Michigan, MSU take bitter rivalry to the links
ANN ARBOR, Mich. - The University of Michigan has the engineers; Michigan State University has the farmers. U of M has the grades, MSU has the parties. Michigan football never has a five-loss season while the "Izzone" has made MSU basketball the team to beat in the Big Ten.
Time to take this inner-state rivalry to the links. Which school boasts the better golf track?
The University of Michigan Golf Course vs. Michigan State University's Forest Akers West.
Tradition: Tough to beat U of M's track built by Alister Mackenzie in 1931 before he proceeded to build his masterpiece, Augusta National. Forest Akers was built much later in 1958 by lesser-known Bruce Matthews. Both courses received facelifts in the early nineties, but the nod still goes to the maize and blue here. Myths abound about Jack Nicklaus driving over the water on the 18th at U of M in his collegiate years, a feat only truly appreciated after playing this monster. Edge: Michigan.
Playability: U of M is open only to alumni, students, faculty and their guests only. As for Akers, everyone is welcome, just like their frat parties during rush week. Special rates are available for players affiliated with MSU of course, but Forest Akers is still a good bargain for the rest of us. Edge: Sparty.
Location: State Street and Stadium Blvd. are big problems for the U of M course, with nothing more than 20 yards and a small six foot fence separating traffic from several greens and tees, making traffic and occasional "fore" hollers from the road a mainstay. Forest Akers on the other hand, is in the middle of MSU's agricultural district. Other than hearing a few distant trucks off US-127 on the 8th, you shouldn't hear a peep. Edge: Sparty.
Difficulty: Both courses are tough for different reasons. Forest Akers has a significant length advantage at 7,013 yards, including the 592-yard monster 2nd. U of M on the other hand is a mere 6,687 yards, even after new tee boxes were added in an effort to draw the PGA's Buick Open away from Warwick Hills in Grand Blanc. Both courses are tight with heavy tree lines on most fairways, but the big X-factor here is U of M's greens. When rolling at their fastest, they're extremely frustrating. Edge: Michigan.
Facilities: Forest Akers pulls the last-second comeback here with the addition of the Henry Center in 2001. Add to that the Golf Center across the street at Forest Akers East, which boasts a Top 100 practice range and this category isn't even close. U of M has a driving range on the other side of the property which is not accessible from the clubhouse. Instead you must drive around the course to Main Street, which is a hassle if you're looking to hit a few balls before your round. U of M's short game area is a beauty, but only accessible to the men's and women's golf teams. Edge: Sparty.
Hole Variety You would think a Mackenzie design gives the maize and blue the lock here. But call Bruce Matthews an unappreciated genius (or call him lucky for getting the chance to work with a near-perfect piece of land) because Forest Akers is filled with holes that will leave a lasting impression. The 8th strolls through a tight, wooded corridor in the back of the property and is one of Akers' best gems. The strength of Forest Akers West is in all four of its par 5's, while Michigan's strengths are in its short par 4's, none of which are an easy four. Edge: Sparty Greens.
U of M's greens are big, fast, and mind boggling. Add to that they're guarded heavily with over fifty bunkers. At peak conditions, the speed will seriously test your putter's nerves. Local's tip: putts tend to always break towards State Street. Forest Akers' greens aren't a pushover, but many lack character. They're in good shape, but most are flat, as well as smaller than U of M. Edge: Michigan.
Best Finishing Hole: Forest Akers' new hole routing changed the final hole from a short, drivable par-4 to a long, 420-yard dogleg over water to one of the smallest and most heavily guarded greens on the course. Even with the added difficulty at Akers, U of M's finishing hole is one of the best in all of the NCAA. It's a daunting 455-yard downhill par-4. The view is stunning, gazing into Ann Arbor's skyline. The hole is intimidating with a small landing zone and a large pond in front of the green which attracts hundreds of nervous tops and duffs any given weekend. The green is one of the biggest on the course and is guarded by two nasty bunkers. Buy yourself an ice-cold Coke if you finish here with a four. Edge: Michigan.
In these eight categories, we have a four-four tie. Sparty boasts the off-course reasons to play: new facilities, practice range and no membership needed, while Michigan's course lets its greens and tradition do the talking. Membership to Mackenzie's masterpiece in Ann Arbor is available for a cool $20,000 worth of tuition.
University of Michigan Golf Course: mgoblue.com/umgc (734) 615-GOLF Forest Akers West golfmsu.msu.edu (517) 355-1635
March 9, 2005