Fox Hills has something for every level of golfer, especially a few lessons

By Jason Scott Deegan, Senior Staff Writer

PLYMOUTH, Mich. - One building block at a time, the Fox Hills Golf & Banquet Center has grown into the most dynamic, trend-setting golf facility in metro Detroit.

First, it was the addition of the Golden Fox by Arthur Hills in 1989, setting a standard of good golf pre-dating southeast Michigan's course-building boom. Then, it was the addition of the Strategic Fox in 2001, a Ray Hearn design considered one of the best par-3 courses in the Midwest.

Even in a down economy, sisters Kathy Aznavorian and Sandy Dul Miley, the co-owners, haven't stopped there. This season, the 63-hole facility added a nationally acclaimed golf school, partnering with the respected program at Crystal Mountain resort in Thompsonville to bring quality instruction to the thousands of golfers in the area.

Brad Dean, the director of golf at Crystal Mountain who is one of the state's top teachers, will visit from time to time, but he gave up his long-time right hand man, Scott Wilson, to head up the program fulltime.

"I'm hoping (our school) fills a void (in the Detroit area)," Dean said. "We do a lot of different programs. People are sometimes leery of golf schools. They think they will change your swing completely, but we figured out a way to help make you a better player."

Dean said the addition of the Strategic Fox, designed specifically for junior and beginner golfers, and the family atmosphere at Fox Hills made the partnership attractive. Fox Hills' general manager Rich Apodaca said the deal came together quickly in less than three months. The two will share revenues.

"We both had different needs," Apodaca said. "They wanted to get the southern exposure and we wanted an award-winning teaching program."

But won't the schools compete with each other for students?

"Both programs are going to benefit from each other," Wilson said. "The experience at Crystal is a little different. We promote it as a learning vacation for folks to get away from home. With the school at Fox Hills, we' ve got something our students can use as brush-up lessons (near their homes). For people who want to keep their progress going, they have a place to go."

Construction on a state-of-the-art teaching facility should be completed by October, Apodaca said. The practice area will also be renovated, improving an already expansive driving range and chipping and putting areas.

"We will provide a year-round heated instruction facility with four covered hitting areas, two enclosed studios and office space," Apodaca said. "We will do a lot of club fitting there, too."

"It will be a facility that is nicer than ours (at Crystal Mountain). Their philosophy of how they want to grow the game fits in conjunction with our golf schools. It gives beginners a wonderful place to learn the game," said Dean.

Plenty of admirable teachers provide instruction in metro Detroit -- Dave Kendall at Miles of Golf in Ypsilanti Township and Dick Bury at Carl's Golfland in Bloomfield Township come to mind. But organized weekend sessions are the new school's specialty. The two-day sessions cost roughly $375 per person. By comparison, one-day midweek sessions cost $250.

Kendall, a friend of Dean's and another of the state's best teachers, said there is room for a golf school in metro Detroit.

"It will challenge all of us to put forth a better product," he said. "I' m hoping that they are not such a competitor that they put us out of business. Who is the winner in this? Golfers."

The new Fox Hills school will house four full-time teachers, including Elaine Crosby, a former LGPA player from Jackson who will specialize in teaching women on Tuesdays, the same role she has at Crystal Mountain, and Barry Redmond.

"This is the Harvard of golf schools," said Apodaca. "We think this will be a home run for golf."

Friday nights are couples-only learn to golf, costing $299 per couple, while Wednesdays are open to anyone who wants a group lesson, ranging from $85-$125 for adults and $60-$90 for juniors. More than 100 sessions are planned this summer.

If you're not big into practicing drills all days, don't worry. Wilson says the sessions head out onto the courses on a regular basis.

If you feel you've graduated from the school and you're ready for 18 holes on your own, Fox Hills has a great array of tests to challenge your new, improved swing.

For the Strategic Fox, Hearn built the front nine with the rookies in mind. It plays just 1,140 yards with four holes under 110 yards. But the back nine -- after most beginners retire for the day - steps it up considerably, with five holes longer than 165 yards, including tough 195-yard shots on No. 13 and No. 18. Water comes into play on the 9th (151 yards), 17th (171 yards) and 18th holes.

The Golden Fox, a $7 million investment, ranks as one of the top public courses in southeast Michigan. Its conditions are top-notch as a certified Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary course. The only gimmick is the very large mound that forces a completely blind shot to the green at the 396-yard 15th.

The Woodlands-Lakes-Hills nines are more for golfers on a budget. They ramble through wooded areas. The original 18 holes were built in 1921 with the final nine holes added in 1982. The Hills (3,028 yards) and Woodlands (2,941) both play short by modern standards and are par-35s, while the Lakes is a brute at 3,450 from the tips.

Just remember, if you're hitting too many shots out of bounds, head back to school. You're playing partners will thank you.

Jason Scott DeeganJason Scott Deegan, Senior Staff Writer

Jason Scott Deegan has reviewed more than 700 courses and golf destinations for some of the industry's biggest publications. His work has been honored by the Golf Writer's Association of America and the Michigan Press Association. Follow him on Twitter at @WorldGolfer.

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