Accuracy Rewarded at Wheatfield Valley
Wheatfield Valley Golf Club is a young course, just entering its third year of play. It is located about 15 miles east of Lansing, Michigan--or 60 miles west of Detroit--just off of I96. The course is a duffer's dream, or a duffer's nightmare, depending on how badly one duffs. A number of holes appear to have been designed to harshly punish slicers, with woods and cornfields (despite the course's name) running alongside several holes from tee to green (most notably 4, 9, 11, and 13).
At 5,641 total yards from the blue tees and par 70, Wheatfield Valley doesn't reward length as much as accuracy. The tee boxes on several holes are angled rather unnaturally, with two or three requiring little cut shots around protruding tree limbs. All in all, the course offers a pleasant challenge to the average duffer.
The weakest aspect of the course is the turf in the fairways. While the tee boxes and greens are of fine bentgrass, the fairways are simply closely-cropped Kentucky bluegrass, and right at the first hole you realize that it's not always easy to discern whether your ball is in the fairway or the rough. This is not necessarily a problem for us duffers, who are used to hitting off of fluffy lies out of the rough. More proficient golfers, however, might find the rather pasture-like quality of the course rather annoying, as will rancorous in-laws squabbling over dime fairway marks.
Hole #1 helps bolster one's confidence; it's a benign 467-yard par 5 with no trouble anywhere off the tee. The green is big and flat, typical for the course in general. Such greens seem to be rewards for the duffer who meanders onto them in regulation. Any second putt within 7 feet should be perfectly straight on all but a couple of the greens.
At par 70, the course includes only three par 5 holes, with only one of these over 500 yards (#17, 506 yards). And just as #1 helps get things rolling on the front nine, #10 serves the same purpose on the back. The shortest par 5, #10 is very reachable in two, even if your second shot is struck thin--the ball will roll all day on the stiff bluegrass. (Not that I would know firsthand, of course. Just speculating.) Off the tee, and indeed all down the fairway, 17 presents the duffer with penalties for hooks (woods) and slices (marshland). But again, a flat, easy-to-read green lies at journey's end.
There is a fine collection of par 3s, beginning with #2, which is a downhill par three, where a tee shot over the green will be wet. A short, low tee shot will run onto the big, flat green. Numbers 5 and 7 are both around 150 yards, with long greens protected by large, white sand bunkers. The bunker at #7, in fact, runs nearly one-half the length of the very long green. Most of the greenside bunkers, however, are sloped to leave all but the most unlucky players with helpful uphill lies. The 15th is a lovely par 3 over a pond. If it's not the signature hole, it could be. The card says 182 to the middle of the green from the blue tees, but it looked longer to me, and my ball agreed as it plunked into the clear water about 8 yards short of the green.
The par 4s are quite unique at Wheatfield Valley. The longest is 414 yards (12), and the shortest is just 278 (14), with a 284-yarder (4) as well. Needless to say, long, straight drives can result in rather easy eagle and birdie putts. However, with the aforementioned quirky tee boxes, prudence will usually garner the largest rewards. Take 8, for example. At only 311 yards it still challenges big hitters to be smart and observant. Just to the right of the fairway, 200 yards out, is a huge cottonwood tree. If you go big, you reason, a fade will still be O.K. because it will clear the tree. What you fail to realize is that there is a pond 40 yards past the tree and totally out of view from the tee. So any short shot right will land behind the tree; and long shot right will sleep with the fishes. Now the reason one thinks so much about going right is that, from the tee box, it appears as if there are trees to the left. As soon as you head down the fairway, though, a wide-open area of short rough reveals itself, and you curse your long drive over the tree, the stealth pond, and the fishes that are doing God knows what with your ball.
Numbers 6 and 11 continue the motif of par 4s with trees on the right and open rough on the left. The lone dogleg is 13, where the fairway bends rather sharply right about 220 yards out. At the bend is a bunker awaiting the over-zealous. Woods border the fairway both before and after the bend. These can be driven over, but you need to be certain of the angle that will get you out into the fairway on the opposite side. If you misjudge it, don't bother looking for your ball in the woods--they're far too thick. Number 14 (just 278 yards) doesn't really count as a dogleg, but the odd angle of the tee box and the limbs jutting out just to the right and directly in front of the tee forces you to hit a sort of cut shot if you want to try for the green in one. A fairway bunker 40 yards from the green and a greenside bunker front left protect the green from Tiger Woods wannabes. Tiger himself would likely find any drive of his bouncing across I96, which runs directly behind this green and that of #3. I discovered that some motorists apparently enjoy honking their horns while other people are trying to putt. Road rage, I guess.
While Wheatfield Valley Golf Club will likely not stir the blood of scratch golfers, high handicappers will find an enjoyable respite from longer, more expensive courses. At around $25 for green fees and a cart, this course offers an excellent opportunity to work on shot-making, especially from the tee. The duffer's greenside game will also get a workout, with lots of trouble just over many greens (I neglected to mention one actual wheatfield behind the green on 16), and several big white sand bunkers. Although not especially contoured, the greens are for the most part huge and receptive, offering practice for lag putts and the occasional birdie (or even eagle) attempt. And for the enthusiastically mediocre among us, these rare score-saving opportunities make it all worthwhile.