Quail Ridge Golf Club: Michigan's Newest Treasure

By Kiel Christianson, Senior Writer

Ada, MI - Just minutes east of Grand Rapids, in a small town whose name is spelled the same forward and backward, you can find a solid new course that is consistent in quality and condition from front to back and back to front.

Quail Ridge Golf Club, open only since August 1999, is a marvelous addition to the SW Michigan golf scene, offering a combination of wide, undulating fairways, huge, breaking greens, and plentiful hazards for players who stray from the generous swaths of short grass.

Although they may not see a quail here, golfers of any skill level will likely see a birdie or two (whether they bag them or not, however, is another story all together).

Former PGA Tour Professional and one of the owners of Quail Ridge, Randy Erskine, enlisted Ray Hearn to transform a naturally rolling, wetland-filled 300-acre parcel of west-Michigan countryside into a 6,883-yard stretch of bent grass tees, fairways, and greens. The design strikes a balance between playability for the average golfer - including five sets of tees on each hole - and risky shots skirting wetlands, knee-high rough, and woods to keep the hunt for quail, or rather birdies, exciting.

By the end of summer 2000, when the clubhouse has been completed, the facilities at Quail Ridge will be truly first-rate. At present, these already include a driving range with five target greens and a realistic fairway, two putting greens, and a sand and short-game practice area.

Lessons can be scheduled with Marty Carmichael, PGA Pro, or PGA Apprentices John Borg and Jeff Eccleston. The clubhouse will house a full bar and restaurant, a deck overlooking the shared green of the 9th and 18th holes, and a well-stocked pro shop.

The course is already in wonderful playing condition, especially the enormous greens, which are slick and true. It requires an extremely soft touch to land the ball anywhere near the pin and keep it there. For those without pinpoint accuracy, first putts will more often than not be long ones that will have to negotiate multiple breaks over mounds, across ridges and multiple tiers.

At the time of writing this review, the course still lacked any indication of pin placements, which would certainly have been handy in choosing clubs for approach shots. However, John Borg, PGA Apprentice, says that red, white, and blue flags are on order.

Yardages are well-marked on sprinkler heads throughout the lush bent grass fairways, and marble markers can be found at 250, 200, 150, and 100 yards. Yardages will also soon be painted on the cart paths, so both walkers and riders will be continually aware of distances to the greens. Six-foot tall marble monuments give a picture of each hole at the tee boxes, as well.

Better golfers won't lose too many balls here, but mid-level players - and careless aces - could find themselves parting with a ball or two. Four holes require carries off the tee over wetlands, and 42 strategically placed bunkers will keep even straight-shooters honest.

The par 5s measure 509, 545, 551, and 583 from the tips, so they are anything but pushovers. No. 5 is particularly memorable. It is more of a dog tail (think husky tail) than dogleg, and a huge dead tree blocks nearly every second shot from the right of the fairway. Both second and third shots here must carry over marshland. And finally, No. 18 is a monstrous 583-yard par 5 that can make or break your round. (Judging by the broken golf club I found in the trash at the tee, it can break more than your round.)

Likewise, three out of four par 3s stretch over 200 yards, with No. 15 being a 248-yard beast that usually plays directly into the wind. No matter what your handicap, taking a driver out on a par 3 is intimidating as hell.

The par 4s are an interesting blend of longer, often straighter holes, and shorter doglegs that often involve treacherous stretches of wetlands or woods. The best of the bunch is the signature hole, No. 12 (see Spotlight Hole), a nasty 438-yard tester with wetlands on the left from tee to green and a fairway that tilts right to left down into the unforgiving morass.

Perhaps the most striking examples of the spacious, undulating greens are Nos. 10 and 17. The green on the 10th is quartered, with each quadrant separated from the others by ridges from front to back and left to right. It looks like they buried a small airplane under the turf. The green on the par-3 17th has two tiers that are radically different in elevation. Knowing the pin placement is key here, considering that it is an uphill tee shot and you can't see much of either tier from the tee.

Quail Ridge will mature quickly over the 2000 season, and the few rough spots (particularly the turf bordering the cart paths and the construction zones around the soon-to-be-completed clubhouse) will blend nicely into the rest of the flawlessly laid-out course. What is really striking about this course is its consistency - there's not one hole that doesn't fit with the others, not one clunker hole (i.e., one that will need to be tweaked in a few years).

Each hole leads into the next with remarkable continuity and ease, without any redundancy at all. In addition, the 17 home lots that will eventually be developed will not sit adjacent to any of the holes, so the wonderful natural conditions will be maintained.

So pack up your weapons and your golf ball-hunting dogs (just in case) and try your hand at shooting a couple of birdies - quail or otherwise - at Quail Ridge. Very few courses in the area can boast the combination of scoring opportunities, natural beauty, and quality conditions found here from start to finish.

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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