The Majestic at Lake Walden Lives Up to its Name
HARTLAND, Mich. - The Majestic mission statement printed on the back of the scoring card reads, "To provide an atmosphere that will bring you back time after time." It doesn't exactly trip off the tongue, and worse yet, seems bloody obvious. Importantly, however, Jerry Matthews (course architect), Paul Hughes (course pro), and the wonderful staff of The Majestic do exactly what they say they want to.
Rarely does a course with such a pretentious name live up to it. But The Majestic offers a collection of 27 holes that, with only a couple of exceptions, are truly, undeniably majestic. I will go so far as to say that if you are a golfer who can afford the greens fees on a regular basis ($59 M-Th, $65 F-Sun, still a very good value), you may not want to play anywhere else in mid-Michigan. Ever.
I do not know of any Michigan courses outside of the legendary ones up north or a few along the shores of the Great Lakes that present golfers with such spectacular vistas. Holes 1-18 of The Majestic encircle the 180-acre Lake Walden, and from holes 2 through 14, nearly every tee shot or green looks down upon the blue waters. The lake never comes into play, unless, like me, you simply enjoy looking around so much you lose track of where you hit your ball.
Aside from Nos. 1 and 18, there are no parallel fairways, and even the drives between some of the holes (for example 9 and 10, 22 to 23, 24 to 25) make you want to stop your cart and simply admire the cathedrals of pines.
Thanks to the rather unique tee times, you actually have time to do this, as well. Tee times are scheduled in waves, with the first wave starting simultaneously on 1, 10, and 19 between 7:00 and 9:00 am. The second wave then begins at noon.
The three nines measure as follows from the tips: 1-9, 3,427; 10-18, 3,582; 19-27, 3,322. On several holes (see below) the advantage of blues or whites over the black (back) tees is huge. And amazingly for a long course, there is more wild land than there are golf holes, thanks to the over 1,400 acres out of which The Majestic is carved.
The vision of a course architect like Matthews to work with the natural lay of the land and almost hide 27 golf holes in the forest is really admirable.
The downside to this sort of expansive beauty is that it makes golf carts manditory. If you want to play as the Scots intended and walk, The Majestic, as well as other recent Matthews designs, such as Hawk Hollow, will not be your cup of tea.
The holes feature four sets of tees, generally wide, gently undulating fairways, and for the most part, large greens with subtle rather than extreme contouring. The greens on 19-27 were in considerably worse shape than those on 1-18, but still were pretty good compared to many other local courses. The turf is bentgrass from tee to green.
The rough around the green consists of a short first cut and then a very long second cut, making accuracy on your approach crucial. Even fairly good shots that barely run through the green may end up against a collar that will hamper any kind of putting stroke.
The Majestic presents you with a few different looks but avoids discontinuity, mainly because each hole (especially 3-14) pretty much makes you forget about the one before it. If you had been listening to my playing partner and me as we walked to the tee boxes of 3-14, you would have thought we were watching fireworks, what with all the giddy ooh-ing and ah-ing.
On to the highlights of the course--or really the highlights of the highlights, since listing all the highlights would take far too long.
Nos. 1 and 2 are a long par 4 and par 5, respectively. They are quite linksy, with waist-high rough and some godly fairway bunkers. No. 2 requires a draw off the tee for any kind of a shot at the green in two (or even three), and is the first one from which you can see the lake.
No. 3 is your first tee shot over a brush-filled ravine, which is something they like to make you do a lot of at The Majestic. Again, there is a wide fairway to land in, but trouble on both sides if you do miss. This, like several holes, has a very long, narrow green, so be sure to check the pin placement card provided in your cart (and ask the starters--who, by the way were the friendliest I've ever met--for the day's pin position). No. 4 is a lovely par 3 over a marsh-filled valley. Take a moment and enjoy the, um, majestic view of the lake from the green.
The par-4 5th is, according to the staff, the signature hole, which is a bit odd, since it is one of the few lacking a view of the lake. It is nevertheless a beautiful hole, completely lined with towering pines. In this respect, this hole is very reminiscent of several holes at Timber Ridge in East Lansing, one of The Majestic's sister courses.
No. 6 is quite possibly the best short par 4 I've ever seen. At just 321 yards from the tips, it doesn't look like much on the card. But from the tee, you see immediately that tee shot placement is crucial because there is trouble on both sides.
More critical, though, is the fact that the green is completely surrounded by enormous mounds dotted with bunkers and swaths of waist-high rough. If you drive it too long either right or left, you have no view at all of the 10-foot high pin. It doesn't take that bad of a second shot to leave you on top of one of these giant humps (burial mounds for old duffers?), attempting a ridiculous lob shot down at the green.
The 7th is a 609-yard par five, but the blue tees are over 90 yards closer than the tips. Bunkers await any and all approaches short of the green, once (if) you finally get there.
The last hole worthy of special note on the front nine is No. 8, which qualifies as one of the most picturesque par 3s in mid-Michigan: 186 yards, with a sapphire blue pond zig-zagging all the way from tee to green on the right. A back right pin placement forces some serious flirtation with the water.
Driving to No. 10, as I mentioned, is a treat, as you come out of the woods over a hill and get another--well damn it, I'll just say it again--majestic view of the lake. If you don't want to drive, you can be ferried by boat to the tees, and they'll bring your cart to you. One problem for hotdog and Gatorade addicts such as myself is that the turn from 9 to 10 is no where near the clubhouse. Numerous jugs of ice-cold water placed around the course help a bit, though.
Another problem at No. 10 is the nearly impossible tee shot from the black tees. You'll need to carry the ball around 250 yards over a no-man's land of brush, marsh, and, quite likely, wild animals. Even worse, some dang fool has planted (or has just not cut down) a giant oak tree smack dab in front of the landing area.
Even from the blues, you'll need to draw your tee shot around the tree with a fairway wood, or end up in the bunkers to the right of the fairway. But as you're cursing the shot you are about to, or have just hit, step back and calm down with another scenic overlook of the lake.
At this point, let me say that somehow, at least on the day we played, every hole faced squarely into the wind. I don't know if Jerry Matthews got together with God and planned it this way, or if it's some sort of mini-lake effect (on which Michiganders are so eager to blame all sorts of weather phenomena, and even, say, stock market fluctuations). Whatever the case, playing into the wind on this course is very tough.
Case in point, the 234-yard par-3 12th. Even if you clear the wild marsh between the tees and the long but narrow green, you have no room for error right or left. Miss this green anywhere and you will need all your skill (and luck) to get up and down.
No. 13 is a bizarre hole, almost to the point of being a novelty hole. The fairway loops way out to the left from the tees around an old fieldstone chimney and back around to a green that is actually quite far right of the tees.
If you want to cut over the loop, you need to carry over a bowl-shaped, very deep collection area and land on the ribbon-like fairway. Right is big trouble in the woods, and you have no view of the green from the bottom of the collection area. Bunkers gobble up shots through the fairway.
Sadly, the majesty of the first 18 holes comes to an abrupt end at No. 15, when you are thrust rather rudely out of the pristine woods and onto a hole bordering the freeway. Returning to the links-style of Nos. 1 and 2 is nice, but the roaring semis to your right and the camper park to your left fairly well ruin the atmosphere. No. 16 is another 230-yard par 3 (170 from the blues), all carry over a pond and, once again, into a stiff breeze to a wide, shallow green. After sending a couple balls each to watery graves, my photogrpaher and I decided to hit from the blues and not tell anyone. Well, anyone other than those reading this review, that is.
Nos. 17 and 18 are a bit dull, but only in comparison to the previous fantastic holes. Even if it's not picturesque, 17 is a bugger of a par 4 at 450 yards. Shooting into the wind as we were makes reaching in regulation a real challenge.
Holes 19-27 are, as I said above, not as nice in our opinion as the main stretch through the first 18. Also, these nine holes are in the process of being lengthened, so the distances from the back tees on the scorecard don't match those on the tee box signs. As far as I can tell, the scorecard is correct.
No. 21 is another 200-plus yard par 3 over a swampy hazard, which is really too close to the front of the green. No. 22 is a very tough design, with a blind tee shot over marsh and a dogleg right to left. If you try to cut the dogleg, more marsh protects the green, and you'll find that. Bunkers surround the green to boot, so you really want to play conservatively and approach from the right. No charge for the local knowledge.
Between 22 and 23, you traverse one of the many wooden catwalks spanning marshes. So this is a good time to mention that, on this course, you really need to pay attention to where you're going with your cart.
I can imagine players after a couple of beers maiming themselves by driving off the paths into trees, swamps, bunkers, etc. We even saw workers pulling a cart out of one swamp on No. 22. 'Nuff said.
Nos. 23 and 24 are very impressive holes. No. 23 has a serpentine fairway and forces a second shot over brush and sandtraps to an elevated green. No. 24 has a radically elevated tee forcing a carry over deep, deep rough. Fairway bunkers await long hitters, and a small green that falls away to the right awaits everyone at the end of this 538-yard par 5.
Of the three finishing holes, only No. 25 is memorable. It is a 173-yard par 3 that is at least two clubs less due to the huge elevation change from tee downhill to green. Bunkers surround the green, so you feel like you're tossing a dart down at an intimidatingly small bulls-eye.
Contrary to the information provided on one popular golf course site, The Majestic at Walden Lake consists of 27 championship holes, a good number of which can rightly be called masterpieces. Located just about 45 minutes from both downtown Detroit and Lansing, it's remarkable to find such a great layout so close to these large cities.
This course is managed by the same group that manages Hawk Hollow, Timber Ridge, and El Dorado, all of which lie in or near the Lansing area. These three courses are no slouches (see my previous reviews of all three), but The Majestic is, without a doubt, the jewel in the crown.
I'll admit my scepticism when I drove up to the modest clubhouse on the dirt road that leads to the course. The Majestic at Walden Lake sounded like a slick marketing ploy akin to giving mediocre racehorses names like "Moneymaker" or "Betonmeandwinenoughtobuyanewhouse". But I'll also admit when I'm wrong. The course is more than aptly named. Matthews and Mother Nature have indeed ensured that you will want to come back time after time.
January 22, 2002