Michigan's Whispering Pines Golf Course: No Reason to Go North
Pinckney, MI - For me, the name "Whispering Pines" first conjures up images of a cemetery, or perhaps a trailer park (in fact, if you put the name into the Web, mobile homes is what you find). But don't let the name deceive you. Whispering Pines Golf Course in Pinckney (a few miles north of Ann Arbor) is a fun course, with a few somewhat odd holes balanced by a few truly memorable ones.
The magazine ads for Whispering Pines ask the question, "Why go north?" This question, and the photo of a pine tree-lined fairway in the ad, suggest that what you will find in Pinckney is just as good as what you will find at the expensive, isolated, rugged courses in the northern third of the lower peninsula. While this might be a stretch for the course as a whole, there are certainly a half dozen or so holes that live up to the advertising.
Whispering Pines (rating: 69.8, slope: 126 from the tips) is not long (6,440, par 71), but it offers some looks that you won't find at too many other courses. The reason for this is that the course designer (whose name I couldn't even dig up) was not a golf course architect, but rather the main developer of the subdivision through and around which the course is built. As a result, some holes are very unique, and a couple are even rather bizarre.
But unless your a real purist, the mix of quirks and the natural beauty of many of the holes (especially on the front nine) is really quite enjoyable.
The course is eight or nine years old, and has been under the current ownership since 1996. The big feature is the bentgrass from tees to greens, and some very, very well-done and challenging greens. Another plus is that only two fairways lie adjacent to one another, so in this respect, it is like a northern course. If you're like me, tree-lined fairways call for a good supply of golf balls, so come prepared.
Amenities include a 27,000-sq. ft. clubhouse with banquet facilities and two practice putting greens (but no range). Rates are $35 with cart on weekdays, $45 on weekends, and a cart is required (although, in truth, only nine holes would present a problem for walkers due to the distances between holes; the other nine would not be bad).
Now on to the interesting layout itself. Right off the bat, I must be up front and state that nine holes are not particularly memorable. At the time I played, these nine were 10-18. I understand that the management plans to switch the nines, however, so next season the lesser quality nine might be Nos. 1-9. Now that I've gotten that off my chest, I can also state without reservation that the other nine (Nos. 1-9 this season, perhaps 10-18 next season) offers a top-notch playing experience.
The fairways are tight, lined with pine trees (hence the name). These nine holes reminded me of Timber Ridge in East Lansing, or even The Majestic at Lake Walden in Howell, even though they were on the whole not as long as these other courses.
Now, with your permission, I'd like to take a spin around the course for some examples of the highs and lows. I will identify the holes by their numbers as I played them; just keep in mind that the nines may be reversed by next season.
No. 1 (par 4) is a tricky, if not a bit inauspicious starting hole. It's only 277 from the tips, but doglegs severely to the right around thick woods. A long left tee shot with anything more than an iron or lofted fairway wood will end up in a fairway bunker or a backyard. ("Little Timmy has never been the same since taking that Titleist to his noggin.")
As such, No. 1 is a good, early lesson in taking great care with your club selection off the tee on this course. There will be several occasions for mid- to long-irons.
No. 3 is the signature hole and the number one handicap hole as well. It is 401 yards and requires a tee shot over a pond and then an approach to the smallish green over yet another pond. This hole in particular is reminiscent of Timber Ridge or The Majestic.
The 156-yard, par-3 4th is quite lovely. An environmental area runs along the right from the tee to the slightly elevated green, which is guarded by white sand bunkers.
Nos. 5 and 6 (380 and 398 yards, respectively) both have fairways that slope pretty drastically from right to left. So if you play a fade (and can control it), a power fade into the right edge of each of these fairways will roll down perfectly to the middle. Any drive in the center or left of center will run off into the left rough and trees.
The green on No. 6 is pitched so severely from back to front that a middle to back pin placement will result in missed putts that roll back down the hill, kind of like the U.S. Open. In general, the greens at Whispering Pines require you to keep the ball below the hole or you'll be in for some very tricky putts.
No. 7 is a 425-yard par 4 with a blind tee shot up to the top of a hill. As you reach the crest of the hill and look down toward the green, you'll be glad that you're a golfer. "Breathtaking" might be a tad effusive, but I will say that the view through the trees and over a small, swampy pond to the elevated green is very impressive.
The par 5, 561-yard 8th is a monster that threatens to put a double-digit number on your card (as it did mine). The blind tee shot looks absolutely impossible from the tee, over a swamp, and a hill. If you look up "serpentine" in the dictionary, you'll find a picture of this fairway. it's like a boa constrictor getting ready for dinner (and I think I was the main course).
To round out the front nine, the 9th is a nice finishing hole at only 358 yards. But it plays uphill and ends with a well-bunkered green that is tucked, perhaps a bit too closely, under the eaves of the clubhouse. My apologies to the wedding party guests I nearly beaned.
Now on to the less appealing nine. its not that Nos. 10-18 were that bad; in fact, a few were pretty good. it's just that one or two holes were so odd, they're the ones you tend to remember.
No. 10 is a challenging 434-yard, right-to-left dogleg. The second shot is downhill to a potato chip green. Woods run from tee to green along the left, but the green is very accessible (no bunkers, mounds, etc.).
On No. 12, the course begins to run too closely to the building frenzy that is taking place in the subdivision surrounding the course. Notice that in my description of Nos. 1-9, I didn't mention any houses. Well, they make up for it on 10-18. There is a house being built so close to the tee box on No. 11 that, when it is finished, you'll be able to stand on the tee and hear the people inside breathing. (OK, maybe a bit of an exaggeration, but you get the idea.)
Aside from the houses, No. 12 is a tricky little par 3 (150 yards) that falls dead away to the left. There's even a false side on that side of the green and rather large humps on the right side. So a left pin placement (as was the case when I played) is extremely tough.
Nos. 13 and 14 are the two weird holes. If you like weirdness, they are kind of fun, actually. No. 13 is only 315 yards, but it's severely uphill and the fairway is pretty tight. It's like hitting to two par 3s, in that the landing area for the tee shot is small and flat, and anything that misses it will be at such an odd angle that you'll have trouble with the blind second shot on up the hill to the deep, narrow green.
The 14th is also a short par 4 (320 yards) and requires a mid-iron off the elevated tee. The landing area is less than 200 yards downhill, but you must clear a small marsh. The trees really close in on both sides, too. From the landing area, the hole takes a 90-degree left turn, and you'll need to fly a creek, bunkers, and mounds up to the huge, elevated, undulating green. Being on in regulation does not guarantee a par on this green.
The 15th is a short par 5 with houses popping up like mushrooms very close to the fairway. Ask not for whom the bell tolls.
The 16th and 17th each have some very nice qualities. The 392-yard 16th has a truly great, intimidating green tucked behind a large tree on the right, woods left, and a bunker front. The fairway on the 538-yard 17th is a lovely, rolling strip of immaculate bentgrass.
Put the green from the 16th together with the fairway from the 17th (and remove the McMansions from behind the tee on the 17th), and you've got one wonderful hole.
It was good to hear that the nines will likely be switched next season, because the current No. 18 is a lousy finishing hole. It's a hard, uphill, 191-yard par 3 with practically bottomless, steep-faced bunkers.
In and of itself, 18 is a good hole. But since it's so challenging, there is the potential for a huge back-up on the tee as you wait for duffers like me to finally emerge, gritty and furious, from one of those bunkers. As the 9th hole, however, it won't be quite so bad.
Whispering Pines is a tale of two nines, a woodsy, dramatic nine, and a quirky, subdivision nine. The conditions from tee to green were excellent, and the greens are challenging and fun, never unfair or tricked-up, as can be the case on courses designed by inexperienced course architects.
It offers a unique and enjoyable round with some distinct challenges. And perhaps, now that I think about it, the cemetery-like moniker is apt. You may well send several golf balls to an early grave, just as I did.
February 10, 2000