Michigan course no longer encouraging golfers to hit balls into Lake Michigan

July 23, 2019

One Top 100 public course in the U.S. is dialing back an on-course tradition in the name of environmental prudence.

Arcadia Bluffs, the widely praised course that rolls along mounds and trees in Arcadia, Mich., pops out to offer looks at Lake Michigan here and there. (It also checks in at No. 36 on GOLF’s latest list of Top 100 Courses You Can Play.) The views of that Great Lake are absurd. The 12th hole tee box is perched atop a hill overlooking the beach and for years golfers have rifled shots into the water before playing a tee shot toward the fairway. According to an in-depth report from the Detroit Free Press, the course actually encouraged this practice on its website. This from Arcadia’s description of the 12 hole, which the Freep screen-grabbed: “Go ahead and do it, everyone does. Once you’ve launched a ball into Lake Michigan, on purpose, turn your attention to the native bunker on the right side of the fairway as it is your aiming point on the tee shot.”

But now Arcadia Bluffs is done giving golfers the green light.

The course reportedly removed that line from its website shortly after the Free Press story broke, and it’s easy to see why. The newspaper sent a diver into Lake Michigan as part of its investigation, and he discovered hundreds of golf balls in various states of decay. There is little question that golf balls are not a great addition to an aquatic ecosystem, as GOLF reported a few years ago in our feature, “Water Hazards” from the ocean below the cliffs at Pebble Beach.

A Michigan environmental law might cause golfers to freeze in their backswings before sending any more shots straight into the lake. From the Free Press:

Michigan’s Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Act, Public Act 451 of 1994, Section 8902, states: “A person shall not knowingly … dump, deposit, place, throw, or leave, or cause or permit the dumping, depositing, placing, throwing, or leaving of litter on public or private property or water other than property designated and set aside for such purposes.” The definition in the law of “litter” includes “rubbish, refuse, waste material, garbage, offal, paper, glass, cans, bottles, trash, debris, or other foreign substances.

The fine for the civil infraction is not more than $800 if the litter is less than 1 cubic foot in volume, and up to $2,500 for 3 cubic feet or more of litter.

A source in that story claims the golf course, rather than the golfer, could be on the hook for the fine. And $800 might feel like a slap on the wrist for a thriving course business, but what if a judge ordered them to pony up $800 per ball recovered from the lake?

Anyway, the full piece is worth a read, and it’ll make you think twice before sending a shot into the water just to update your Instagram feed.