This is a big, dramatic course that will exhilarate you with the sights and challenges that you encounter. The course is set on the shores of Lake Michigan and is framed by large man-made dunes which define most of the holes. The course starts at the top of a fairly steep ridge and the holes run up and down to the shoreline of the lake. The landing areas are fairly generous, and essentially the targets off the tee consist of either fairway or being in the dunes. There are a large number of fairway bunkers that help define the proper driving line, and a very interesting feature of the course is that many of the greens are situated obliquely to the target line. The greens are then protected by large, deep-faced bunkers, many of which would match the depth and difficulty of the Road Hole Bunker at St. Andrews.
The start is very interesting, with three par 5's in the first five holes, but only the first hole is easily reachable in two shots for most players. There are a number of forced carries over bunkers and waste areas most dramatically seen at the par 5 fifth hole which plays down towards Lake Michigan. Holes 12 and 13 play on the shore of the lake, although the 12th has two greens and only the left green actually plays along the shoreline.
I thought the greens were overly sloped and at times ridiculous. On hole 15, an uphill par 5, I was able to hit the middle of the green with my second shot with the pin back left. The slope was so severe that I tried at least a half dozen different putts and lines and yet from 30 feet away the closest I could get to the hole was 20 feet. That shouldn't happen from the middle of a green.
The course is touted as a "links" but doesn't play firm and fast. My wife and I played in a steady 20 mph wind and the course was quite a challenge.
My impression is that this is a difficult, championship-type test that is probably too difficult for most golfers. The beauty of the scenery and the dramatic holes will put this course on the must-play list for many golfers, but if I was at Arcadia and had three rounds to play I would play two at the South course and one at the bluffs. The forced carries and difficult greens made the course almost unplayable for my wife, in contrast to the courses at Bandon Dunes and even Whistling Straits which usually allow room to negotiate the hazards of the course. I doubt I'll be able to get my wife to take on the Bluffs course again. Overall, good but not great, an exciting experience to be taken in but perhaps not repeated.
Date: September 16, 2021