Today I played a round at Black Lake Golf Club in Onaway, Michigan. Black Lake Golf Club is currently ranked 35th in the 2007 Top 100 Public Courses in the USA by Golf Digest Magazine. I know, I know, golf course rankings are quite subjective, at best. Here is my impartial opinion.
There are many, many great golf courses that will never make a Golf Digest Top 100 list. However, Black Lake Golf Club quickly made short order of the other 170 golf courses that I have played, including the venerable Arcadia Bluffs. Did I just say Arcadia Bluffs? Yes, it is difficult to compare two very different styles of design, parkland versus links, but someone has to come out on top.
This is the second Rees Jones venue that I have played, the other being Charleston National (SC) and I was thoroughly impressed by both Rees courses. Once you have played here you’ll find that Black Lake Golf Club is a fair a test of golf if you choose the correct tees.
According to Rees Jones Inc., “we work to create courses that are fair, challenging, continually interesting to play, and visually exciting. We get a feel for the land, we listen to the client, and we build a course that we believe has integrity and lasting value.” One could argue that this course will always be intersting and challenging, each and every time out. Black Lake Golf Club is fair and visually exciting (stare at my pics), but you will still need a decent shot off the tee. Actually, you’ll need a lot of them! Super wide landing areas at Black Lake? Nope, not here, but there was ample room off the tee.
It’s not incredibly tight, but nor is it incredibly wide. Where Rees Jones gets you is with the strategically positioned sand traps in the fairways and around the greens. His risk reward opportunities were perfect as well. Sure, you can hit driver anywhere on this golf course, just be prepared to look a bit for your ball in the ferns if you bite off more than you can chew on a few of these holes.
Jones’ sand traps are really something to behold. They remind me of a newer, much more modern Donald Ross design. Picture a well-mounded grass bunker, carve out only the bottom nicely and add fine sand. They look like they are easy to maintain yet not impossible to hit out of cleanly, even when you short side yourself. Jones also seemed to build a few green plateaus (hole #15) that reminded me of Donald Ross courses (Pineneedles came to mind), especially the Par 3 number 17 with the bail out area behind the green (not even visible from the tee box). However, this golf course CANNOT be mistaken for any Donald Ross gem, it is uniquely Rees Jones through and through.
Drought conditions this summer? All over the Midwest yes, but NOT here at Black Lake Golf Club. I did NOT see any burned out areas, not ANYWHERE from the number 1 teebox all the way to the number 18 green. Impressive. The greens, although fairly quick, are somewhat subdued and lacked any great amount of undulation. The greens are no where near flat, just not tricked up at all. Basically, once on the green, what you see is what you get. Go right at the hole.
Black Lake Golf Club tips out at 7046 (74.4/138) yards. We played the white tees at 6401 yards (71.3/130), although it appeared to play longer. Must have been the uphill, into the wind par fives. The front tees play to 5058 yards (70.1/120).
There are five sets of tees in all. The course offers a nice clubhouse that does not detract from the course, a complete practice area and a 9 hole “Little Course”. Black Lake Golf Club is owned and operated by the United Auto Workers (UAW) and is a part of their Education/Training Center.
If you enjoy a serene parkland golf setting, supreme conditioning, and no houses what so ever you’ll love it here. In fact, we felt all alone, as if the course was ours, during our whole round. We sure did.
Hey Rees! Please hurry up and design a course in Ohio!