WOW! That is really what I felt from beginning to end during my visit to Arcadia Bluffs in Arcadia, Michigan.
About two hours from Grand Rapids, Arcadia is not close to much of anything, but as it seems to be developing in the world of golf…to find new and truly breathtaking sites for the game; that is most likely a requirement (See Bandon, OR & Mullen, NE).
From the moment you drive up to the clubhouse at Arcadia Bluffs you can tell it is going to be a special experience. Lake Michigan is right there staring at you from the clubhouse and for about 14-15 of the holes you can see a part or all of the Lake. Luckily the first two holes are away from the Lake so you can remember you are there to play golf and not site see.
The wind is howling no less than 15 miles per hour and gusts up to 30, but that is what you get when you play coastal golf, at least that is what I expect…a few guys in the bar after the round seemed to be surprised but come on guys, really? Don’t be that guy.
It is nearly impossible to choose a favorite hole as most of them are memorable and the ones I may choose will be different from what others would say, but here goes.
The Par-5, 3rd hole is just as beautiful as all the rest but the real challenge comes in 2nd shot decision and 3rd shot approach. Most likely into a left to right wind as it was for me, getting there in two is a mammoth undertaking but the layup is not simple either. Two deep bunkers come into play when laying up for any shot not given enough club or hit poorly and that brings bogey or worse into play quickly. But once on the green, the wind continues to be a factor as this is one of the highest spots on the property and there is nothing to keep the wind away on your putt. Anything outside of 30 feet is a guess as to how much the wind will help or hurt.
The Par-3, 9th is a great end to the front nine and a prelude to what is coming on the back. Only about 170 yards it is dramatically downhill with a typical right to left, helping wind to judge. I think a back pin location is much easier than a front one as severe slopes protect the middle of the green. Now you can see the dunes are really going to come into play on the back.
Thank goodness for the in cart GPS because without it, 10 and 11 would be very challenging to choose a line off the tee, but the in GPS does a terrific job guiding you around the course. The 10th hole is a mid-length par-4 but a huge dune jets out into the middle of the fairway, obstructing your view of the landing area. If you see your ball land, it is most likely not good. Trusting the GPS works and gives you no more than a middle iron into the green with perhaps the deepest greenside bunker on the property, at least 10 feet below the putting surface, maybe 15. We each hit a shot after the hole just to see if we could get out and we could.
The Par-5, 11th is arguable the most stunning and photographed hole on the course. Straight downhill all the way to the Lake, your landing area is just a huge dune that will funnel every ball forward or to the right anywhere from 50 – 125 yards. A good tee ball is still too far to try in two as the hole is nearly 600 yards and into a strong wind on most days. With a narrow valley through the dunes on either side, just hit a long iron to stay in play and hope to have a middle iron or wedge to the green. A grove of tall pines on the hill right and short of the green set off the phone cameras and perfectly frame the valley down to the green. Be careful with a front left pin and try not to 4-putt for double bogey as I did.
Twelve and thirteen provide the first, straight downwind shots of the round as they border the lake on the left. Let’s just say my 3 wood went about 340 yards off the tee and my 9-iron on 13 flew 160 yards to carry the deep cavern between the tee box and green.
I could go on and on describing each hole and what challenges, risks and rewards lay ahead, but your eyes would get as tired as my friends as I describe it to them verbally.
When I said this was memorable from beginning to end, I meant it. Every single person we encountered that worked there was more than friendly. Even the guy blowing the leaves off the cart path asked us if we were having fun.
When you do finally get to Arcadia Bluffs, make sure not to plan anything after your visit because you do not want to miss the most memorable 19th hole experience in golf. Thanks to Sports Illustrated, two weeks after my visit, they agreed with me, awarding Arcadia the top 19th hole in all of golf…yes ahead of Pebble and the like. About 25 Adirondack chairs line the small bluff above the 18th green and provide the most perfect spot to relax with your choice of cocktail(s) and watch the golfers struggle up 18 or just watch the sunset, but give yourself at least an hour because it is perfect.
Well if this has not convinced you that Northwestern Michigan is not an elite golf destination then I have not done my job and none of the pictures I took on my phone can really capture the beauty. I will be back and when you throw in the greens fees, this could be the best value in golf if you are looking for a truly first class view and experience. At under $200, I have paid a lot more for a lot less in this game.
For more information, visit www.arcadiabluffs.com.