Birds of a feather: Eagle Eye Golf Club opens at Hawk Hollow

By Kiel Christianson, Senior Writer

No. 17 at Eagle Eye Golf ClubBATH, Mich. - From Detroit to Grand Rapids, southern Michigan boasts some great cities, and some even better golf. But what do most southern Michiganders do when they want a summer golf vacation? They pack up their Michi-geese and Michi-goslings, grab their sticks, load up the minivan, and haul the entire honking mess up north.

Who can blame them? Northern Michigan golf is awe-inspiring, and the resorts are posh. And no matter how many superb courses one can list in the wrist-end of the mitten, there aren't a whole lot of golf destinations.

That is, not until now.

With the grand opening of Eagle Eye Golf Club across Chandler Road from Hawk Hollow, all of the sudden Lansing (yes, that's right, Lansing) has turned into a legitimate golf hot spot.

Hawk Hollow's spacious nest

Several years ago, when I reviewed Hawk Hollow's original 18 and its just-opened "new" nine, I commented that the facility had an "embarrassment of riches." Not satisfied with 18 holes that had earned 4.5 stars from Golf Digest, the facility also boasted an 18-hole, all-grass putting course complete with water hazards and sand traps that would make a Zen monk pine for the monastery. Then they added holes 19-27, which are as tough as any other contiguous nine holes in the state.

No. 13 at Eagle Eye Golf ClubLast season witnessed the most recent expansion: The nine-hole walking course called The Falcon, a 2,363-yard walking course consisting of five par-3s and four par-4s. Unlike par-3 courses, The Falcon lets you hit driver on a couple of holes. And unlike most "executive" courses, The Falcon's grooming and conditioning make you think "CEO," instead of "mailroom guy." Playable in less that two hours, the course is ideal for long lunches or extended "errands" on weekends when you can disappear for a couple of hours without arousing suspicions, but four or five might land you on the couch for the night.

How, then, could owner Daryl Kesler hope to add to the existing quality of the facilities? He would need something over-the-top, a course of such quality that it could contend as a venue for professional tournaments. He would need a delicate balance between gimmick and tradition, between gusto and grandeur.

The Eagle has landed

Enter Chris Lutzke, graduate of Michigan States's Landscape Architecture Program and long-time course-shaper/builder and protégé of legendary Pete Dye. Kesler handed Lutzke 350 acres of a former sod, mint, and potato farm, and Lutzke -- in collaboration with Dye (whose own work has slowed due to illness) -- transformed what had been a dead flat, deadly dull landscape into 7,260 yards of tumbling fairways and sprawling greens.

No. 16 at Eagle Eye Golf ClubEvoking Ireland and Florida simultaneously, Eagle Eye is truly a unique bird among the famously diverse flock of Michigan golf courses. Five sets of tees allow golfers of all skill levels to enjoy the rambling woodsy-watery-linksy track, which just wouldn't be complete without the 10,500-odd railroad ties laid in homage to Mr. Dye.

Forty-one acres of wetlands and more than 100 bunkers add to the visual spectacle of the course. As mentioned, the greens are enormous, with some measuring 50-plus yards deep (the green at the 242-yard, par-3 12th is 65 yards deep!). Added to the winds whipping over the still-flat surrounding acreage, these huge putting surfaces will extract their toll from players whose club selection is suspect.

Alex Coss, General Manager of the growing kingdom of Hawk Hollow, calls the job that Lutzke has done "art," because of the amount of earth the architect had to move and shape to create interesting -- make that inspiring -- golf holes. "From number nine onward," said Coss as he drove me around the course two months prior to the grand opening, "it was all flat."

The most talked-about feature of the course, however, won't be the artistic shaping or the fine routing, which incorporates 41 acres of wetlands and, like Old-World layouts, allows golfers multiple paths into the massive greens depending on the weather, pin placement, and intestinal fortitude of the individual player. The part of the course that will get most of the press, and equal amounts of criticism and praise, is the 169-yard, par-3 17th.

According to a source who shall remain nameless, Lutzke phoned Dye at one point during the early routing and said that he'd really like to do something special, that the land would be perfect for an island green. Dye reportedly said something to the effect that Lutzke should know where the most famous island green in the world -- and Dye's most recognizable hole -- is. Why not build a replica?

According to the same source, Eagle Eye's 17th is an extremely accurate replica of that "other" 17th, somewhere well south of Michigan.

Spreading its wings

With the economy limping like a duffer with bunions and the golf business hobbling behind like his three-legged mutt, how can Hawk Hollow spread its wings in such dramatic fashion? First of all, it doesn't hurt that owner Kesler has essentially financed the entire project without turning to banks. "Banks won't lend a dime for golf these days," says GM Coss, only somewhat ruefully. "Not even if you're a millionaire with one successful course and Pete Dye on your team."

Kesler must be nothing short of a financial savant, then, because Eagle Eye's clubhouse (still under construction) will dwarf Hawk Hollow's, which is grand in its own right. By the time the carpenters head home, the Eagle Eye clubhouse will be 70,000-square feet -- three times the size of Hawk Hollow's. It will include a 16,000-square feet fitness center, three restaurants, and banquet facilities. In case you're wondering what the fitness center is for, Coss explains that when completed, there will be some 2,000 people living in the residential communities planned in association with the courses. "Access to the facilities is a perk of home ownership," he explains.

"We've been lucky here," says Coss. "Play's been good, and you have to look at the big picture. We have a lot of housing and a hotel planned for the future. Hawk hollow is upscale, but we don't have any premier courses in the area. With what we've got, we feel this could make Lansing into a real golf destination."

That's what he said: Lansing.

Where to Stay & Eat

Courtyard by Marriott,
2710 Lake Lansing Road, E. Lansing,
Tel: (517) 482-0500

University Quality Inn,
3121 E. Grand River, Lansing,
Tel: (517) 351-1440

Eastwood Towne Center,
3003 Preyde Blvd., Lansing,
Tel: (517) 316-9209,
Web: shopeastwoodtownecenter.com (several restaurants and lots of shopping)(Call 888-11-HAWK for stay and play packages.)

Kiel ChristiansonKiel Christianson, Senior Writer

Kiel Christianson has lived, worked, traveled and golfed extensively on three continents. As senior writer and equipment editor for WorldGolf.com, he has reviewed courses, resorts, and golf academies from California to Ireland, including his home course, Lake of the Woods G.C. in Mahomet, Illinois. Read his golf blog here.


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