The South Course at Arcadia Bluffs
The South Course at Arcadia Bluffs: Complexity Veiled by Simplicity
The inspiration for the building of the South Course was born out of a desire to present the guests at Arcadia Bluffs with a golfing experience unlike that of any other golf destination in America. To present players with the opportunity to play a golf course that would stand as a testament to the challenges and emotions experienced only at a few select classic private courses from golf’s earliest days. Golf is a process; an experience of breaking down challenges to reveal the best solution. The objective for the South Course would be to design a golf course by strategically positioning a collection of elements, serene in their appearance, ultimately creating a veil of simplicity over the complexity of the challenges that await. It is this aspect of enduring classic design that both confounds and excites golfers, leaving them with an elevated anticipation to return.
Perhaps more than any other of the early American golf course architects, it is the work of CB Macdonald and Seth Raynor, in both their collaborative efforts and as individual designers, which embody our desired approach. CB Macdonald had spent time in Scotland tutoring under Old Tom Morris. Macdonald believed that there were a finite number of hole design options existing on courses throughout Great Britain and that the best versions of those holes should be used when building a new course. Seth Raynor trained as a civil engineer and was a master at manipulating ground contours and building features that were aesthetic and functional. The success of their collaboration was the blending of their perspectives; the sound design principals of holes Macdonald experienced during his time in Great Britain and the unique engineered looking solutions developed by Raynor. The objective for the South Course would be to capture the intricacies of their work, not a copy or replica, but an original new course based on the rudimentary principals applied so successfully by these two men.
The land in and around Arcadia varies from dramatically bold to mundanely flat. The goal was to find a parcel that had enough topographic relief to allow for varying lies, contained sandy soils for firm and fast conditioning, be square in configuration to allow for a well-mixed variety of hole directions, and be walkable. Ultimately, a 311-acre parcel was assembled just one mile south of the existing Arcadia Bluffs course that met all of the desired criteria. The final routing of the South Course is two distinct nine hole loops, each containing a balanced mix of north, south, east and west facing holes. This is particularly important due to the ever present winds across the property. No more than a mile from Lake Michigan, players will be subjected to continually changing winds throughout their round. Following the design edict of Macdonald, golfers will notice the distinct lack of trees on the course. Macdonald believed that trees had no place on the course, that they were a detriment to play and had adverse impacts on the wind and views across the property. Additionally, there are no naturally occurring water features and none were constructed on the property. Green to next tee distances are close to encourage walking yet substantial space between holes creates a sense of isolation while 473 trees were transplanted along the perimeter of the property to enhance privacy. The South Course routing fits harmoniously with its surrounds allowing the natural flow of the land to lead players from one hole to the next and offers unlimited views across the property.
The greens on Raynor courses are unique because of their unmistakable geometric shapes. As such, the greens on the South Course will be very different from what golfers have come to expect. Applying the design concepts of Seth Raynor, the greens are large in area, averaging over 9,400 square feet, and quite often squared off in their shape in one or more of their corners. Pinnable areas are separated into different sections using swales, ridges, slopes and isolated bumps. Because of the large size of the greens, these internal contours are most often what will set the strategy for approach shots. Contours can be used to a player’s advantage to get close to the hole but may feed balls from misplayed shots into adjacent bunkers or leave players with long putts. The greens surfaces extend out to the edges of their defined footprint to create more pin locations and bring bunkers into play for poorly struck shots. Some have been positioned to create an infinity or skyline appearance, and many have false front approaches or side and rear run offs to create a variety of recovery options. Consistent with the classic courses, the tees at the South Course are rectangular with 90-degree corners.
The South Course bunkering style is consistent with the style used by Macdonald and Raynor, flat bottomed sand with steep grassed faces in line with play. They preferred to use mostly straight lines for the bunkers, using the excavated material to form the intimidating grass faces. The leading edges of the bunkers are easy to walk into because they tie into the approaching elevation. Quite often, the tightly mowed bentgrass fairways and approaches will lead right up to the sand, encouraging miss-hit shots to reach the hazard. Fairway bunkering is positioned to identify landing areas and optional lines of play. A common design trait is the positioning of a short bunker about 150 yards from the regular tees to define the start of the landing area, with additional bunkering positioned at varying angles and distances, some designed to be in play and others to create depth perception uncertainties. The greens on the South Course are built up into defined plateaus and greenside bunkers are positioned below the surfaces. There are no features higher that the greens surface, creating a very bold look with the greens defined by the strong grass face and ribbon of flat sand.
Macdonald and Raynor had a shared belief that there should be multiple ways to play every golf hole and that a variety of shot requirements should be presented to the player. At the South Course, fairways and approaches are wide to accommodate optional lines of play and allow for high approaches or ground assisting bump and runs. The strategic placement of fairways and greens over the existing landforms in combination with the sandy soils, proven agronomic practices and a modern irrigation system will allow the course to play firm and fast. The most modern element of the golf course is the irrigation system, which relies on the use of computer controlled fiber optic communications to prevent over watering, promoting the firm and fast conditions and preserving our water resource. Irrigation water is withdrawn from a series of networked wells on an as needed basis eliminating the need for lakes or storage tanks. Tees, fairways and greens have been planted with 007 bentgrass, which performs well at a variety of heights of cut and has enhanced disease resistance. The mowed roughs are a blend of blue grass and turf type tall fescue, which hold up well to traffic and have a lower water requirement. The native areas between holes have been seeded with a blend of fescue grasses that were created for the original course at Arcadia Bluffs. These areas are unirrigated but within a couple of seasons they will take on the wispy appearance seen on the original course.
From commencement of shaping to final seeding, the South Course building process was completed in only 6 months as a result of minimal earthmoving and the sandy soil conditions. The South Course at Arcadia Bluffs is a tribute to a bygone era in golf course design that few golfers today have ever experienced. With a focus on strategy, and the thought provoking use of angles, the goal for this new course is to capture the simplistic nature of the courses from the early days of golf in America. Therefore, we invite everyone to come and experience the challenges, the emotions and the beauty of the South Course – Complexity Veiled by Simplicity.
We are now accepting Tee Times for play beginning August 1, 2018. Please call 231.889.3001 to make your Tee Time reservation.
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- Director of Agronomy
- Jim Bluck
- Golf Course Superintendent
- Ryan Williams
- PGA Head Golf Professional
- Eric Dye
- Course Designer
- Fry Straka Global Golf
- Tee Time Reservations
- South Course Address
- 13637 Northwood Hwy. Arcadia, MI 49613