckerGC.

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