Pinecroft G.C. in Beulah: Value-priced northern Michigan golf
BEULAH, Mich. -- When you think of northern Michigan golf, your mind likely turns immediately to big-name, high-priced courses designed by nationally renowned architects. Fair enough. These are the ones that get all the press. Well, not all the press: We here at MichiganGolf.com derive as much pleasure from unearthing hidden treasures as we do highlighting already famous resort courses.
And one of those sparkling, undervalued gems is Pinecroft Golf Course up in Beulah. For an extremely reasonable green fee, Pinecroft gives golfers beautiful views of Crystal Lake, risk-reward opportunities, elevation changes, fine conditions, and more than its fair share of memorable holes. Simply put: If you want north-woods golf without the Paul Bunyan-sized price tag, this is the golf course for you.
Lee Stone, who along with his partner Jim Cole, designed and built Pinecroft Golf Course 10 years ago, is proud of the fact that the course came in on budget and, as a result, is affordable and playable for all golfers. The amazing piece of land on which the 6,447-yard, par-72 layout is built was originally a cherry farm.
"My grandfather started the farm in the early 1900s," says Stone, "and we didn't want to split it up into plots for houses, even though we could have made more money doing that." By building his own golf course, Stone was "able to continue to farm [the land] - just in a different way."
The home-grown nature of the course is one of the major reasons Pinecroft is so affordable. This land is truly a course architect's dream, and if Stone and Cole had hired a big-name designer to do the layout, it could easily have turned into yet another $80+ northern Michigan course. Instead, Stone and Cole (along with Andy Norman, co-designer) decided to do it themselves, and let the spectacular land speak for itself throughout the track.
Stone et al. did their homework before plunging headlong into course design: They mixed tight holes in with more forgiving ones, varied the yardages of the par 3s (from 120 up to 223 yards from the tips), took advantage of natural undulations in the fairways (good luck finding a level lie on No. 3), and included two drivable par 4s, one accessible to power fades, one accessible to big draws. The only evidence of the owner's do-it-yourself credo and lower budget are the overall scarcity of bunkers and the generally simple green complexes. However, the bunkers that are here are all purposefully placed, intriguingly shaped, and impeccably conditioned. And even without bunkering, chip shots from the edges of the greens are very tricky, due to the contouring of the putting surfaces.
It's as if Stone and his partners just walked the property and let the land speak to them, dictating how each hole could best use the natural contours and provide the most memorable views out over Crystal Lake. Stone says they moved very little dirt in the construction - they didn't have to. Whatever the design lacks in bells and whistles, nature more than makes up for. The sunset over the lake alone is enough to regularly draw non-golfers for a ride around the links.
Pinecroft Golf Course is walkable, with relatively short distances from one green to the next tee. But be prepared for some huffing and puffing, as there are plenty of elevation changes. The mature bluegrass fairways are mown less tightly than some, but they provide nice, high, plush lies. And, best of all, the tough strain of turf and the sandy soil combine for fantastic drainage, allowing cart-riders to freely traverse the fairways, even after torrential rains. It had rained literally all night (and most of the day) before I played, and I found a grand total of only four slightly soggy spots on the entire course.
The bentgrass greens are smallish, and vary from tilted (generally back to front) to undulating. Overall, the course rewards precision over length - there are plenty of opportunities to lose balls if you're wild off the tee, but also plenty of birdie opportunities if you find the fairways.
The most enjoyable holes on Pinecroft Golf Course are Nos. 2, 8-12, and 18, all of which take full advantage of the elevation changes the property has to offer. The par-3 2nd (223 yards from the tips, 190 from the blues) is worth the price of admission. The tees tower over the putting surface, and you get a lovely, distant view of Crystal Lake as you ponder just what the heck club you want to try to hit through the claustrophobic chute of tree limbs. The green is wide and fairly deep, but well-bunkered on both sides.
No. 8, a 378-yard par 4, has a wide fairway, but tall pines pinch off the approach. You'll need a solid drive for a view of the putting surface. The 533-yard 9th is a 90-degree dogleg left, which presents a real bear of a tee shot from the tips, fifty yards behind the white tees. Players can cut something off the corner on the second shot if the tee ball comes up short, but the approach is all uphill to a very well-bunkered green that slopes decisively from back to front. If the pin is back, take an extra club (or two).
No. 10 (399 yards, par 4) features an elevated tee, a slight dogleg left, and an approach to a tiered green tucked coyly behind the corner of a pond. No. 11 (401 yards, par 4) runs back uphill, with a tee shot over the same pond to a fairway that narrows by one-half at the 150-yard posts. You feel pretty good when you par this number one-handicap hole.
Pinecroft Golf Course's 429-yard, par-4 12th finishes off this exceptional string of five holes. Here you'll find another gorgeous, elevated tee box from which you can blast one through (or over) another corridor of pines and maples. The tiny green on this three-handicap hole features a hump in the middle of it, and it is all too easy to putt from fringe to fringe (and back again to the other fringe).
Finally, the par-5 18th is a tough closer, not because it's long (only 489 yards), but because from tee to green, it offers players a splendid view of Crystal Lake, as well as the rest of the golf course. Don't let your eyes - or your golf ball - wander right here, or you'll end your round with a big number.
Pinecroft Golf Course: The verdict
For the money, it's tough to find a more pleasant round up north than Pinecroft Golf Course. True, you won't be dazzled by white-sand bunkers or lightning-fast greens. And you won't be pampered with fancy food or drinks in the small clubhouse (which contains only a snack bar, with no alcohol). But you will find 18 solid golf holes, serviceable practice facilities (with lessons available by appointment), and some absolutely stunning scenery through mid-October, when you can still play in perfect conditions and have the course practically to yourself.
And this, rather than snob-appeal, is what northern Michigan golf is all about.
May 21, 2003