Lyon Oaks in Oakland County: Your local muni never looked so good

By Brandon Tucker, Managing Editor

WIXOM, Mich. - When's the last time you got excited, or even downright giddy to play a local muni?

City-owned courses, especially in many parts of metro Detroit, are often kept in poor to awful shape. The layout is often uninspiring and designed by a no-name. Greens fees are cheap and you get what you pay for.

But Oakland County is different. And frankly, it should be. The money is there, since it's one of America's richest counties thanks to the auto industry executives. The demand for golf is also still going strong.

The brand-new Lyon Oaks Golf Club was built first class all the way by the Oakland County Parks and Recreation department. Officials were so meticulous they could have opened the course a year earlier, but waited a season so the course could mature and the wondrous clubhouse could be completed. That tender loving care shows in the course today.

How dedicated is the Oakland County Parks and Recreation department to golf? Five of the county's nine parks now have courses. And the 6,837-yard Lyon Oaks is the crown jewel of them all.

The others - Glen Oaks in Farmington Hills, Springfield Oaks in Davisburg, Red Oaks in Madison Heights and White Lake Oaks in White Lake - are all pleasant designs to a certain degree (see below), but Lyon Oaks is a step above in its design, difficulty, appeal and maintenance.

Seldom does a government-owned park become a must-play, but Lyon Oaks is nothing short of it. It's also less expensive than most courses in affluent Oakland County, where ritzy country clubs abound.

County residents even get a few bucks off at any of the county-owned courses, including Lyon Oaks. Right down the road from a large Ford Motor Co. plant, it's sure to get lots of play from off-duty golfers.

Park officials considered using the land for a housing development, but architect Arthur Hills and his staff at the Toledo-based Arthur Hills and Associates appreciated the chance to showcase their design skills. Normally, courses fit onto 200 acres of land, but Lyon Oaks takes up nearly 300, giving each hole a natural corridor of its own, something common in northern Michigan, not the suburbs.

"Lyon Oaks is situated on a beautiful piece of property with rolling hills, mature trees and natural wetlands," Hills writes in a course brochure. "Individual holes were placed carefully so as not to disrupt the natural character of the site."

A large driving range and a 21,000-square foot clubhouse, which can accommodate up to 450 people for weddings and banquets, compliment the course.

"There are many private clubs that drool over the facilities that are here," said Steve DeForrest, an architect with Arthur Hills' company. "The course is just a higher level of quality all the way around than you see at most county parks. It is the country-club-for-a-day type of feel."

Lyon Oaks features plenty of target golf with numerous carries over wetlands, especially on approach shots. The back nine demands "island hopping," as DeForrest describes it, where players must hit to designated fairway areas over and around wetlands.

The front nine is highlighted by the 353-yard second hole with a carry over water to a slim fairway with water left and two bunkers right. The green is tucked behind a bay of water and another bunker, but the meat of the course lies in its finish.

After No. 15 - a tight, 354-yard par 4 that doglegs hard right around a swamp - the 575-yard par-5 16th is the signature hole. This brute alone accounts for 20 acres as it sweeps like a crescent moon around a ferocious wetland of tall weeds. Golfers should take note that there's a hidden pocket of fairway for players trying to cut the dogleg on the second shot, so use it wisely.

The 510-yard, par-5 18th is a demanding finish. Players must bomb their second shot over a hidden wetland or lay up short at the 175-yard mark for a tough approach to a green guarded by a lake on the left side.

Hills and DeForrest took great care to leave nature intact, even keeping large oaks in the middle of the fairway. Signs throughout the course educate golfers on the plant and animal life on the course. The only drawback to the all-natural look is that several wetlands sit smack-dab in the landing zones for most bogey golfers.

But that hasn't halted the course's popularity. If the course continues to get the attention it has received early in its career, DeForrest said a third nine could be in the near future. Other planned improvements to the 1,025-acre park include hiking trails, a playground, a 12-acre "Bark Park" for leash-free dogs and cross country skiing.

Oakland County's other municipal courses

Springfield Oaks: Although it lacks length (6,033 yards) and difficulty (118 slope) from the tips, this course is a hidden Oakland County gem. Few players know how good the course really is.

But the word is getting out. The 2000 Crain's Detroit Business Golf Guide named it No. 1 in Michigan for "best value" and second in its "best woman-friendly course" category. It costs just $42 for non-county residents ($35 for residents) to ride on weekends.

Opened in 1960, Springfield Oaks, located at 12450 Andersonville Road, features hilly terrain and wildflowers galore. The county recently added several upgrades, including more trees, a permanent restroom on the course and more cart paths. The course is very walkable. The front nine is more open with a wooded back nine. For a tee time, call (248) 625-2540.

Glen Oaks: The county has also made improvements to this par-70 layout, which is located at 30500 13th Mile Road. A new watering system has greatly helped the course conditions.

Three holes have been redesigned and the 1920s English-style stone clubhouse has been expanded to include banquet facilities. Even with six par-3s, ranging from 232 to 155 yards, Glen Oaks is the second-longest Oakland County Park course at 6,117 yards. For a tee time, call (248) 851-8356.

White Lake Oaks: This par-70 is more suited for seniors and juniors, than skilled players, because of its lack of length (5,738 yards with a slope of 111 from the tips). Five of the 10 par-4 holes are less than 340 yards and all three of the par 5s are less than 500 yards, giving players a great chance for a career round.

The course, located at 991 Williams Lake Road, annually hosts the Oakland County Senior and Junior Opens. For a tee time, call (248) 698-2700.

Red Oaks: This nine-hole course in Madison Heights was closed during construction of the George W. Kuhn Drain Project. After a redesign of several holes and the construction of a new clubhouse, the course opened in the spring of 2004.

New bunkers, tees and larger greens are among the improvements, as well as a new clubhouse. The course is a favorite among juniors and holds a junior tournament each summer.

Brandon TuckerBrandon Tucker, Managing Editor

Brandon Tucker is the Managing Editor for Golf Advisor. To date, his golf travels have taken him to over two dozen countries and over 500 golf courses worldwide. While he's played some of the most prestigious courses in the world, Tucker's favorite way to play the game is on a great muni in under three hours. Follow Brandon on Twitter at @BrandonTucker and on Instagram at BrandonTuckerGC.

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