Willow Wood Country Club Emerges from Michigan's Shadows

By Kiel Christianson, Senior Writer

PORTLAND, MI - As is often noted, Michigan ranks third out of the fifty states in total number of golf courses. As a consequence, it seems that a golfer can simply set out in any arbitrary direction and stumble upon a new course. Case in point, Willow Wood Country Club in Portland, MI. Open only since 1998, Willow Wood is almost hidden in the expansive countryside just 40 minutes east of Lansing.

Although its inconspicuous location has kept it out of the spotlight, the short but rolling 6154-yard course is beginning to attract more and more golfers from Lansing and Grand Rapids looking for a place to work on their game at a reasonable rate.

Grand Rapids architect J. John Gorney has created Willow Wood CC to fit the natural contours of the meadows and marshlands just outside of Portland, MI. Those familiar with the Lansing area golf scene will likely draw comparisons between Willow Wood and The Brookshire Golf Club in Williamston. Like Brookshire, Willow Wood features ten water/wetland holes and well-manicured, readable greens. But Willow Wood is shorter over all than Brookshire, and is for the most part a bit more open throughout, with several longer forced carries off the tee.

The hallmark of Willow Wood is the premium that the layout puts on club selection. The front nine especially demands that players put some thought into what club they will hit off the tee (the back nine allows for more fun with the driver). For instance, holes No. 1 and No. 9 both tempt you with apparently trouble-free tee shots. But a glance at the scorecard reveals creeks that cannot be seen from the tee boxes only about 240 yards out from the tips.

The signature hole is the 305-yard par 4 6th. This is a picturesque hole that bends ever so slightly around a pond and woods to the well-protected green. Other notable holes are No. 5, a 338-yard par 4 that is all uphill from tee to green and all carry on your second shot over a much sharper dogleg than it appears from the tee or on the scorecard. No. 16 is a 482-yard par 5 that, despite its shorter yardage, is hard to go for in two because the fairway doglegs twice around and the green is fronted by water.

Finally, No. 18 is a 434-yard par 4 with a long forced carry over a marsh to the fairway. According to the scorecard and the club pro, Tom Steuwe, it is only around 200 yards to this fairway from the tips. But with the prevailing SW winds and trees on the far right end of the hazard, the pro does admit that it seems longer than it measures.

Conditions at Willow Wood CC are very good. The bluegrass fairways drain well and stay resilient through all weather conditions. The bentgrass tees and greens are in wonderful condition. Bunkering is moderate, but all of the traps are filled with very high-quality fluffy, white sand. The only knock against the greens is a bit of inconsistency from one to the next in terms of speed. Higher, more exposed greens can be pretty slick, while lower, more protected ones can be up to twice as slow, especially following rain.

At present, clubhouse facilities are at a minimum (a trailer), but if all goes well, plans are being made to begin construction on a proper clubhouse in the fall of 2000. However, Club Pro and GM Tom Steuwe offers regular and video-taped lessons on the practice range and green, and the friendly staff will be more than happy to assist you in setting up an outing. Since the bar and grill will not be open until the clubhouse is built, you might want to head into Portland to Amy's Place, a homey pub and restaurant on Kent Street off of Grand River Avenue, after your round for a beer and a sandwich.

If you are one of those golfers who enjoy exploring the golfing landscape and trying new courses, Willow Wood CC presents the perfect opportunity to do so. Don't let the jaunt over dirt roads deter you from taking advantage of this pleasant, new Michigan course that will allow you to pull just about every club from your bag at least once. At only $19-$22 a round ($30-$33 with cart), Willow Wood is a welcome respite from the prices and crowds at more well-established, centrally located courses. Just be sure to call and get directions!

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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