The Preserve Golf Club Enters a New Era in Michigan
FENTON, Mich. - In June, 2001, The Preserve Golf Club opened in this midway stop between Detroit and Flint. The 6,871-yard, par-71 Arnold Palmer Signature Course, which sprawls over 400 topographically diverse acres and boasts a number of classic sod-faced monsters among its 74 bunkers, immediately gained critical acclaim.
The King himself even said of The Preserve, "This is the ideal inland golf site. It has unique rolling terrain and stunning mature trees found in a naturally beautifully setting. [This site] has it all."
Then, within less than a half a year, The Preserve went bankrupt. (And a bevy of bankers let out a whopping Homer Simpson "D'oh!")
Today, however, under the new ownership of Golf Course Properties, LLC (Ann Arbor), and under the new management of Arnold Palmer Golf Management, The Preserve appears to be off the endangered list.
Improvements Inside and Out
Several overgrown McMansions can still be seen standing empty on the surrounding real estate development, bearing witness to the money lost during the first stage of the property's existence. But new signs of life are even more visible at The Preserve.
Since taking over ownership, Golf Course Properties, LLC has pumped more than $500,000 into recent construction. Nearly half that amount was devoted to paving the once-gravel parking lot, and adding lighting and landscaping to the clubhouse grounds. Other improvements to the clubhouse service include the acquisition of a liquor license, the hiring of Executive Chef David Krupin, and a completely redecorated interior.
Considering that original members - prior to bankruptcy - were paying thousands of dollars to join a club without paved parking or booze, it's no wonder the place went under.
Fortunately, however, the course itself did not suffer greatly during the period between owners. And these days, the conditions have even improved. According to GM Ken Kapcia, "The maintenance staff is operating with a new fleet of turf maintenance equipment, including fairway mowers, tee mowers, green mowers and utility vehicles."
Up North Golf with Five Spectacular Par 3s
Although it is located in somewhat of a no-man's land between Detroit and Flint, The Preserve is perfectly situated to lure in golfers from the Detroit Metro area who are on their way north and want to stop along the way for a round of quality golf. The wetlands, woods, and elevation changes here are all reminiscent of those famous (and much more expensive) "up north" courses.
Typical of Palmer Golf-designed courses, The Preserve features a volatile combination of heroic and strategic holes, with a dash of penal features thrown in for good measure. As such, this is one of those courses you need to play a few times to figure out how to score. Well over a third of the holes (including the monstrous 566-yard 1st hole) present blind or semi-blind tee shots.
A big hitter can, for example, carry the wetlands and bunkers to the right from the tee of the 396-yard 4th, leaving no more than a 50-yard pitch to the green. But you don't know this until you get to the green. Similarly, there are two greens on the penal 395/440-yard 9th. Be sure that you know which you are playing to and what the yardage is before you pull the club for your approach!
The combination of strategic and heroic design features is no more apparent than on the back nine's two spectacular par 5s, Nos. 16 (589 yards) and 18 (554 yards). After a good tee shot on No. 16, you're faced with a lay-up to a blind landing area well left of the green and short of a miserable, bramble-filled ravine. Again, be sure you know the yardage to the ravine, because laying up with too much club could land you in the ravine.
The other option on 16 is to go for the green. This, for all but the longest hitters, is a sucker's play; however, there is a bail-out area well right of the green. As long as you clear all the gunk fronting the green and bail-out area, the approach from there is not bad. But again, first-timers don't know this until they've stood on the green and surveyed the situation from there.
The 18th is less penal than the 16th, but no less picturesque. The green lies left of the far end of the fairway and is separated from it by a boulder-strewn brook and golf ball-littered pond. With a 305-yard drive and a perfect 3-iron, this green can be reached in two, even by golf writers who don't bag many eagles.
As good as these two par 5s are, the real centerpieces of The Preserve are the five spectacular par 3s: Nos. 6 (156 yards), 8 (214 yards), 12 (173 yards), 14 (174 yards), and 17 (221 yards).
No. 6 would be utterly ideal, if not for the road behind the green. Even so, the 50-foot drop from tee to green over a twinkling pond ensures that even this shortest par 3 will test your club selection.
No. 8 is reminiscent of a classic Redan-style par 3. The wide, shallow green is slightly uphill from the tee, and is guarded in front by a deep, menacing bunker.
No. 12 is truly stunning. Teeing over a deep valley to an undulating green set atop the edge of a flat bluff, golfers need to be long and accurate to avoid double bogey.
No. 14 is another uphill par 3, but this time you need to carry two ponds down in the swale separating the tee and putting surface.
Finally, No 17 is a 221-yard brute, forcing a shot completely over water from tee to green. Surprisingly, however, this is one of the few holes on the course that seemed to play shorter than the yardage would indicate. A solid long iron might find a bunker behind the green, leaving an unenviable sand shot back toward the pond.
No Longer Threatened
The Preserve, with its new ownership and new management, appears to have a new lease on life. Whether or not it will be able to draw back the original members (who sued to recoup their membership fees when the club went bankrupt) is not clear. But it is certain that this memorable layout can recapture the attention of Metro-area golfers eager to escape the crowded courses and high green fees that are the norm just 35 minutes to the south.
And as one of 30 courses worldwide managed by Arnold Palmer Golf Management, The Preserve appears to be on its way back to viability in the world of Michigan golf, where only the fittest can survive.
December 13, 2002