Course Rater Confidential: The best private, public and sleeper courses in Michigan

The Kingsley Club

The 1st hole at The Kingsley Club.

GOLF’s Top 100 course panelists are among the most respected and well-traveled course evaluators in the game. They’re also keen to share their opinions. In this series, we’ll unlock their unvarnished views on all questions course-related. The goal is not only to entertain you but also to give you a better understanding of how to understand and appreciate golf course architecture. You can see GOLF’s latest Top 100 Courses in the World ranking here, and meet all of our Top 100 panelists here.

With the PGA Tour in Michigan this week, it’s time for course-related questions from the Wolverine state.

After Crystal Downs and Oakland Hills, the highest-rated Michigan courses in GOLF Magazine’s rankings, what’s the best course in the state and why? 

Ran Morrissett (Architecture Editor): Michigan is stacked with great golf, both from the Golden Age and from the Modern Age. Narrowing it down to one is brutal, but when in doubt, I tend to side with the course that promotes ‘bouncy-bounce’ golf, which would be The Kingsley Club and its fescue playing surfaces. The ball releases more across its fairways and greens than the great parkland courses around Detroit. 

Steve Lapper (Panelist since 2009; has played 84 of the Top 100): The Kingsley Club hands down. This private gem dances around, over and through undulating, heaving terrain that encourages the player to think about not just where the green and pins are, but also the land and its movement that takes you there. It’s natural, no-fuss routing is a delightfully fun mix of golf adventure and strategic, insightful design. The highest praise is that it never fails to demand both your best swing and capture your interest – from the first hole to the last. 

Thomas Brown (Panelist since 2015; has played 95 of the Top 100): The Kingsley Club. The Kingsley Club was built in 2001 by a young, brash golf architect named Mike DeVries.  Kingsley is simply one of the premier designs built in the modern era of golf architecture. I remember approaching the 4th green on my first round there, thinking that golf enthusiasts might finally be able to find consensus on what the merits of natural design look like. DeVries took chances on the design. Fellow critics have tried to explain to me that par-3 9th hole is too challenging, or that the 13th hole, at 292 yards, is sensory overload. I’ll have none of it. Kingsley is perfect.

What’s the best public course in Michigan and why? (If it’s the same as the course you’ve named above, give us the next public course on your favorites list.)

Morrissett: Stoatin Brae is just west of Battle Creek, Mich., but because of its openness, you might think you are playing a heathland course outside of London. The stretch of holes from 10-15 is crazy good, and the course costs well under $100 to play. The quiet, relaxed vibe is a real plus too. 

Lapper: I’ll stick my neck out and nominate Arcadia Bluffs. Blessed with an abundance of quality holes and aesthetics, it commands a hefty price, but few would deny its memorability. Public golfers of all skill sets are usually thrilled to experience it and are rarely disappointed.

Brown: The University of Michigan Golf Course. Have a problem getting on Augusta National?  The University of Michigan Golf Course was built the year before Augusta by the same Alister MacKenzie and his Midwest associate, Perry Maxwell. The 1st tee sits across the street from the stadium used for football. It won’t take you long into your round to appreciate the intricacies of what makes MacKenzie/Maxwell greens so renowned. U of M students are lucky.

What’s the course in Michigan you’ve not played that you’re most eager to see and why?

Morrissett: The two-year-old South Course at Arcadia Bluffs is at the top of my list. I love the Macdonald/Raynor school, so to see how Dana Fry interpreted their design elements into the South Course is bound to be fascinating. Without doubt, the course will be hugely strategic, which is my No. 1 must-have criteria.

Lapper: I have three tied at the top of that list: Stoatin Brae, The Reversible Course at Forest Dunes, and Meadowbrook GC (Northville). Stoatin Brae for all the reasons Ran cited, and to see what the talented team at Renaissance Design (Doak, Slawnick, Schenider, Placek and Iverson) produced. Who could possibly be interested in quality design and fun and not want to play a wholly reversible course? Finally, I’ve heard great things about the Andy Staples renovation of a classic Willie Park Jr. design.

Thomas Brown: The Dunes Club. Long before his success in Oregon, golf’s Robert Moses, Mike Keiser, built The Dunes Club in 1995 in the southwest corner of Michigan. The Dunes Club is a private nine-hole golf club designed by golf architect Dick Nugent. The pictures available online are envious. Comparisons are made to No. 1 Pine Valley. Is it really as good as everybody tells me? Hopefully I will be able to find out on my own someday.

Your favorite Michigan sleeper, please, with a sentence or two explaining your choice, please.

Morrissett: Orchard Lake. C. H. Alison might not be the most famous Golden Age architect, but he was one of the very best, and this work showcases all of his talents. As always, the few bad holes on the course (whatever they may be!) are still strong, and my favorite holes are evenly spread between the two sides (1, 2, 7, and 8 on the front and 13, 16, 17 and 18 on the back). Ultimately, it is the type of course that you would happily play 30-50 times per year and never get tired. And that’s the hardest trick in architecture. 

Lapper: Belvedere GC, Charlevoix. This timeless WIlliam Watson design was restored a few years back and is home to a wonderful set of fascinating green complexes set amidst parkland beauty. Not long by any contemporary standard, it is the kind of course that is as much fun to play with 5-7 clubs as 14.

Brown: Forest Dunes, Short Course. Golf architects Riley Johns and Keith Rhebb have just completed a 10-hole, par-3 course at Forest Dunes in Northern Michigan. The longest hole is 155 yards long. Opening day for public play is at the end of July. I do not anticipate any lost golf balls. The latest trend of a fun short course to complement the big course is a positive direction for all.

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