Elk Ridge Golf Club in Atlanta, Michigan: Sunrise side golf at its best

By Kiel Christianson, Senior Writer

ATLANTA, Mich. -- The "sunrise" side of Michigan's Lower Peninsula -- along Lake Huron -- has historically drawn far less attention from vacationers and golfers as compared to the Lake Michigan side. Yet the Lake Huron shore has better fishing, steadier weather, and possibly even more natural splendor than the overcrowded western shoreline. As for golf, well, just take a look at the list of the best public courses in the state, and you'll notice that three of the perennial favorites are actually "sunrise" courses, including what is arguably Michigan architect Jerry Matthews's best work ever: Elk Ridge Golf Club.

Elk Ridge Golf Club
Elk Ridge Golf Club is arguably Michigan architect Jerry Matthews's best work ever.
Elk Ridge Golf ClubElk Ridge golf course
If you go

From the ridge-top, three-peaked clubhouse at Elk Ridge, guests enjoy a breathtaking vista encompassing much of the 2,500-acre property, 450 acres of which makes up the course, which was ranked in 1992 by Golf Digest as the second-best new public course in America. The 7,072-yard, par-72 layout is a shot-maker's dream, demanding lots of power fades, a few key draws, and wise club selections.

The natural features of the land fit perfectly with Matthews's penchant for elevated tees and greens, some forced carries on approach shots, and plenty of bunkering (e.g., the nine traps around the 14th green -- if you miss this green and still stay out of the sand, you must be living right). Every inch of this course screams out "northern Michigan."

Scott Landane, director of golf at Elk Ridge, urges players to "think their way around the course."

Twelve of the 18 holes are doglegs, so driver isn't always automatic off the tee. This makes for some longer iron shots to the greens, which are all as smooth as a baby's bottom and relatively firm. You would be hard-pressed to find a course in better condition than Elk Ridge.

"We take pride in our maintenance," Landane said. "In order for the greens crews to have time to prepare the course each day, we don't schedule tee times after 2-3 p.m."

So get here early, because you don't want to miss this playing experience.

Frankly, just warming up on the range is an experience: A four-tiered hitting area is set on the ridge behind the clubhouse. From here, you tee up range balls and send them out over the valley, some 150 feet below. The view from this height is spectacular, if not vertiginous; on clear days, you can see over 10 miles of rolling Michigan wilderness.

Elk Ridge Golf Club's front nine

After staunching the nosebleed you got from the high elevation on the range, head out to the first tee and begin "thinking your way around the course." From the tips or the blues (419 and 393 yards, respectively), the bunker situated at the corner of this downhill dogleg right looks pretty far away, and the landing area more than generous. But while the fairway is wide, the bunker is most certainly in play, and if you don't hit a consistent fade with your driver, a reasonably strong tee ball can carry the trap 30 yards to die a lonely death in the forest beyond. (So I took a mulligan, so what?)

The remainder of the front nine features idyllic greens overlooking Valentine Lake, bentgrass fairways that are smoother than the greens at some courses, and without question the nicest restroom you'll find on any golf course. The "restcabin" is encircled by a stream and flanked by waterfalls, and the ladies' room opens onto the wide pond and fountain that constitute the rather daunting hazard on the par-3, 203-yard fourth hole.

Nos. 7-8 are a great pair of holes, beginning with the short but utterly wicked 380-yard 7th. Elevated tees overlook the landing area, which can be reached with an iron. The second shot must carry a godly stretch of wetlands and stick to a firm, smallish hourglass green, which is tucked behind pines and bunkers.

No. 8 is arguably the best one on the front, because when you close your eyes and think of Northern Michigan golf, this is the image you conjure up: A majestic double-dogleg right through 100-foot pines. The hole plays long (547-yards, par-5) and tight, with an elevated green requiring carry and control to remain on the putting surface. This hole is so much fun, I almost wanted to go back and play it again and again.

The back nine at Elk Ridge Golf Club

Elk Ridge Golf Club's par-3 10th is not too long at 184 yards, but it is a long way down, with an elevation change of 100-feet from tips to green. (Bring tissue in case your nose starts bleeding again.) The best part, however, is the front right bunker, which is in the shape of a pig. Why a pig? The owner of the course, Lou Schmidt, is also the founder of Honey Baked Ham.

The back nine is more varied in terms of design than the front. Whereas the front presents six tee shots that should be faded (yep, six doglegs right, most with bunkers at the bend), the back actually has three doglegs to the left. I pity those players with natural right-to-left ball flights -- if you can't hit a fade at Elk Ridge, you're in trouble. Even so, several of the back nine holes follow the same formula: Dogleg plus fairway bunkers equals fairway wood or less off the tee. If this course does have a weakness, it is this hint of redundancy.

The official signature hole, the 381-yard 16th, is an extremely sharp dogleg left that curls around wetlands. Big hitters can try to cut off a chunk of the bend for a short iron into the elevated green. Otherwise, an iron or fairway wood to the center of the fairway will leave a long-iron approach. As with all the holes here, however, the forward tees allow higher handicappers and ladies to attack from a much more friendly angle. This is why Elk Ridge was rated as fifth on Golf Digest Women's list of 50 Best Places to Play for Women.

Last but not least, the monstrous 600-yard 18th is the no. 1 handicap hole on the course, and it can turn a career nine into a steaming mound of elk poo. (I wanted to break 90 so badly!) Nevertheless, this is a tremendous finishing hole, with 200 feet of marshland -- and about a bazillion waterlogged golf balls -- separating the fairway from the green.

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.

Reader Comments / Reviews Leave a comment