By Nate Reens MLive/The Grand Rapids Press
As touring golf pros, Mt. Pleasant natives Dan Pohl and Doug LaBelle II have played some of the best and most exclusive courses – Augusta National, Royal Birkdale, Pebble Beach and more – in the world.
And while it would be hyperbolic to say their hometown courses stack up to the game’s hallowed grounds, each Pohl and LaBelle II say the rounds that make up Golf Central Michigan – 11 courses situated less than 30 minutes from Mt. Pleasant – are as good as any in Michigan.
“No matter what your ability is, you’ll find options that will challenge you and be interesting to play,” said Pohl, a two-time winner on the PGA Tour who also recorded 70 top-10 finishes during his career. “(The courses are) really underrated because this area doesn’t get talked about the same as Northern Michigan or some other places in the state.”
“It’s great small-town golf, and it’s easy to spend a couple of days and get a round in at as many courses as you can fit in.”
Golf Central Michigan is a destination that features diverse championship, links-style and classic courses. Visitors find wooded fairways, rolling terrain, carefully positioned water hazards, varying green sizes and treacherous, yet forgiving, sand traps during outings at multiple locations.
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LaBelle II, who played in three majors and claimed two wins on the web.com (now known as the Korn Ferry) tour circuit, said the way several courses embrace the Chippewa River makes for memorable rounds.
LaBelle II and Pohl recently identified their favorite holes in the region and explained what makes them stand out. Here are some of their selections:
Mt. Pleasant Country Club, Hole #13
LaBelle II noted how this 188-yard par-3 is framed by trees on the right and the Chippewa River on the left. “It’s a very cool mid-iron shot with an elevated tee box,” he said. The country club, a par-70 built in 1921, serves as the home course for Central Michigan University’s golf teams.
Eagle Glen Golf Club, Hole #17
Eagle Glen was designed by noted golf course architects Ray Hearn and Jerry Matthews and at 177 yards off an elevated tee box, the next to last hole has a bunker-protected green that slopes from left to right. “Good birdie opportunity when the wind isn’t blowing,” LaBelle II said.
Riverwood Resort White Course, Hole #8
With water to the right and a massive green, this 141-yard, par-3 hole can create havoc, the pros said. Drop it in the water, and the trouble is obvious. Get it too far from the pin, and it will be a challenge to two-putt. “You better hit a good wedge shot,” LaBelle II said.
Riverwood Resort Red, Hole #16
The Riverwood Golf Course is an 18-hole Bruce Matthews III design that is broken into the “White” course for the front nine and the “Red” course for the back nine. The 542-yard par-5 is as straight as it is long, but there’s a tight fairway snuggled between trees that makes accuracy important. “And then you have to drop it on a tiny green that can be tough to hit,” said Pohl.
Bucks Run Hole #6
Another Jerry Matthews course that is among the top-ranked in the entire state, No. 6 at Bucks Run is an area highlight that forces players to make a tough decision to play it safe and lay up or go for the green in two. The 531-yard hole has a narrow fairway and the river runs along the right side of the green. “Most people lay up and that’s probably the right play,” Pohl said.
Bucks Run Hole #8
Pohl said a two-tiered green and hitting high off the tee box (with a view of the clubhouse, Fisher Lake and a stand of woods) make this 188-yar, par-3 a delightful play. But be careful of the water short of the green, the pro said. “Beautiful but challenging hole,” Pohl said.
PohlCat Golf Course, Hole #17
LaBelle II calls this hole “one of the most picturesque par 3s I have ever played.” The course’s 164-yard terrain features an elevated tee box, a multi-tiered green and it is situated on a bluff overlooking the Chippewa River on the right. Pohl, who designed and serves as the director of golf the PohlCat, said players, depending on their length off the tee, can use anything from a 6 iron to a 9 iron. “It’ll make you pay for a bad shot,” Pohl said.
Pine River Country Club, Hole #7
This 142-yard par-3 handicaps as the course’s most difficult hole with the Pine River on the right side, so play it safe if you tend to slice off the tee. LaBelle II warns not to get above the hole if you’re planning on a makeable shot for birdie.
The Pines at Lake Isabella, Hole #8
At 190 yards from tee to green, LaBelle II said the par-3 hole is great from mid-to-long irons, but it plays hard when the wind is blowing. Another mitigating – and sometimes intimidating – factor if the front nine hasn’t gone well, is a green surrounded by water. Players shouldn’t “get too far off-line” here, or they’ll regret it, LaBelle II said.
Pohl said the best designed holes are challenging and forgiving, and it is ideal if they play differently under distinct circumstances.
“Variation is the key,” he said. “Different lengths, down or uphills, how does the wind play into club decisions, as a golfer you want to have options and things that make it fun.
“Our courses in Mt. Pleasant have exactly that. They’re visually stimulating, there’s different terrains, they have some holes with areas that will bury you if you don’t play it right. You can change the pin placement and it impacts how you go after a shot. When people come play, they’ll find one of Michigan’s best-kept secrets on the quality of golf.”
Visit Golf Central Michigan today to plan your golf getaway.