Designed by Warren Henderson and Rick Smith, Arcadia Bluffs was opened as a public course in 1999. It is situated some 130 miles north west of Grand Rapids on a wind-swept 245-acre site along the Michigan shoreline and is in play from April to November annually.
Arcadia Bluffs is sometimes belittled (like Whistling Straits at Sheboygan on the other side of Lake Michigan) for being an imitation or manufactured links. The hand of man built the acclaimed modern links at Kingsbarns in Scotland so Arcadia has absolutely nothing to worry about.
Construction problems were encountered during storms in September 1998 when a landslide caused an estimated 7,000 tons of soil to wash into Lake Michigan. These difficulties were overcome and the rugged landscape was revealed as hardwood and pine trees were removed and rolling fairways were sculpted amongst the dunes.
Arcadia Bluffs runs along more than 3,000 feet of shoreline and the course drops more than 200 feet from its highest point down to the cliffs which themselves are 150 feet above the lake – it is as dramatic a setting for golf as you can imagine and there is not a weak hole on the card to give you any respite as you play.
Fairways are generally wide and drain superbly due to the sandy soil. Greens average 8,000 square feet so they are huge. Bunkering on the course is exceptional and golfers are advised to avoid all of the 50 revetted bunkers that are scattered round the course if they want to score well.
Holes have been renumbered from the original configuration to enable a stronger finish and allow players access to the clubhouse around the turn, in effect creating two loops of nine. Three holes define the Arcadia Bluffs course, starting at the 633-yard, par five 11th hole which swings gently left and downhill toward the lake. The 431-yard, par four 12th hole then runs along the cliff top before the feature hole for many is played, the 240-yard, par three 13th where the tee shot has to carry a canyon to find the green which is perched on the cliff edge over Lake Michigan. Don’t forget the camera.
Arcadia Bluffs has a range and short game practice area to sharpen up your game before playing. And after your round, there is a wonderfully appointed clubhouse with patio deck, sunset grill and dining room to relax in. It's said that “the dining experience is almost as special as your round” with wonderful views across the lake.
A new 18-hole layout opened at Arcadia Bluffs in 2018, designed by Dana Fry as his homage to C.B. Macdonald and Seth Raynor’s course at Chicago Golf Club. Featuring flat-bottomed, grass-faced bunkers, along with wide, straight-lined fairways and crowned square-shaped greens, the South course goes a long way towards capturing the feel of a Golden Age design from the 1920s.
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.
Richard, presenting the course from your wife's player perspective is a valuable addition that I appreciate. Too often I am sure to weigh yardages to consider how the course might play for a golfer better than I, but I should work to consider the placement of tees ahead of myself as well. Kudos.
Thank you for your kind comments, Ryan. Playing great golf courses with my wife has really opened my eyes to some of the subtleties of golf course architecture. I am usually between scratch and 2, while Ruth is a 27 handicap and gets around in about 100 most days. She enjoys courses where there aren't too many forced carries and she can see where she's going. As Alice Dye reminded Pete, sand traps strike fear into the heart of most women golfers and as a result Pete usually provided a route around the hazards. Subsequently, Ruth has enjoyed the several Dye courses she has played. Combining challenge and playability for players of all levels is a difficult task, yet it is that skill that has made architects like Tom Doak, Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw, and Tom Fazio so popular. My wife has a course list that would be the envy of many golfers including Bandon, Whistling Straits, Sand Valley, Streamsong, Pebble, and Monterey Peninsula as well as Swinley Forest and many of the great Surrey courses. It's very helpful for me to get her thoughts and opinions and I hope that through that, I can help golfers of all levels choose courses to play and enjoy.
My favorite course in Michigan. It looks intimidating, but the fairways are fairly large.
Though the course was built on rolling land, Arcadia Dunes’ massive dunes are man-made. Nonetheless, the course very much has the feel of oceanfront courses in Ireland. The 12th hole, running through a dune-sided canyon is the best example. The views of the lake, visible on all but three holes, don’t hurt either. And despite their artificial origin, the green sites and contours do not appear contrived. The course is quite enjoyable, but I wouldn’t put it in the upper echelon of modern links course such as those found at Bandon Dunes, Sand Valley or Streamsong.
Arcadia Bluffs is a World Class public offering with deserved ranking around 10 in the US. Arcadia is a natural course with great holes and greens, the duo of Rick Smith and Warren Henderson creates something special along the cliffs of Lake Michigan. This is a very playable course if people play the right tee box and with 3 par 5’s in the first 6 holes you can go low with quality play, the conditions are always great early season summer or fall & the covered carts with butane heaters are awesome. Place is built around world class customer service and they do it right. Some of the reviews on here are confusing to me, I much prefer the natural hills and setting of arcadia to the manufactured blind shots and 1,000 plus bunkers of Whistling Straights across the lake. The one week point to Arcadia is the par 3’s are not world class the par 5’s are with some great par 4’s. I will travel to Arcadia whenever I get the chance as it’s always a great play the course and the service keep you coming back. With the success of the South course Arcadia will get more play from around the country. It’s a toss up to me between Greywalls and The Bluffs as the top public course in what might be the best public golf state in the US! Go out of your way to play it and build a trip around it!!
A fantastic course that at times feels "other worldly." I really enjoyed my round.
The Bluffs course at Arcadia Bluffs GC is located right on the Lake Michigan shoreline in Michigan State. The golf course was designed by Warren Henderson & Rick Smith and opened for play in 2000
Originally the land was heavily treed, but sand based. Henderson & Smith stripped back the foliage giving them a giant sandbox to play in. The resulting course at Arcadia Bluffs plays fast and firm like a links course .
The designers moved a lot of sand/dirt to create a modern day links. It is hard to put your finger on the reasons- but it does not quite feel like a bona fide natural links course. But it is a good course, and is definitely fun to play
We played in light winds on a beautiful sunny day and it was a delightful experience- however I can well imagine how windy days would change perspectives.
A number of the fairways tighten right up and the rough can be unforgiving. Get it on the wrong day and Arcadia Bluffs would beat you up
There are some world class holes- holes with spectacular lake vistas, and holes which require you to both plot your progress and be able to execute to succeed
Notable holes include:
- hole 5, an imposing par five with lake backdrop
- hole 9, a long par 3
- hole 10, a strong par 4 that tightens as it goes
- hole 11, a par 5 which snakes downhill through the dunes to a green with a lake backdrop
- hole 12, a strong par right along the clifftop
- hole 13, a long par 3 along the cliffs and over a chasm
- hole 15, an uphill par 5
- hole 16, a long downhill par 4 with idyllic backdrop
- hole 17, a strong uphill par 3
- hole 18, a long, strong uphill par 4 closer
Arcadia Bluffs is a quality course in a beautful setting. Although at times the dunescape can look a little man made, the course is well designed, fun to play and will have you running for the camera throughout the round. Good fun!
Peter Wood is the founder of The Travelling Golfer – click the link to read his full review.
Great layout in Arcadia, Michigan. There are a number of holes with beautiful views of lake Michigan. This is one of those courses where pictures don't do the justice because the water is far in the distance. Very fast greens with many false fronts so be ready to have your ball roll back 50 yards if you miss the green. This caused a couple of triple bogeys on my scorecard. The course also had a great practice area and beautiful restaurant overlooking the lake. The rate is a little steep but quite cheaper than Whistling Straits across the lake and comparable. This course is widely regarded as the best public golf course in Michigan and I would have to agree with that.
A Henderson/Smith design that opened in 1999 is a superb course. Of course, one would have had to work extra hard to muckup a course located on the shores of Lake Michigan. Fantastic views from cliffs 150 feet above the lake. Be prepared for 3 putts, I would say overall that the greens are fair, but they are quite large. This is a modern design that is dependent upon golf carts.
The first hole is a welcoming short dogleg right. Big hitters can get home in two, for the rest of us aim at the sod bunker. Favor the left on your second shot to give you a better angle from the deep right bunker. The 2nd is a short par 3 with a two-tiered green. These are two of the easiest hole son the course. The 3rd is another short par 5, but I wouldn’t even think about it. The tee is the highest point on the course and provides wonderful vistas. You will probably also notice the four cross bunkers. The right side is best all the way through the green. The 4th is a short downhill bender right. However, there are bunkers on both elbows which really narrow the landing area. Consider laying up. Favor the left side as the slope will bring you back towards the center. I loved the 5th. From the tee one has a superlative view of the lake on this downhill dogleg bunker infested par 5. The smart play is down the right side and choose your preferred approach yardage. For those of you who are crazy and think you can get home in two favor the left. The 2nd shot is then all carry over a myriad of bunkers to a green that is over 50 yards deep. I was recently told that there is now a sign that prohibits going for it due to safety and pace of play issues. Having said that I have an issue with the sign. Part of the beauty of golf is self-determination. If I play smart and layup, that is my choice. If I delude myself into thinking that I can hit a 240 yard carry, the consequences of my poor decision making sit squarely on my shoulders for an inferior thought process and probably worse execution. The 6th is a long uphill par 3. With a front bunker and false front make sure you hit an extra club. This green slopes hard back to front and has plenty of undulation. The 7th is a brutally long uphill par 4. It is the number one handicap home, with a false front and a two tiered green but not memorable. The 8th is an uphill dogleg right. Take an extra club on the approach. Left off the tee gives the best angle, but right is much shorter. The mid-length par 3 9this an optical illusion. It appears that it is downhill but is really uphill. Additionally, there is a false front, if you are found wanting you will end up in a collection area with a devilish pitch.
The back starts off with a fantastic long downhill par 4. This hole is lioke a bowling lane with the bumpers up. Preferred flight is over the aiming pole. Right is a better angle, especially as there is a hellacious deep greenside bunker left. The downhill dogleg left par 5 11th is an awesome golf hole laid out between two ridges. Favor the left off the tee as the hole tilts left to right and this acts as a speed slot. Fescue squeezes the fairway the closer you get to the green, which is perched above Lake Michigan. Tee to green the elevation drop is purported to be 200 feet. The12th parallels the lake. Aim at the right bunker off the tee. This green slopes towards the lake, thus be cognizant on your approach. For a long approach consider landing short and bouncing onto the green. The 13th is the most visually stimulating of the par 3s. Don’t let your senses overwhelm you into a bad decision. From the tips it is a whopping 240 yards. However, despite appearances this hole is downhill. Yes, you must carry a ravine, but the carry is under 150 yards. The 14th is probably the weakest hole on the back. A short par 4 with a tight landing area. Consider laying up off the tee. Decent drive will give you a scoring iron to this elevated green. The 15th is another birdie oppty. Slightly uphill par five that is reachable. There is a sod bunker in the middle of the fairway about 120 yards out. If you are going for it this shouldn’t come into play. If you are laying up, left is better. This green has another false front with a myriad of bunkers left. The 16th is a demanding long downhill par 4. The good news is you can bump and run it onto the green. The last par 3 is mid-length and uphill, definitely take an extra club. The hole will play easier the further the pin is back, there is a steep drop-off right. The 18th bends right and is a long uphill par 4 with a demanding green, Favor the left side off the tee.
Arcadia Bluffs is a wonderful course. I think it has a corporate feel to it. Pace of play was an issue when I was there and we were racing the son at the end of the round. Having said that, the sun setting over Lake Michigan is usually pretty spectacular.
Built on a tremendous site of bluffs overlooking Lake Michigan, provides lots of scenic views and fun holes with massive heavily contoured greens. Sweeping downhill holes and firm fairways lead to massive drives if you can keep it in the wide fairways. I played it on a calm day, but heard the wind can play havoc on the course as evidenced by the short stout flagpoles on the greens. Some very good holes, but none that I would call world class, and I found a few of the uphill holes to be pretty ordinary. Overall a wonderful experience and definitely worth the trip, but a small step below the other high profile modern links I have played.
This area of Michigan has some of the best golf in the country but I’m a little surprised Arcadia isn’t ranked higher. Breathtaking links course on the Bluffs overlooking Lake Michigan course can play like a true links bump and run course if they would let it dry out a little. I’ve been going here since they opened. Only downside is it’s no longer a secret and gets a little too crowded. Still, you’re not a golfer if you don’t make a trip to play here.