Few Things in Life More Enjoyable than Timber Ridge Golf Course
EAST LANSING, Mich. - One of the great legends of the northern Great Lakes describes how the mythical giant lumberjack Paul Bunyan and his companion Babe the Blue Ox roamed the north woods cutting timber. Whereever they stepped, lakes formed. I would like to take this opportunity to add another chapter to that legend: The place where Bunyan first swung the odd metal club sent to him by his Scottish cousin Ewen McBunyan became Timber Ridge.
He went on to take a few more swings with that club in northern Michigan as well. But for those of us in mid-Michigan, Timber Ridge is our lone view of a Bunyan-esque course, literally hewn out of the towering red pines that line, surround, and protect every hole on this lovely course.
All right. So it was really Jerry Matthews who designed Timber Ridge in 1989. And he has done a fantastic job of creating a truly distinctive course with a northern Michigan feel in the midst of flat mid-Michigan farm fields. This fact has been written before of Timber Ridge, but it is worth writing again.
As you drive just north of downtown East Lansing, towards what seems to be a buffer of executive houses and trailer parks before reaching farm land, you turn into the Timber Ridge property, and suddenly you're in a pine forest, complete with steep hills, deep ponds and, oh yes, 18 golf holes.
Timber Ridge's clubhouse comes complete with pro-shop (where Ed Cashman, PGA Pro is found), restaurant and banquet facilities. The practice green is one of my favorites anywhere--not so large, but well-contoured, just like all of the greens out on the course. It also overlooks the green of the ninth hole and the pond and fountain fronting that green.
The driving range is a very pleasant place to warm up as well. The hitting area is elevated high above the landing area, which makes it hard to judge the distance of your shots, though. Nevertheless, you certainly FEEL like you're absolutely crushing the ball, thanks to the drop-off.
The practice range is a good preparation for the first hole, which runs parallel to the range. The tee is also elevated, so if you're hitting well on the range, you'll be set for #1. I should also mention that #1 used to be #10, and visa versa. They switched nines at the start of last season for a couple of reasons. #10 (the old #1) faces straight east, so early tee times used to result in blinded golfers.
No. 10 is also a narrow dogleg left, with tall pines--what else?--on both sides. So if players hit their tee shots awry, the first hole had a tendency to get backed up. It is very difficult, after all, to hunt for your ball in the woods after the rising sun has burned your retinas.
So, long story short, the back nine is now the front nine. The only problem with the change is that number 9 is a really great finishing hole. In fact the last three holes on the front nine combined to make one of the most memorable closing stretches in the area. They're not bad before a hotdog at the turn now, though.
Another change this year is the continued improvement of the bentgrass greens. I suspect that in recent years, a lack of sunlight due to the signature pines caused some browning of the greens. Now, aside from one or two on the back nine (that are coming around as well), the greens are in great shape. Or should I say "shapes," as this course has a unique and vexing collection of potato chip, multi-tiered, well-mounded and well-bunkered greens. I generally don't three-putt more than one or two times a round, but here I had at least half a dozen.
The course is not so long, at only 6,497 from the back tees, but the greens force you to hit it near the hole or else. Or else what, you ask? Besides three-putts, the severe mounding around the greens (e.g., 7, 9, 12, 18) will shoot long or wide shots off into the surrounding brush.
Add to this a number of devilishly placed sand traps, as on #12, where a huge trap lies front left, three others lead up to the green on the front right, and three little ones hug the back of the green. (Oh, yes, there's water all down the left side of the 12th fairway, as well.)
According to the Lansing State Journal, Timber Ridge is home to two of the nine hardest holes in Clinton County. Two more received honorable mention. The first of these is #9, the hardest hole on the course. It is a 455-yard par 4. Bunkers line the right side of the fairway, which bends left around a mound that blocks the view of the green.
It also blocks the view of the pond that stands between your second shot and the green. Judging by the small bucket of balls I harvested from the water, I'd say a lot of shots come up short. (Including one of mine last year which, I swear to God, I fished from the murky depths this year. I swear!)
The 18th is the other top-nine hole, according to the paper. It is a 523-yard par five Paul Bunyan wet dream--completely lined from tee to green on both sides by huge pines. As I mentioned, this green has mounds on all sides. You can hit the green and roll off and be OK. But fly over or wide, and you'll need a magical short game to get out of the woods and back onto the green.
The Lansing State Journal also rates numbers 13 and 14 as honorable mentions in the "toughest holes in the county" judging. The 14th is a 437-yard par 4. It's tight with a deep, narrow undulating green. You must hit the fairway here, period.
To be honest with you, though, I don't understand why the slightly uphill par-3 13th is rated so difficult. As far par threes go, Timber Ridge's are not that hard, at least according to the handicaps listed on the scorecard. And number 13 is certainly not the hardest on the course.
I personally believe 7 to be the devil's own golf hole, however. It requires a deceptively long 169-yard tee shot from an elevated tee over a pond and fountain. The tee shot must stick on a tiered strip of a green that runs nearly horizontal to the tee box. Hit it thin or just long, and you're across the cart path in the woods, as is any shot left or short right. Straight but short is wet. I'm no newspaper man, but if I were to pick a hard par 3 here, I'd go with 7 over 13.
Golf Digest ranked Timber Ridge as 73rd out of the top 75 public courses in the nation in 1990. Again in 1996 it was ranked by Golf Digest as number 53 out of the top 75 affordable courses. Upkeep may have been a problem in the intervening years, but Timber Ridge is definitely coming back into its glory. The nicest feature of the course is--you guessed it--the pines.
The few fairways that run parallel are separated by the trees. And even though the course is situated in a new subdivision, all but one or two houses are hidden from the golfer's view. While rates may be high for some ($52 weekends, with cart--but only $35 on Mondays during the 1999 season), the solitude and quality of play is worth the price.
There are few things in life more enjoyable than getting back to nature on a course like Timber Ridge --just me, Babe, my trusty blue golf cart, and my 3-iron ax.