Michigan's Brookshire Inn and Golf Club: A real Williamston gem
WILLIAMSTON, MI - Those of us who are not fortunate enough to have a significant other who also enjoys golf know that, on occasion, frictions arise due to a conflict of interest. We (the duffers) want to golf. They (the non-duffers) want to take a family outing that, crucially, does not include golf. Duffers and non-duffers alike know very well that if some compromise is not reached on such occasions, neither the subsequent round of golf nor the family outing will be any fun.
I, in my great, benevolent wisdom have discovered a compromise worthy of King Solomon himself. The compromise is the Brookshire Inn and Golf Club in Williamston, Mich. Williamston is a small burg just 20 or so miles due east of Lansing. The quaint downtown is filled with antique shops, specialty stores, cafes, and restaurants.
One of the best restaurants in town is the Brookshire Inn, which is tucked just south of the main intersection in town and just west of the newly renovated town park. The restaurant itself is a huge chalet with lots of exposed timbers inside, and it specializes in such hearty fare as prime rib and barbecued ribs.
It just so happens that this wonderful restaurant is part and parcel of the Brookshire Golf Club, too. So do you see where I'm going with this? The duffers hit the links, the non-duffers hit the shops, and they meet up afterward for more shopping and/or a romantic dinner in a restaurant that has seemingly been plucked out of the Alps and placed in this charming mid-Michigan town.
Voila! Compromise achieved and one more relationship crisis averted. (Look for my new book entitled "Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus, and Shallow Psycho-babble is from Uranus" in bookstores near you.)
Now that we've gotten the socio-relational issues out of the way, we duffers can move on to the really important stuff, namely, the details about the course.
The Brookshire Golf Club is quaint, very much like Williamston itself. It is not long at only 6,181 from the tips, nor is it terribly hard on the whole (rating 69.9, slope 125, par 72). Nevertheless, there are a few holes, particularly on the back nine, that play as difficult as most courses in the area.
When it opened in 1959, Brookshire Inn was a nine-hole golf course with W. Bruce Matthews serving as the original architect. In 1994, W. Bruce Matthews III remodeled the existing nine and added nine holes. There is not a lot of perceptible difference between the two nines, however, and no discontinuity at all. The front nine is tighter off the tee, but there is more water and a great deal more sand on the back nine.
The conditions have always been immaculate whenever I have played here (close to a dozen times now). The turf on the back nine is bentgrass from tee to green, and on the front it's bentgrass on the greens and a mixture of rye and bent on the fairways. The greens are wonderful throughout--varied in size and shape, but consistently well contoured and usually well protected. Water comes into play on ten holes, so ball control is a must.
The course does include several adjacent fairways, a layout which I usually consider to be less fun to play than courses with non-adjacent fairways (holes usually lined with woods). But as I was playing my second shot on No. 6 from the fairway of No. 3 (en route to a great scrambling par, I might add), it dawned on me that I lose a lot fewer balls and score much lower on courses with adjacent fairways. Needless to say, I am currently reformulating my opinion of adjacent fairways.
A long hitter might be able to overpower a few holes here, but generally the design forces one to rely more on club selection and ball position rather than brute force. The par-4, 327-yard 1st hole is a perfect example.
From the tips, you drive out of a chute of trees to a narrow fairway lined with trees, mounds and fairway bunkers on the right and an algae-covered pond on the left. You cannot see the green very well, so anything more than a fairway wood seems foolish. Long hitters standardly go with a mid or long iron off this first tee. The large first green is typical of the course; a bunker cuts in front of the green on the left, making a back left pin one hell of a tough placement.
The short (475-yard) par-5 2nd is very tight off the tee, with woods and a river from tee to green on the left and trees scattered along the right-hand side. Your second shot will need to clear the pond protecting the green on the front right side. This green is small in comparison to most, and is tilted from back to front.
No. 3 (347 yards) is a tricky par 4. Again, woods and a marsh run all along the left side and the fairway terminates in a large trap about 250 yards off the tee. So a 3w off the tee with a slight draw will leave you perfectly positioned for the second shot, dead left from the end of the fairway over the marsh to a wide, deep green (which was the only one in rough shape). This is the number two handicap hole for good reason.
Over the course of your round, you will find more than 50 bunkers, many of which are quite impressive in terms of their size and "sculptedness." Some of them look like big sand-filled outlines of octopuses or amoebas. (Watch out for pebbles, though, that might ding up your clubs.) The short No. 4 is your first introduction to these great sandtraps.
No. 5 is shorter yet (284 yards, par 4), but five large, deep bunkers surround the huge green. If you want to try to drive this hole, you need to get past big cottonwoods on the right and over a stream and those bunkers.
No. 9 is a 220-yard, slightly uphill par 3 with trees and a creek on the left, trees on the right, and a deck just behind the green. So on sunny days you may have an audience watching you finish up the front nine. For a player of my skill level, this can be a lot of pressure.
The back nine--newer, a bit more open, and a classic Jerry Matthews design--lies across the road from the pro shop (which is separate from the restaurant, by the way) and the front nine. Be sure to both watch for cars when you cross and also pay attention as you drive to the tenth tee because the raised plank cart path over the marsh can be tricky to maneuver over (especially if you've had a few drinks).
No. 10 (327 yards, par 4) feel longer, since it is a blind tee shot to a hump-backed fairway. An enormous bunker fronts the green, so if you brutes out there want to try to go for it, you'll need to fly the potato chip green.
The par-3 11th is short (135 yards), but has an absolutely beautiful tiered green. If you end up on the wrong tier, you might as well be off the green or in one of the deep bunkers, because two-putting from the wrong tier is a real challenge.
No. 12 is a 527-yard par 5 and the longest hole on the course. Benign off the tee, it quickly turns dangerous as the fairway narrows between ponds on both sides of the landing area for your second shot. Another large, undulating green waits at the end.
The signature hole is the par 4, 332-yard No. 13. A big, evil pond juts out into the left side of the fairway and then runs along the left nearly to the green. My advice is to not be tempted by the wide landing area over the front finger of the pond. Instead, aim your drive down the right-hand side of the fairway, directly over the 150-yard pole.
The fairway opens up beyond the mounding on the right. A really monstrous hit might send you through the end of the fairway into the bunker at the corner of the slight right-to-left dogleg, but if you can hit it that far, the left side won't be any safer, as the pond juts back into play on the left side in front of the green. The large green on this signature hole has more bumps and curves than a double-jointed exotic dancer, so a greenie does not automatically ensure a par.
Nos. 14 and 15 have all kinds of bunkers--big ones, little ones, deep round ones with huge Mick Jagger lips. The 14th looks like a freaking moonscape. Matthews must have ordered too much sand when he was building the back nine and he tried to use it all up on these holes.
No. 16 is a 210-yard par 3 with a gigantic, bowl-shaped green. The upper tiers to the back left and right of center provide for some absolutely brutal pin placements.
No. 17 (388 yards, par 4) is the number one handicap hole and is very unique. The ideal drive will land less than 150 yards from the green. Any farther back from the green, and you will be standing in a deep valley and will not be able to see the pin at all.
So be advised: The 17th green is up the hill to the LEFT. From the valley, you can see a green straight ahead, but that is NOT the one you want. The tiny, triangular green of the 17th is to the LEFT, hidden behind some rather intimidating mounds.
No. 18 (368 yards, par 4) is not the best closing hole because it has a tendency to slow down play. The tee shot is off an elevated tee over water and must be absolutely perfect. If you go right, you're wet and/or dead in the woods. If you go left, you are blocked from an approach to the green and will likely need to chip back into the fairway.
Now, here's where it gets tough: The fairway runs uphill from the pond. If your drive doesn't make it to the crest of the hill, you have a blind shot over the hill and also over a swamp fronting the tree-encircled green.
The slowdown comes when players hit blindly to the green and then can't find their balls because they have a) plunked short into the swamp, or b) strayed left, right, or long into the woods, and have no idea where to look. For the second shot, then, two words of advice. First, have your playing partner go to the top of the hill and watch your shot to the green. Second, take an extra club for that second shot--the distance over the hill and marsh is longer than you think.
The Brookshire Golf Club is a real gem hidden just outside of the quaint Williamston downtown. Couple a tough little round of golf on this lovely parkland-style course with a few hours of antiquing and a delicious dinner at the Brookshire Inn, and you have yourself as close to a perfect day as mid-Michigan has to offer.
October 11, 2000