Plymouth's Fox Hills is not only big, but it's versatile

By Jason Scott Deegan, Senior Staff Writer

PLYMOUTH, Mich. -- If variety is the spice of life, then Fox Hills is a taste every golfer will savor.

Fox Hills, the largest golf complex in southeast Michigan, boasts 63 holes, but it's not the size that makes it unique. It's the diversity.

Twenty-seven holes are for average golfers and league play, while the 18 holes at the Golden Fox course, designed by Arthur Hills, are for top players. But the feather in the cap might be the 18-hole Strategic Fox, a short course dedicated to introducing people to golf.

The versatility of Fox Hills led directly to a prestigious honor last year - the 2002 national course of the year award from the National Golf Course Owners Association.

"We are kind of an interesting complex," said Kathy Dul Aznavorian, the president of Fox Hills. "We have three different levels for different kinds of golfers. We are a unique property."

Aznavorian, named one of the top 10 most influential people in golf who live or work in metro Detroit by Crain's Detroit Business magazine in 2003, is one of the driving forces behind the growth of Fox Hills. The 56-year-old Plymouth resident is a current board member and past president of the Michigan Golf Course Owners Association.

She started in the golf business modestly, working at Shady Hollow Golf Club in Romulus, a course her parents once owned, every summer during high school and college. After graduating with an accounting degree, she helped with the books "part-time" until committing to Fox Hills full-time in 1988.

Aznavorian, along with co-owner Sandy Dul Miley, spurred on the growth of Fox Hills from a crowded golfing landscape with the addition of the 6,783-yard Golden Fox in 1989 and the Strategic Fox, designed by Ray Hearn, a decade later in 2001.

Showing a dedication that few clubs can match, Fox Hills also added clubhouses appropriate for each course. The Lakes-Woods-Hills nines feature a subtle log-cabin clubhouse. The clubhouse at the Strategic Fox, geared toward beginners and children, has a safari theme.

And to impress top players, the 32,000-square-foot main clubhouse is quite an impressive home base. This clubhouse is multi-faceted, hosting a popular Sunday Brunch year-round. Friday Night Fish Fries in the log cabin are a great treat for the whole family during the winter months.

Weddings, corporate outings and other family banquets keep the Fox Hills' staff jumping during the season.

"We try to be involved in the community with our social events on Mothers Day, Easter Sunday, Father's Day, Friday Night Fish Fries and Sunday Brunch," Aznavorian said. "A lot of golf courses are only visited by golfers. We wanted to be viewed by the public. We are a recreation facility for everyone."

Fox Hills is also creative with its golf, hosting outings during the dead of winter in the snow and at night during the summer.

What has most impressed the golf pundits, though, is the owners' dedication to growing the game. While most courses were building mega-courses to attract players, Fox Hills spent more than $2 million to add the Strategic Fox, arguably the second-best par-3 course in the Midwest behind the Threetops course at Treetops Sylvan Resort in Gaylord.

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.

"Even though Tiger Woods is so popular, and even though people are talking about golf more, the facts are that golf has not increased. There are not more people playing now than 10 years ago," Aznavorian said, citing National Golf Foundation statistics. "The demand is flat. The huge building of all these new courses has really made other courses look at what they are doing. We can't appeal to the same level of golfers anymore. We need to develop golfers, and Tiger is very appealing to younger kids."

The addition has brought out an entirely different clientele. Besides the traditional junior clinics and lessons, Fox Hills has created adult-children leagues, where fathers can play with daughters and mothers with sons. A beginner league, made up of mostly women, is now in its fourth year. It attracts all ages.

"The one thing beginners hate is people behind them," Aznavorian said. "We send them out with nobody to push them. They play six holes, and they love it. They aren't pressured. They don't have to keep score. Some beginners then graduate into intermediate leagues."

But if your game has already "graduated," the Golden Fox, a $7 million investment in the late 1980s, is the test for you. It was ranked sixth on Crain's list of the top 10 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 fun layouts, but are more for golfers on a budget than the Golden Fox. They ramble through undulating terrain in 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.

If you still haven't had enough golf, two driving ranges -- one at the Strategic course and one at the Golden Fox -- are available. The only thing Fox Hills lacks to be a true golf resort is lodging (and if you're really thinking big, a spa), but there are no plans for any such developments.

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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