Hawk Hollow Golf Course: An Embarrassment of Riches

By Kiel Christianson, Senior Writer

BATH, MI - Hawk Hollow Golf Course surprises you at every turn. Simply by virtue of its existence on Abbott Road, just north of East Lansing--the proverbial road to nowhere--the course surprises you. Suddenly out of that same nowhere, a white fence appears, reminiscent of South Fork.

Winding up the drive, the massive plantation-style clubhouse looms up over you, and you practically expect J. R. Ewing to saunter outside and challenge you to a $5000 Nassau.

All hyperbole aside, Hawk Hollow really is an embarrassment of riches. Apparently the owners feel more is better, and it's quite hard to argue with them. 18 holes aren't enough, so another nine were opened just two years ago. And why stop at one driving range when you can have two? One practice green? No, let's have two.

And why just be happy with practice greens when you can build an entire course of 18 greens? Hawk Hollow is home to one of only a dozen or so 18-hole putting courses in the country, and I don't mean putt-putt. The putting course is a sculpted, landscaped, par 55 course, complete with sand traps, bridges, and water hazards. The waterfalls running through the putting course alone would make the grounds keepers at many courses I've played envious.

Talk about a fantastic family outing. The golfer in the family gets to work on his/her putting stroke while the kids and non-golfers play around a set of real grass greens that make even the most respectable putt-putt courses look like Pamela Anderson next to Audry Hepburn.

I suggest, however, that you not play the putting course before playing a real round. The greens on the mini-course are MUCH slower than the very slick greens out on the real course, which consists of 27 holes of spectacular Jerry Matthews-designed golf holes. Hawk Hollow is the only public course in the immediate Lansing area that is bentgrass from tee to green, and it is in immaculate condition.

The only drawback of the beautiful fairways is, if you're like me, and tend to hit behind the ball at times, your club will dig deep into the soft grass and black soil, and your fat shots will be very, very short.

Sadly, very, very short shots on this course often end up in water hazards, so bring plenty of golf balls. In fact, water comes into play on 20 of the 27 holes, in some cases the score card shows more blue than green on the hole diagrams.

I began my marathon 27-hole round on the new nine (opened in 1997, one year after the original 18), which is totally different from the rest of the course. Holes 19-27 dramatically accentuate the jagged landscape and water-filled trenches of the old stone quarry on which they are built. These holes have an industrial feel to them, with a steel-girder bridge over one stretch of water.

Adding to the atmosphere were a number of ground-moving trucks just out of bounds, clearing land for a housing development on the property. This is one of those arguments against "more is better"--I hate subdivision courses. If you do too, get to Hawk Hollow before the houses go up.

The new nine starts off innocuously enough. 19 is 378 yards from the back tees (none of the par 4s on the course are very long--the new nine are in fact only 3,103 yards from the back), and has some lovely, mottled reeds all along the right side, along with trees and water as you get to the green. The green is tiered and very large, as are many at Hawk Hollow.

The par-5 20th is also not bad, although it was rated by the Lansing State Journal as one of the 9 hardest holes in Clinton county. It is quite beautiful, though, with an undulating, two-tiered fairway (don't end up between the tiers), linksy, belt-high rough right and thick woods left. The huge false front on the green is a bit of a bummer if you hit it and roll back down off the green.

Then you get to No. 21, the hardest hole on the new nine--a slicer's nightmare, with water and mini-mountains all along the right. If you want to look for your ball, you'll need a sherpa to climb back up to the fairway.

The green is elevated, and is guarded on the right by what I swear is a meteorite crater filled with water. The hole can be birdied, but I don't want to waggle my own putter.

No. 23 is an island fairway. You heard right--not an island green, but a whole dang island fairway. No. 22 is a peninsular fairway, with water all down the left, fronting the green, and curling back around to the right of the green. The second shot is over the water from any angle. Imagine hitting your approach from the Lower Peninsula to a green on the U.P.

It was at this point that I actually saw a hawk circling overhead. And since I hate courses named after things that can't be found anywhere near the course (if the course is named Deer Track, I want to see deer tracks, damn it), I was pleased. Then I noticed that the hawk was scavenging the bloated remains of some poor duffer who had attempted to recover a ball without his sherpa.

Oops, I set hyperbole aside earlier. Sorry.

No. 25 has a severely sloped fairway downhill from left to right. Hit your tee shot close to the woods on the left and let it run down into the fairway. No. 27, finally, is a cake-walk, a reward for the golfer who has not broken every single club in half out of complete frustration over the course of these nine holes. As I say, the new nine is not long, but every single shot has to be in the short grass, which can wear down even the most enthusiastic mediocre golfer, and can cause permanent brain damage to the true duffer.

Moving to the original 18 holes (6,974 yards from the back tees), you find a radically different course from the new nine. It is a much more traditional layout than the rather stark new nine. Actually, even the original 18 provide the golfer with a few different looks. Most are woodland, but then you emerge out of the woods for a couple of holes. And 17 and 18 have yet a different feel altogether.

My recommendation for good golfers who like a little variety is to play 19-27 and then move to 10-18. I don't know if the staff allows this, but everyone who works at Hawk Hollow, especially Head Pro Kirk Sherman, is so courteous that it would be worth asking. For more average players, 1-18 are fantastic, luxurious holes that, while extremely difficult in spots, won't make you wish it were your bloated remains that hawk was tearing apart back on the 22nd hole.

The highlights of the original 18 are numbers 9, 12, 16, 17, and 18. All but No. 16 are ranked in the top nine hardest holes in the county by the Lansing State Journal, and 16-18 have been described by at least one golf magazine as the best finishing holes in southern Michigan.

On the down side, however, some course regulars told me that these last three holes regularly back up due to their difficulty. My guess is that the back-ups occur due to a combination of the hard holes and course regulars (like those who were in front of me) who refuse to let faster groups play through.

Before we get to the finishing holes, though, some notes on the others. Number 9 is a fun way to end the front nine. It's the longest par 4 on the course at 422 yards from the back tees. The tee shot is 220-250 yards over water or, for the faint of heart, there is also a bail-out area to the right. But go for it in order to get the full thrill.

Number 12 is a long (233-yard) par 3. This time it's a peninsular tee area to a green that is angled along water front and right. Bail out left, especially if you find a right pin placement. (By the way, I should mention that the carts all come equipped with pin placement charts and the staff will tell you what the pin placements are on the various nines that day.)

Number 16 kicks off the remarkable finishing holes. Instead of a dogleg, the 16th is a dogtail--one of those husky tails that loops around and nearly touches the dog's back. The fairway (387 yards, according to the scorecard) curls around a pond, complete with a island in it.

You can turn the husky tail into a Doberman tail, however, by screwing up your courage and blasting a tee shot over the island. Aim right over the small pines on the island to end up with a wedge to the green. Go too far right, though, or pull your drive, and you're in woods right and left. If you miss the green left on the second shot, the enormous mounds will block any view of even the top of the pin.

Number 17 is a super par three, 236 yards (182 for mere mortals) with water right from tee to green. As on 12, if you're going to miss, miss left.

Last but not least, we come to mid-Michigan's own Pebble Beach. However, it is more of a Mini-Me than a Dr. Evil; it's only a long iron off the tee, which is a let down for the closing hole.

Water runs the length of the hole on the right, and the second shot from just about any angle will be over water, hence the lay-up off the tee. This is the number one handicap hole on the back nine due to the water, the nearly complete lack of any kind of bail-out area, and the green, that curls around the edge of the lake. If you're nursing a good score through 17, don't count your chickens before they're in the clubhouse, or something like that.

Adding to the beauty of the final three holes is a spectacular view of the clubhouse. I have been to Hawk Hollow as wedding parties have been going on in the lavish banquet facilities, and I must say that it is an impressive venue for such events, as well as for golf.

There is something decadent and, frankly, very sexy about a wedding party padding around a practice green in stocking feet, mugging for the photographer. This is not something I expect to see a few minutes away from the drab center of Lansing.

J. R., old boy, will you have one of your servants bring me a mint julep?

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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