Faulkwood Shores Golf Club: A solid but uninspiring layout in Howell
Howell, Mich. -- Over the past 10 years, Michiganders (especially those in the southern Lower Peninsula) have witnessed exponential growth in the state's golf industry. With this proliferation of high-quality courses built by big-name designers on choice properties, the handful of southern Michigan golf courses that existed prior to the golf boom have suffered from the competition: Without the amenities, the memorable layouts, the meticulous conditioning, these reasonably enjoyable and often demanding tracks are left to languish in relative obscurity, known only to loyal locals.
Faulkwood Shores Golf Club in Howell is a prime example of the way in which course standards have changed over the last decade or two. Host to Buick Open qualifying rounds in 1991-93, Faulkwood Shores still offers a solid test of players' skills (140 slope rating from the tips) at a fair price. But the layout suffers from uninspiring surroundings, redundancy of design, and uneven conditions.
Ralph Banfield, original owner of the property upon which the course and the neighboring trailer park are located today, designed the course himself, and built the first nine in 1969 "with a bulldozer and a hoe," jokes Club Professional Tim Swenson. This constitutes one point where Faulkwood loses out to newer courses: Banfield was not a professional course architect, and he never designed another course.
So when it comes to choosing between a Matthews, Hearn, Newcomb or Hills course or the Banfield course, which one do you suspect most avid golfers would prefer?
Not that Mr. Banfield did a bad job -- as mentioned, the course is plenty hard, and at 6,828 yards from the back tees, it is plenty long, too. Water comes into play on six holes, including a few rather pretty approaches to greens. Nevertheless, if you're used to playing some of the newer, more stylish courses, you will be struck by the repetition: basically round greens of mostly the same smallish size with two greenside bunkers, front left and front right on fourteen holes (imagine the green is a crab's shell and the bunkers are the claws).
Most unfortunate, however, is the ambiance -- or lack thereof -- in the local surroundings. Along the eighth and ninth holes lies a trailer court, which is a very well-kept and pleasant trailer court, but not particularly picturesque. (Although the residents are obviously serious golfers, as evidenced by the golf carts parked next to nearly every home.) Much worse, however, is the sewage treatment pond behind the fourth tee, which smells a bit like, well, actually quite a lot like, um -- a sewage treatment pond.
Now, with this said, Faulkwood Shores has a very loyal local clientele, thanks to the aforementioned low rates and difficult layout. The front nine plays easier overall than the back, though the front features three holes whose bentgrass greens slope very steeply from back to front. Pro Tim Swenson strongly encourages newcomers to "stay in front of the greens and below the holes." If this advice is followed, putts will drop.
Hole No. 3, a 419-yard par 4 and number one handicap hole, is a big dogleg left. The fairway ends just around the bend at a pond, and the severely back-to-front sloped green is steeply elevated above the fairway and pond. Now the local knowledge: Big hitters can cut a huge chunk off the corner by aiming left of the fairway. As long as you don't hit a tree, your tee shot will run through the shade-stunted rough to the far edge of the tree line, leaving anywhere from 150 to 120 yards to the green.
The 438-yard par-4 11th is one of the more visually appealing holes. From the tips, you have to hit your tee ball out of a tight chute of trees. Your approach then needs to carry water and/or sand to find the green. The 11th is fairly typical of the par 4s here: Only four measure less than 400 yards, and just one (the 15th) is found on the back nine. And that one requires precision off the tee.
At 445 yards, the 18th is one of the longest of these par 4s. This is a nice closing hole, with a narrow fairway and an approach over a pond and fountain. Even though the right side of this hole is wide open, if you want a reasonable second to the green, you need to be in the center of the fairway.
As Tim Swenson puts it, "This course sneaks up on you in terms of difficulty." There is a nice mix of target golf and power golf, and the conditions on the whole are above average, although some of the greens were chippy and the fringe on No. 3 was mysteriously completely dead.
The clubhouse offers a snack bar and a limited pro shop (balls, clothes, putters). The practice facilities are nice - range, bunker, and putting green -- and Swenson offers individual and group lessons. All in all, this is a perfect course for weekly leagues (of which they have a lot) and low-cost outings, but may not be a big draw for those outside the Howell area.
February 28, 2002