For pros and joes: The Orchards brings stellar public golf to metro Detroit
WASHINGTON TOWNSHIP, Mich. -- Only a handful of tournament-tested courses are a joy to play for the Joe Hackers of the world.
It's no small feat when a course architect finds the perfect balance between playability and tournament toughness.
Count The Orchards Golf Club in metro Detroit as another in a long line of courses designed by Robert Trent Jones Jr. that appeals to the masses and still challenges the best.
Some of Bobby Jr.'s best work -- Chambers Bay near Tacoma, Wash., site of the 2010 U.S. Amateur and the 2015 U.S. Open, and CordeValle in northern California wine country, site of a PGA Tour event called the Frys.com Open -- are two of the most intriguing places you'll ever tee it up.
The Orchards' most recent high-profile event, the 2011 Michigan Open in July, attracted the state of Michigan's best club pros and will return again in 2012. Director of Golf Jeff Stalcup believes the 7,093-yard course can test anybody's game.
"It's got length. It's got shot values. It's got championship-style golf (holes)," Stalcup said of the course. "You've got plenty of room to drive it, but there's a premium on the approach shot."
Orchards Golf Club: PGA Favorite
The Orchards has entertained many players of PGA Tour caliber over the years. The golf course, which opened in 1993 in a former apple orchard as the centerpiece of a 525-acre housing development, has hosted U.S. Open and Buick Open qualifiers in the past.
Former Masters champion Mike Weir, who grew up in Canada in nearby Sarnia, Ontario, held the official course record with a smooth 68 in 2000 until pro Ryan Lenahan, of Gross Pointe Shores, shot a stirring 63 during the final round of the 2011 Michigan Open.
The Orchards' most celebrated event, the 2002 U.S. Amateur Publinks Championship, awarded a Masters invitation to the winner. The Orchards prides itself in being manicured wall to wall like Augusta National, although on a lesser scale.
"It took time to mature. Since then, the condition of the course has been ready for championship golf on a daily basis," Stalcup said. "A few trees have grown up and the rough thickened up. Day to day, we feel we are in top condition. The greens are running 10 or 10.5 (on the stimpmeter). For a public course, that's good."
So what makes the course so democratic when it comes to allowing average players to enjoy their day?
Stalcup believes the variety of the four sets of tees and the ability to run the ball up to most greens makes the course more playable than most tournament venues. Nearly 90 bunkers spread throughout the course might sound like a lot, but they are never too obtrusive and can actually save errant shots from squirting into more precarious situations. Wide fairways and rough that is fair, not gnarly, help make it more forgiving as well.
Wooded corridors and wetlands characterize the front nine. The par-5 sixth hole dives into trees and requires two forced carries over hazards. The par-4 seventh demands more of the same, with a forced carry on the approach shot. The par-4 ninth is the toughest on the course, playing ultra long up the hill.
The back nine has its share of wooded holes (No. 12 - No. 14) but mostly it's an open meadow. The most memorable features are the mammoth tree standing in the middle of the 17th fairway and the pond guarding the front right side of the 18th green.
Messing with either will cost you a stroke or more. Randy Hutchison birdied the 18th hole in dramatic fashion to win the 2011 Michigan Open, his first victory as a pro.
The best part of Orchards is what you don't see. You can count on two hands the number of houses you'll see from the fairways. Not bad for a "residential course."
Jon Lawson, of Mount Clemens, said Orchards always meets his expectations.
"The course is always fun to play," he said. "It's not easy, but it doesn't punish you, either."
The Orchards Golf Club: The verdict
For the record, Golfweek ranks Orchards No. 17 among the state's top public courses (ahead of unranked Shepherd's Hollow and The Majestic). Service at The Orchards is on par with most local private clubs.