Yarrow making a name for itself in southern Michigan
AUGUSTA, Mich. -- Go ahead, do a double take. No, you haven't gone crazy. Yes, there is an Augusta, Michigan. And of course, there's good golf there -- finally.
In a town seemingly destined to become a golf destination based on name alone, Augusta has finally made a blip on the Michigan golfing scene with the opening of the Ray Hearn design at the Yarrow Golf and Conference Center.
Let's get one thing straight, Yarrow will never, ever compete with that other Augusta design -- what course can compare with Augusta National, the home of the Masters for all these years? But it is another in a long line of quality Hearn designs in Michigan.
It can be hard to find, though. Off the beaten path just northwest of Battle Creek, the 7,005-yard Yarrow is sure to attract players from Michigan and Chicago who are looking for a new challenge.
"I will admit that when I got the call to work on a course in Augusta, my eyes lit up," Hearn says with a laugh. "When they said Augusta, Michigan, I had to go to the map and find it, but it is in a wonderful location."
Hearn, the man who has blessed Michigan with well-respected designs such as the Hemlock Golf Club in Ludington and Island Lake in nearby Centreville, struck gold with this assignment.
The Yarrow Conference Center, owned by homebuilder Bill Pulte, has been a natural escape for corporate retreats and large parties like church groups for since opening with just nine rooms and dining for 20 people in 1992.
Yarrow has since grown to 45 guest rooms, sprawled out among several buildings on the 300-acre property, all connected by a boardwalk through the woods.
The intimacy of the wooded seclusion and the classy, fancy decor of each individual room also attract romantics who are looking to get away from big city life and the kids. With a sporty, cozy pub and a 14,000-square-foot rustic lodge that serves outstanding food, the only thing lacking is a hot tub or pool to unwind in.
Golf adds another clientele. Although Yarrow already was looking into the idea of adding a course, an act of God helped the process along. The fall of 2001 not only brought the horrors of Sept. 11, but just one-month later, Yarrow received another major blow. In October, a storm with tornado-like winds tore through the property, snapping tree limps like they were toothpicks and leveling acres of pristine forest.
"It leveled literally acres of trees," said Carylle Springer, sales manager at Yarrow. "Former clients came back and cried. But it seems like the property knew what its destiny was."
Yarrow's top brass jumped at the chance to build a course. True to his minimalist belief in course architecture, Hearn used the corridors of downed trees to find holes, saving the elimination of even more trees.
"There were hundreds of natural green and tee sites," Hearn said. "Probably the biggest challenge was finding a flow." With elevation changes of 300 feet, the land lent itself to Hearn's naturalistic design.
"The look of the layout of these holes on this land will have golfers of all different levels saying "Wow!" 18 different times," Hearn said. "In terms of raw land, Yarrow has the greatest diversity I have ever seen."
Unlike many modern designs, Hearn didn't overload the land with bunkers (45) or water hazards (three).
The course's defenses are monstrous greens, much like his Twin Lakes design in Rochester Hills. Even when you think your approach has missed its target, you'll often be surprised to find you ball on the putting surface seemingly miles from the hole.
Three of the course's best holes are among the first five, so come ready to play. The opening hole rumbles all uphill for 588 yards. After a 160-yard carry off the tee, No. 4 doglegs right to a green 426 yards away. The most thrilling shot of the day is the tee ball on No. 5, a 404-yard par-4. It requires a bomb over a pond as the hole bends left, bringing even more water into play.
Probably the only knock on the layout is a lackluster set of par-3s. Both No. 2 and No. 6 (both roughly 145 yards) and No. 15 and No. 17 (at 198 and 188, respectively) play too similarly. Overall, the layout is a nice mix of tight, tough holes and short, scoring holes that require precision shots. Maybe even more impressive is the condition of a course so new. It already has great greens (with the exception of some growth problems on No. 17) and flowing bentgrass fairways.
"This grow-in job, in baseball, it's a no-hitter," Hearn said. And Yarrow is only sure to get more popular as the word gets out. Battle Creek and Kalamazoo are gearing up for a marketing blitz, much like the Gaylord Golf Mecca, to promote area courses as a single golf destination. Yarrow will help players set up tee times at 11 other area courses, including Gull Lake View, a full-service golf resort nearby.
For non-golfers, a trip to the Binder Park Zoo (269-979-1351) in Kalamazoo can be fun on a sunny day.
Theatre buffs flock to The Barn Theatre, the oldest professional equity summer stock theatre in the nation with all types of musicals and plays. Water sports and fishing are prevalent on Gull Lake. Rental equipment is available at All-Jet (269) 629-0100.
Another option is the Gilmore Classic Car Museum (269-671-5089).
From Chicago (I-94 East) -- Exit #85 (35th street). Turn left (North) and go to the third traffic light (M-96). Turn right on M-96 and continue to the first traffic light. Turn left at the light and continue 6.5 miles on M-96 to the Village of Augusta. Turn left onto Augusta Drive and proceed 3.5 miles to 48th street. Turn left onto 48th street and proceed 3.5 miles to Yarrow Golf & Conference Center.
From Detroit (I-94 West) -- Exit #92. Travel north off the exit ramp on business loop I-94. At the first traffic light, veer left and continue approximately 3 miles to the junction of business loop I-94 east and M-96. Follow the signs for M-96 west and proceed approximately 2.5 miles to Clark/Custer road. Follow Clark/Custer road approximately 2 miles to M-89/West Michigan Ave. Turn left on M-89/West Michigan Ave. and proceed 1.5 miles to 48th street. Turn right on 48th street and continue north 3.5 miles to Yarrow Golf & Conference Center.
September 4, 2003