El Dorado Golf Course Fails to Meet High Expectations

By Kiel Christianson, Senior Writer

MASON, MI -El Dorado Golf Course lies about twenty minutes south of Lansing on a country road, so it is a bit of a trek. Nevertheless, the course is a Bruce and Jerry Matthews design (father and son have both designed the various nines over the last 30 years), and it is managed by the same group that oversees Timber Ridge, Hawk Hollow, and the Majestic at Walden Lake, three of Mid-Michigan's premier courses.

So one has reason to believe that a real treasure awaits on the outskirts of Mason. However, like the El Dorado of history--the mythical city of gold for which the conquistadors searched in vain--El Dorado Golf Course doesn't live up to the high expectations raised by its pedigree.

Now let me temper this statement with some more history: Although the conquistadors never found their city of gold, they did discover shipfulls of silver, mountains of copper, and enough precious gems to encrust the crowns of Old World royalty for centuries to come.

Similarly, average golfers (and enthusiastic duffers like myself) will find 27 very playable holes at El Dorado, holes that can help build confidence, lower scores, and, occasionally, challenge one's patience.

Best of all, whereas the conquistadors often paid with their lives, the golfer need only shell out $23 to walk 18 on Monday-Thursday ($26 Friday-Sunday), and if you are lucky enough to be a student or senior, the greens fees drop to $17 ($18 on weekends). Certainly any 18 holes (or 27, if you're feeling ambitious) designed by the Matthews clan are worth this price, even for the scratch golfer.

The three nines at El Dorado are named the Red Course, White Course, and Blue Course. Par on the Red Course and Blue Course is 36, while the White Course--the most challenging--is 35. The all-American color code is quite apt for the design--gently rolling, generally wide open fairways, relatively level, readable greens, and the occasional deep blue pond.
El Dorado is a classic, Midwestern course; nothing flashy, just 27 solid holes that, despite a certain amount of redundancy, hold your interest throughout.

According to the staff, the White and Blue Courses are the favorites of the regulars, and after playing them and then driving the Red Course, I would have to agree. Actually, the Red Course is quite similar to the Blue, with fairly open, field-like Kentucky bluegrass fairways and smallish bentgrass greens. The Blue Course, however, has a very nice finishing hole, which I'll get to in a moment, that gives it an edge over the Red, whose finishing hole is also nice, but less scenic around the green.

I notice that, so far, my description of El Dorado suggests that it is a course without teeth. But there are a few holes that can rear up and bite. According to the Lansing State Journal, the White Course No. 8 is one of the nine hardest holes in Ingham/Ionia counties. And the Blue No. 2 received honorable mention as one of the most difficult par 3s as well.

Beginning with the White Course, you'll find the most consistent and challenging nine holes. Throughout this nine (and the entire course, for that matter), you discover a number of well-designed, old-fashioned holes.

By this, I mean that they are not so long, but rely on doglegs and bunkered, small, hard greens to challenge the golfer. Take, for example, White No. 2, with its woods left and right, a dogleg left, a very small green with water back left, and a bunker front right.

Unfortunately, nice holes like No. 2 are somewhat counterbalanced by less than inspiring holes, such as White No. 3, a 305-yard par 4 with water in the middle of the fairway. There is no indication of how far it is to the hazard, so play a mid to long iron off the tee (unless you want to try to drive it). Likewise, the pretty par-3 4th is offset by a dull par-3 6th.

Holes 7, 8, and 9 on the White Course are where you can get bitten. In my opinion, No. 7 is much more difficult than No. 8, despite what the Lansing State Journal says. No. 7 is a long par 4 (428 yards from the back tees), and its nasty dogleg forces a fairway wood off the tee.

Right or left off the tee, and you're in the woods. A bad second shot will also put you in the woods, or in the creek running in front of the green. I had the nine of my life going until I hit No. 7. Then my one stroke lead over my scratch-golfer playing partner evaporated like some mirage of a golden city.

No. 8 is as long as No. 7, but it is nearly straight away. Its handicap is also 3 on this nine, as opposed to 1 for No. 7. So I have no idea what the newspaper folks are thinking. Nevertheless, No. 8 is no pushover.

From the back tees, your drive is almost completely blocked by overhanging tree limbs. Actually, the blockage is so bad, it is unfair. We both hit from the back, and missed the limbs (a line-drive fairway wood by my friend and a looping, banana slice by me, which, for once, I actually tried to do), but we were ready to go again from the white tees, should we have hit the limbs.

Finally, White No. 9 is a long, 554-yard par 5 (the only par 5 on this short, 3112-yard nine). It is a nice hole, running downhill from the tee boxes and then back up to a big, elevated green. As with practically all the greens, this one is in great shape and, despite an occasional mound or tier, is easy to read.

The Blue Course is fairly nondescript through the first six holes, except for No. 2, which is a long (220-yard) par 3. The tee shot is all uphill, and if the breeze is in your face, most players will need at least a five wood.

No. 7 is a par 5, but is likewise long (longish, anyway), at 525 yards. The tricky aspect of this hole is that, due to a dogleg from right to left which starts at about 170 yards from the green, it is nearly impossible to get home in two.

Also, the green is minuscule and hard, so a fairway wood on your second shot (assuming you have hit the perfect drive long and right, yet short of the trees) must be perfect to hold the green.

The closing hole on the Blue Course is quite good, although you wouldn't know it from the tee box. From there, it looks as plain as plain can be. When you get to your ball for the second shot, however, you see water right starting at 150 yards from the green (which was in play from the tee, but hard to see) and water left starting about 100 yards from the green. The green is then flanked on both sides by water--extremely blue water, I might add (hence the "Blue" Course?).

The Red Course is similar to the Blue, but more nondescript. No. 1 has a slightly elevated tee, water (with fountain) left, and a small green. The fairway of No. 2 has some very well-done mounding running along the right side and a bunker perfectly placed at the corner of the right to left dogleg.

Red No. 4 calls for a tee shot over a marsh and punishes hooks with that same marsh along the left side of the fairway. Lastly, No. 8 is a long, 563-yard par 5 that runs in an arching crescent from a meadow into a grove of trees. Again, hitting the small green in two is just about impossible.

El Dorado doesn't make you feel like you've struck gold, but the less-than-flashy design of some of the holes and level greens will allow you to discover some low numbers on your scorecard when the day is done. It is a solid value for a solid, traditional, Midwestern-style course. And with 27 holes on the premises, you can turn a round of golf into a day-long expedition.

Kiel ChristiansonKiel Christianson, Senior Writer

Kiel Christianson has lived, worked, traveled and golfed extensively on three continents. As senior writer and equipment editor for WorldGolf.com, he has reviewed courses, resorts, and golf academies from California to Ireland, including his home course, Lake of the Woods G.C. in Mahomet, Ill. Read his golf blog here and follow him on Twitter @GolfWriterKiel.

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