Devil's Ridge Golf Club in Oxford brings the northern resort experience to metro Detroit
OXFORD, Mich. -- It's a view you're sure you've seen before, but never quite like this. Never quite this far south, anyway. Standing on the clubhouse balcony that overlooks the first hole of Devil's Ridge Golf Club in Oxford -- an awe-inspiring view that provides a panoramic look at the acreage of rolling, tree-lined golf course -- you could swear you've seen it before. Then it hits you.
The view is strikingly similar to the sights you soaked in "Up North", at Treetops, or perhaps Boyne, where resort golf has become synonymous with offering delicious views of some of the state's most beautiful areas.
Yet here you are, a half hour north of Detroit, where course contour is typically reserved for even the slightest elevation change. Devil's Ridge has brought the northern resort experience a short drive (car ride, that is) from the most populous place in Michigan, close enough to play without devoting a weekend to get there. If the Garlands, Treetops and Boynes of the world have a downfall, it's location, in that folks living in the southern part of the state have to mark off a substantial part of their calendars to play them.
As a result, golf courses in and around Detroit, Ann Arbor and Kalamazoo continue to stack at a rate reminiscent of Detroit Tiger losses, and a good number of them deliver a championship caliber brand of golf. Few, though, can mimic the scenic beauty that their northern counterparts do. But here you are. The exception that proves the rule.
Devil's Ridge alleviates the need to travel to a resort by bringing the resort to you. The short (par 35), but hazard-infested front nine and the long (par 37), more forgiving back combine to make for a challenging round that borrows heavily from something closer to Traverse City.
Located in Oakland County, one of the country's wealthiest areas where quality public play is available at every turn, Devil's Ridge certainly had its work cut out if achieving originality was the goal. They achieved it. Head Golf Professional Rick Fleming and Course Superintendent Robert Blitchok offer a course that blends the northern Michigan feel with impeccable grooming and memorable hole layouts.
Devil's Ridge Golf Club's front nine
The front nine dances through in-course ponds, and after that dry first hole that mesmerized you from the clubhouse, water comes into play virtually the rest of the way. The front also features a par 4 recently tagged by one golf publication as one of the toughest holes in southeastern Michigan. The par 4 fifth, a 438-yard dogleg left from the tournament tees, is as challenging a hole as you'll ever care to take on. It stretches to 461 yards from the back championship tees, and features water lining the left side of the fairway and wetlands lining the much of the right side. To consider reaching the green in two, you need a well-placed, long drive to reach the fairway's bend, and then another strong, accurate second shot.
Shot-making like that is critical at Devil's Ridge, where the fairways were cut tight into the Northern Oakland County landscape. Water is a nuisance around all but three of the greens, and sand bunkers are strategically placed, though not over-done.
When Devil's Ridge isn't challenging your lateral accuracy, it's putting your club selection skills to the test. The second hole is a 188-yard par 3 that features a tee-to-green drop-off reminiscent of Threetops.
Devil's Ridge Golf Club's back nine
Things do change on Devil's Ridge Golf Club's back nine, not always for the worse. If looking for a negative, it's the back nine's use of tiered fairways. They can force players to think on the tee, and prompt considerable use of the Global Satellite Positioning systems which each cart is equipped with. No hole serves a better example than No. 10, a blind tee shot to a fairway that, as you later learn, is broken into three different portions. The GPS can help, but the hole truly is one that plays more fairly on your second go-round after you've had a chance to see first-hand what hides behind the fairway rise.
A few similar occurrences, where you find yourself hitting into the unknown, are about the only thing Devil's Ridge has weighing against it, and even those are easily overlooked. In fact, those blind shots change depending on where you decide to line up, leading to another facet of the course design where Devil's Ridge scores big. While many courses offer four, even five, sets of tee boxes apparently just for the sake of being able to claim as much, Devil's Ridge features four distinctly different sets to accommodate different levels of player.
The forward tees stretch 4,113 yards, the players/senior tees reach 5,479 yards, the tournament tees cover 6,288 yards, and the championship tees range 6,754 yards. They do more than offer varying distances, though; they also provide players with different angles and different looks, and make it evident that as much thought went into the placement of the forward tees as did that of the championships.
A cart is mandatory at Devil's Ridge, where at times, upwards of a quarter-mile separates green and tee. Like those resort courses further north, it isn't built to be walked.
February 28, 2002