Pierce Lake Golf Course: One of Michigan's Best-Kept Secrets

By Kiel Christianson, Senior Writer

Chelsea, MI - So you want to play a memorable course built by a renowned architect, but you want to spend less than $35, including cart? Certain golf snobs would laugh in your face. We at MichiganGolf.com, however, will be happy to oblige with one of Michigan's best-kept secrets: Pierce Lake Golf Course in Chelsea.

Pierce Lake Golf Course and Park is, in fact, part of the Washtenaw County Park System. But don't let this put you off: You won't find a flat, scraggly goat-track at this park. Instead, you may have to pinch yourself when you realize that you can play this picturesque, Harry Bowers-designed course for as little as $23 (walking, weekdays).

Bowers is one of Michigan's own, whose main office is in Ypsilanti. He spent many years working under Robert Trent Jones, Sr., and now does courses primarily in Florida and the Caribbean. His Michigan courses include The Rock on Drummond Island, as well as Pierce Lake, which opened in 1996.

GM Richard Wake is quick to point out that the golfers of Washtenaw County have a real treat right here in their back yard—they even receive a $2 discount on weekdays. Bowers has molded a fine piece of land into a course with two distinct looks: links-style (without the ocean, of course) and northern woodland.

"You need to keep your ball in the fairways here," recommends Wake, "or you'll be in the long grass [on the front nine] or the woods [on the back nine]." But even so, Wake stresses that with five different tee stands on each hole, "this course is accessible to all golfers, no matter their level."

Players new to the course will be impressed by the large bent grass greens (avg. 2,600 sq. ft.), which are contoured beautifully and guarded by bunkers that look like they were taken straight from a high-end resort course. The maintenance staff tries to keep the greens rolling between a 9.5 and 10.0 on the stimpmeter, so they're reasonably fast. This makes hitting the right level key on your approaches: A three-putt is almost always a risk.

At 6,874 yards from the tips, length is at a premium here. And with numerous tricky hole routings, precision is pretty important, too. First-timers are presented with quite a few blind shots. On Hole no. 1 (384-yard par 4) for example, be sure to look at the green as you're driving/walking down into the valley to hit your second, because you won't be able to see the putting surface as you hit.

Nos. 5 (410-yard par 4) and 9 (407-yard par 4) also present blind tee shots. The fifth is especially nerve-wracking, with OB to the left, water to the right, and practically no view at all of the landing area, which is actually fairly generous. Try to hug that OB tree line for the optimal second. And for the love of God, if you're not an ‘A' player, don't even think about hitting from the tips—especially here.

The par-5, 524-yard fourth is a lovely hole, despite the drone of traffic from the adjacent freeway. From slightly elevated tees, the fairway bends to the right around a lake. If you have cut enough off the corner—and you're one big hitter—you can try for the elevated green in two. If you're a mere mortal, a safe lay-up allows you to use a shorter club to attack the tucked, elevated, bunkered green.

The 492-yard, par-5 15th features the longest forced carry off the tee of the round. This hole epitomizes the northern-Michigan atmosphere of the back nine. Its L-shaped green, with bunkers in the elbow of the L, is a beauty if the pin is front, but a real beast if the pin is back.

The back nine is unique in that it has three par 4s, three par 5s, and three par 3s. The closing hole is in fact a par 3, a feature which may not appeal to some. But if you're going to close with a par 3, it ought to be a gut-buster like this. At 234 yards from the tips, and directly into the prevailing winds, you'll need to cinch up your truss and give it all you've got. This hole is not only long, but it also has the deepest, narrowest green you will likely ever see. According to the pin placement card, though, the hole is never cut in the back half of the green. So if you do end up there (as I did) you will be darn lucky to two-putt from over 120 feet away (as I was).

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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