LochenHeath Golf Club in Williamsburg makes miracle comeback after two-year closure
WILLIAMSBURG, Mich. -- The reopening of LochenHeath Golf Club this spring after a two-year closure thrilled local players, but it probably made some Michigan golf course owners and operators cringe.
LochenHeath's rebirth goes against the drumbeat of change that owners and operators have been preaching the past few years.
Many leaders point to oversupply as a major reason the industry isn't getting any healthier in the state. National Golf Foundation statistics show golf is losing more players than it is gaining, leaving the courses to battle over the same smaller pool of customers.
Price wars, while good for the players, have gouged bottom lines. Some courses have conceded shortcuts in maintenance and service during this economic downturn, further eroding industry standards. Everybody's learning to make more out of less.
"We're all stealing (customers) from each other," admitted Jim Dewling, president of Total Golf Inc., a course management company in metro Detroit.
So why save LochenHeath -- especially when High Pointe Golf Club sits just down the road? High Pointe, one of Tom Doak's first designs, closed in 2009, the same year LochenHeath went into foreclosure and another Traverse City-area course, the former Kings Challenge, began its transition into the rejuvenated Manitou Passage Golf Club in Cedar.
LochenHeath General Manager Mike Husby, one of the new investors who bought the club back from the bank, said the one-time private club was too good to let go.
"Because it was private, not many people got a chance to play LochenHeath," Husby said. "They can't understand what an experience it is."
LochenHeath's water views, a sprawling practice facility and a cozy clubhouse are great, but long-term survival hinges on whether the goodwill from the reopening continues its momentum season after season.
The rebirth of LochenHeath Golf Club
LochenHeath's revival can be traced to the unwavering commitment of a handful of its original members, several of whom have built homes in the 600-acre gated community. They worked diligently behind the scenes to ensure the golf course didn't disappear. They plucked weeds. The former maintenance staff kept on cutting the grass. One member even negotiated with a local power company to get electricity restored, so the irrigation system could be turned back on.
"They believed in LochenHeath," Husby said. "Someday, there needs to be a statue for them."
The course has its quirks -- the first two drives are virtually blind, and the back nine is relentless in its routing -- but as a facility, LochenHeath exudes first class. Steve Smyers designed the 7,239-yard course from an old cherry orchard in 2001 just a mile from the Grand Traverse Resort & Spa. He returned for a tune-up in 2004 to create several new holes, rework green sites and phase out several old holes that became real estate for development. LochenHeath went private at that time but plans to stay a resort course in the future.
The golf course mixes an open meadow feel with splashes of traditional northern woods. The drivable par-4 sixth hole plays along the East Grand Traverse Bay. The seventh rockets down what feels like a ski slope to the green. LochenHeath's 77 curvaceous bunkers add visual appeal. To top it all off, the deck of the remodeled clubhouse overlooks the lake.
Dennis Carol, a local player from Traverse City, said he's pleased the course was resuscitated. He considers LochenHeath comparable to the three courses at Grand Traverse but at a significant reduction in green fees.
"It's a beautiful golf course with all the views," he said. "It's impressive that it is back in shape already."
LochenHeath Golf Club: The verdict
Considering the course was on its deathbed, it's almost a miracle that LochenHeath Golf Club looks healthier than ever. It hardly resembles a place back from triage. The conditioning is superb. The one obstacle will always be capturing repeat business. There's so much competition up north that golfers might steer clear of a difficult course that can shred their egos.