Kalamazoo: A city with a funny name, but the golf is no laughing matter

By Dave Berner, Senior Contributor

KALAMAZOO, Mich. -- When it comes to golf, there is nothing to laugh about in the town with the funny name.

Gull Lake View Golf Club & Resort - West Course - 14th
Gull Lake View Golf Club & Resort is the centerpiece of golf in the Kalamazoo region.
Gull Lake View Golf Club & Resort - West Course - 14thGull Lake View Golf Club & Resort - Stonehedge South Course - 12Yarrow Golf & Conference Resort - 5th
If you go

Kalamazoo, Mich. is one of those cities with a name that just screams for a chuckle. Just saying it -- K-a-l-a-m-a-z-o-o -- brings on a smile; certainly a big grin for golfers. The Kalamazoo area may be one of the best in the state for good, affordable golf. And that's no joke.

For years Kalamazoo was known as "The Paper City" for the mills in the area, or "The Celery City" for the crops grown in the muck fields outside of town and even "The Mall City" for the construction of the first outdoor pedestrian mall in America, built in the city in 1959. But today the malls are a dime a dozen, the fields have been developed and the mills are closing, so Kalamazoo has re-invented itself.

Considering a neighboring suburb is named Augusta, it made sense to grab onto golf and turn the area into a destination for the game.

Yes, Michigan has a lot of great tracks, but you would be hard-pressed to find this many good golf courses within just a few minutes of each other for such comfortable prices.

Gull Lake View Golf Club & Resort

Gull Lake View Golf Club & Resort is really the centerpiece of golf in the Kalamazoo region. And it should be. There are five golf courses linked to this facility -- Gull Lake View East and West, Stonehedge North and South as well as Bedford Valley Golf Club. All are on magnificent land that dips and twists through the hilly terrain.

The prettiest of the fivesome is Stonehedge South. This is a stunning ride into the wilderness all connected by hand-built stone walls that had once divided the property of the former landowners. The walls were left alone and the holes were built around them. It's a marvelous touch that brings an Old World feel to a course that's not quite 20 years of age.

"This is the one people come for," said John Bosh, Stonehedge's regular starter. "You better hit it straight and if you don't, it's a hard course."

It's certainly tight. The fairways and greens are cut through and nestled in the woodlands.

The other courses in the bunch have similar feels, although Bedford Valley is the longest at 6,915 yards and many say the toughest. The locals call it "The Big Course" for obvious reasons.

Gull Lake also has fairway villas available to rent. They are clean, simple condos near the East-West clubhouse. If you're looking for super luxury, this isn't the place. But it's just right for a foursome with its two-bed, two-room set up with a kitchen and middle meeting area. There's also a place to do a little outdoor barbequing.

Angel's Crossing Golf Club

You could say the club and community at Angel's Crossing is heavenly, but that would be trite. So, I won't say it. The Angel's Crossing golf course spreads out over an incredible 350 acres of wetlands and rolling land. And soon, a chapel is to be built on the property, giving golfers a place where prayers for their game will have a direct line to The Man upstairs.

Angel's Crossing has taken a unique approach -- it not only wants to be a good golf course, but it wants to be a catalyst community spirit and a beacon for good things to come. When the local paper mill closed, the developers of Angel's Crossing considered an approach that would give a much-needed boost back to the area.

The golf course isn't only a great challenge it is what the management calls "a shining light on the grand old game" and what Head Professional Mike Hill calls "a feel-good place".

"There's a lot of spirituality in this place. The owners are a Christian group and even the name comes partially from that," Hill said. "It's all about community. With some of the negatives in the area, we wanted something positive."

Angel's Crossing has home development as part of the facility, but hardly any of it is adjacent to the course. That's appreciated.

Overall, the course needs a few years to grow in; there are still some spots that need time. And if you don't like severely contoured greens, greens that are big, but also sharply dramatic in their shaping, you're likely to get frustrated with your putting game at Angel's.

Remember though, prayers can be answered.

Medalist Golf Club

One of the regular golfers at Gull Lake View characterized Medalist Golf Club as "an ordinary golf course." He was wrong. Others have said The Medalist is for "players only." They are wrong too.

This nine-year-old course set around woodlands and wetlands is brutal from the black tees -- a slope of 138 and a rating of 74.0 -- but that can be adjusted easily by playing from the correct tees for your ability. And The Medalist offers that as the whites are a very playable 6,007 yards, compared to the tips at nearly 7,000.

This course is not as memorable as Gull Lake or Angel's Crossing, but that doesn't mean it's a marginal experience. There's beauty and brawn here and again and, like many courses in the Kalamazoo area, plenty of land to work with, giving the golfer a wonderfully secluded feel.

Yarrow Golf and Conference Center

During dinner at the Yarrow Golf and Conference Center, our server said he had only one reason for working at the restaurant.

"I work here so I can golf," he said. "This place is incredible. It's like Arcadia Bluffs without the lake. There's nothing like it."

Yarrow Golf and Conference Center is a premier golf course and a premier lodge. Plus, Yarrow truly is a monument to overcoming adversity. Yarrow's owners took a piece of land, ripped apart by a tornado, and turned it into a place for relaxation, pleasure and golf.

In fact, the facility's name comes from the native yarrow plant used by Native Americans as a healing ointment to stop a wound from bleeding. It seemed to fit.

Architect Ray Hearn made the 18-hole course the focus of this secluded retreat. He also made the course fun and playable, but not without its challenges.

When you leave Yarrow, you won't forget to tell your golfing buddies about the greens. They're fast and demanding. In some places, depending on the pin placement, you could be facing uphill and downhill putts of some 90 feet.

Also, after golf, be sure to have dinner at the lodge. Try the sea bass, the calamari and the key lime pie.

Getting there

The Kalamazoo area may seem like one of those hard-to-get-to places, but in reality it's just a two-hour drive from Chicago or Detroit. If you're coming from Illinois, be sure to remember that Kalamazoo is in the Eastern Time Zone. You don't want you to miss your tee time.

Dave BernerDave Berner, Senior Contributor

Dave Berner is a long-time journalist for CBS radio in Chicago and has freelanced for CNN, National Public Radio, and ABC news. He created and produced the popular radio feature "The Golf Minute" for CBS-owned radio station WMAQ in Chicago along with writing a regular column for Golf Chicago Magazine. He is also author of "Any Road Will Take You There: A journey of fathers and sons" and "Accidental Lessons: A Memoir of a Rookie Teacher and a Life Renewed." Follow Berner on Twitter @DavidWBerner

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