The Mines explodes into the Grand Rapids golf scene
GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — So what do you do with 200 acres of undeveloped, rolling sandy soil property, sitting just minutes from a downtown metropolis in Michigan?
The answer sounds obvious, right? And that's exactly what owners Dan and Judith Schimmel decided to do on the site of the old gypsum mines in the shadows of downtown Grand Rapids.
The result is The Mines Golf Course, opened last fall and enjoying its first full season on the ultra-competitive Grand Rapids golf scene. Closed for many years after the mining stopped, the land was determined unusable for housing, but appeared perfect for a golf course.
The Schimmels decided the Mines could fill a niche, providing a convenient, middle-class role, and entrusted architect Mike Devries and superintendent Kris Schumaker — who worked together at Pilgrim's Run up the road — to realize it.
Devries is a product of the Grand Rapids area and The Mines are his fifth design. After stints under Tom Doak and Tom Fazio, he has returned to Michigan and has become the state's hottest up-and-coming designer after gems at Diamond Springs and Kingsley Club.
"Ideally the course is meant to be played firm and fast," Devries said. "It should give golfers the chance to use the ground game. Open approaches to the green give players the option to run it close."
The back nine has a solid mix of short and long par 4s. The three closing holes are bearish, featuring two par 4s longer than 460 yards from the tips and the par-5 17th that features an elevated green and out of bounds down the right side.
The 18th, playing at 468 yards and featuring perhaps the course's most intimidating tee shot, was also designed to be stretched to a par 5 should a tournament call for it in the future.
Not all holes summon the beast, though. Several opportunities are there to drive par 4s, including the 304-yard fourth and the 341-yard 12th. The par 3s all play short, especially if the alternate tees are moved forward on No. 11.
The green complexes are almost a course unto themselves. Superintendent Kris Schumaker demonstrated just how creative you can get with them, standing just four feet from the hole, he knocked a putt 90 degrees from the hole about 20 feet — and watched the green bring it back to within two inches.
Schumaker was quick to discover a "scenic route" to the cup on many of the Mines' greens. This kind of ingenuity should be reserved to those who had a hand in making the course, however.
The Mines has 31 bunkers, but often come in bunches. Six holes have three or more, while six have none. There are also two large dunes on the parallel fifth and ninth holes.
Devries also employs the classic double fairway on these holes, making a single fairway more than 100 yards wide and almost impossible to miss (almost on cue, my playing partner and I sprayed our drives right over the fence on the fifth).
Should the pin be placed on the right side of the elevated and well-guarded green on No. 9, the best play is to knock it on No. 5's side of the fairway for an open shot at the flag stick.
The Mines is certainly a course that is bound to stick out in the Grand Rapids golf scene. It's got a very unique terrain.
The greens can be mind-boggling and fun — or frustrating — depending on how many times you've played the course. You must definitely hit your approach to the correct side of the green or your putt will have no chance.
The Mines calls for some creativity as it's on the short side, playing slightly more than 6,700 yards from the back tees. The greens have come in nicely for having been open just a year.
Some parts of the course are still a little immature but that's expected given its youth. This is a good course to add to Devries' Michigan portfolio, which also includes Diamond Springs, Greywalls and the Kingsley Club.
For a course that hopes to have a strong population of young players, you'd like the course to be a little more walker-friendly (juniors play for $10 before 10 a.m. Monday through Thursday). There are several long drives between holes and the range is on the far end of the course's property and has a separate parking lot.
Stay and play
The downtown Courtyard by Marriott has a great location, right off U.S. 131 and within walking distance to all the city hotspots. It has a sky bridge to Van Andel Arena should you have tickets to Eric Clapton or the Red Hot Chili Peppers this fall.
The B.O.B. restaurant and entertainment complex is right across the street as well.
The B.O.B. (616-356-2000) offers a buffet of bars and restaurants all under one roof. Choose from fine dining at Judson's Steakhouse or Gill's Blue Crab Lounge on the first floor, to more casual dining upstairs.
There are also a handful of bars and a patio that overlooks Van Andel Arena. There's 70,000 square feet and 10 different venues in all.
San Chez (616-774-TAPA) is a Spanish restaurant downtown named one of the 50 best Hispanic restaurants in the U.S., featuring a wide selection of tapas and paella. Save room for desert next door at Mezza where they feature nightly entertainment including belly dancers, who may stop by your table at San Chez to tempt you into swinging by after your meal.
Heroes, located just west of the East Beltline, is a locally owned sports bar and grill and has tons of TVs and a wide menu ranging from pizza to ribs. Heroes (616-301-TEAM) also has free handheld Nintendo DS videogame systems to keep the kids from acting up.
Currently under construction at the Mines is a nine-hole par-3 course, which course officials hope to open sometime next year.
August 24, 2006