Kingsley Club in northern Michigan gains national attention as a modern golf throwback
KINGSLEY, Mich. - Leave the black tie and ballroom gown at home. The private Kingsley Club, south of Traverse City, is getting back to the game's understated traditions - proving luxury doesn't always mean flashy accessories.
This is luxury in the form of pure and authentic grassroots golf.
The founders of the Kingsley Club wanted to create something of the same pedigree found in Ireland and Scotland's traditional golf clubs.
"They wanted to create something special, something that was a throwback to the traditions of the game," said David Plassman, director of golf. "They wanted a walking course, a golf club only. It's something that will stand the test of time. It already looks like it's been here 50-60 years."
The Kingsley Club isn't out to wow you with elegance. In fact, good luck even finding this place. It's well off the beaten path -- you steer through poorly marked dirt roads just to find it. Even though it's just a 20-minute drive from northern Michigan's biggest golf hub, it feels like you're light years from the 21st century.
The course is minimalist and links-style all the way. The bulldozer didn't see much action during construction. Most of the land wasn't moved at all, except for some on the first hole's fairway. The club also planted fescue fairways to promote a fast ground game. But there are holes that play to greens either elevated or guarded in front by bunkers as well. A full range of shots is required here.
"Our membership consists of guys from all around the country," Plassman said. "The majority are really good players and enjoy the variety of shots, whether it's the pitch, chip, bump-and-run ... You'll never go bored here."
This is Michigan architect Mike Devries' biggest attempt at the national golf scene. Once an intern of Tom Doak and a student of Alister Mackenzie's Crystal Downs just down the road in Frankfort, Devries has designed a golf course that is an understated links throwback.
Golf Digest put it in its Top 50 Golf Retreats. Golfweek named it 19th among modern U.S. golf courses.
Put Kingsley Club where you wish among Michigan's elite, depending on your personal tastes, but there is no disputing its uniqueness.
The first hole is a bold introduction: a long par-5 that plays to a double-fairway split by a collection of bunkers at the crest of the hill. From there, your second shot finds a collection area beneath the green as you face an uphill approach.
This is the nine where members separate themselves from guests in their match.
It's a roller coaster of shots from uneven fairway lies and landing zones not always easy to identify. Fairway bunkers are deep and plentiful. The grass lining them is wild and unkempt.
The back sets up a little more fair to virgin eyes here, with fewer tricks and some birdie opportunities.
The 285-yard 12th hole is a fantastic short par-4. It's drivable, with plenty of room to roll up a tee shot. The tricky part is mostly the gigantic multitiered green over 13,000 square feet. The pin location determines the better play off the tee. A front pin lets you take a shot at it, but if it's in a tucked, back location, it's best to leave a good chip shot on.
The par-5 17th lends another chance for birdie. If your drive can eclipse the crest of the fairway about 260 yards out, it will roll another 40 yards or so down the hill, leaving potentially a midiron or so into the elevated and well-guarded green.
Kingsley Club: The verdict
Kingsley Club is a player's club. In fact, despite being open for about five years now, it doesn't have a permanent clubhouse yet. It's all about the golf here, and the membership is signed on for that very reason. It's a challenging course, despite a championship yardage under 6,800 yards that only gets better the more you play and learn it.
It's also the kind of club that doesn't want members to feel the need to reserve a tee time. They aim to keep membership levels down so players can come on anytime they please.
July 18, 2007