Founded in 1917, Barton Hills Country Club had its Donald Ross-designed course in play within five years of its formation. William Diddel, Bill Newcomb and Arthur Hills have all remodelled the layout down the years but it took until 2012 before Ron Pritchard restored the layout to its dazzling best.
The main thrust of the restoration was to encourage the propagation of native grasses around the layout, promote firm and fast playing conditions on and around the greens, and add new tees to both shorten and lengthen the course for the benefit of players of different playing abilities.
Highlight holes include the 493-yard 3rd, a long and very tough par four rated stroke index 1 on the scorecard, back-to-back par fives (one long and one short) around the turn at the 9th and 10th, and the 428-yard 18th, where three deep cross bunkers provide plenty of visual intimidation for players standing on the tee.
Barton Hills has hosted a couple of prestigious ladies’ tournaments in recent years: the 98th edition of the US Women’s Amateur in 1998, when Grace Park won the event with a 7&6 victory over Jenny Chuasiriporn, and the 22nd edition of the US Women’s Mid-Amateur in 2008, which was won by Joan Higgins, defeating Lynn Simmons 1 up.
I had been visiting my wife’s aunt and uncle in Ann Arbor, Michigan for 30 years but nearly always played Radrick Farms, the University of Michigan course, or the Inverness Club, where I was a member for nearly ten years. I had tried a few times to get onto Barton Hills but due to recent course restoration, was told to be patient and have a look when the course work was completed. I am very glad I waited.
Barton Hills has consistently been ranked in the second hundred top classic courses in the USA per Golfweek magazine. It deserves the ranking.
Barton Hills is a very good design by Donald Ross with a nice consistency to the golf holes. The outward nine is essentially flat. The inward nine has several holes with dramatic changes in terrain and therefore are the more memorable holes. Ron Pritchard, a Donald Ross specialist, was brought in to bring the course back to its original design although a re-shaping of the greens to provide more inner contours has also occurred. There has been a concerted effort to remove trees although many remain and add to the beauty and defense of the course.
The greens are large and varied here with good greenside bunkering both in shape, depth, and placement. There is really good inner contouring as well as a fair amount of slope on most holes.
It is a “short” course per the scorecard, however, the Championship tees extend the course to 7085 yards. The scorecard lists the Blue tees at 6623 yards, par 71, rated 72.1/129. The White tees are 6019 yards, rated 69.3/123. There are combination tees bringing the total number of tees to eight options, including those Championship tees. I found the course rating and slope to be accurate. We played the Blue tees. The course converted both the tenth and seventeenth to a par 4 from a par 5 although the par 5 tee is still there on seventeen. The seventeenth was the heaviest debate on the course as I liked the hole either way, but thought the club should offer the option of which tee to play, much like Rolling Green does near Philadelphia.
Several of the holes are visually attractive with many of the holes memorable. The tenth, thirteenth, fifteenth, and seventeenth are the holes that I consider to be the best on the course, although my two member hosts thought the third and fifth also should be included.
This is a wonderful course for everyday play for its members. It is relatively easy to walk despite the two steep hills on the back nine at fifteen and sixteen. One should not lose many balls here, although one member lost a ball in the same pond while playing nine and ten. There is sufficient width to the fairways. The trees on the course allow one a chance to recover or advance one’s ball. The second, tenth, fifteenth and seventeenth holes are the only holes I recall where one might not have a level lie. After playing the course, I wondered whether I had made a mistake not trying to become a member of Barton Hills versus Inverness since it was less than half the distance from the aunt/uncle’s house. This is not to imply that Barton Hills is in the same league as Inverness as it clearly is not, but it is a course that offers both fun and adequate challenge.
1. Par 4 - 422/406. I felt this to be the third best hole on the front nine playing slightly uphill as a slight dogleg left. Down the left side are two bunkers spaced about 40 yards apart at the 240 yard mark. It is a wide fairway so the correct play for the biggest hitters is also down the right side. This hole offers two bunkers about 60 yards short of the green on either side of the fairway to provide a bit of intimidation for those with a longer approach shot. At the green is a bunker front right and one behind the green. The green is enormous slightly sloped back to front with a bit of interior contouring. It is a good starting hole.
2. Par 5 – 529/464. I liked this par 5 with a heavy line of trees down the left side. There is a small bunker right just off the tee which makes no sense even from the championship tee. It should be moved another 40 yards down the fairway. Farther up is another bunker on the right not really in play as well for either the tee shot or second shot. The ground is slightly higher to the right but also has a lower area of ground about 150 yards out from the green. About 60 yards from the green are two flanking bunkers narrowing the fairway. On the front right begins a long bunker resulting in a carry-over it to a back pin position. Go too long and one could find a small bunker at the rear of the green. The green is a good one with lots of inner contouring from a higher back with a shelf on the left along with a front right mound, providing a hint at what it is to come.
3. Par 4 – 441/399. This is the number one index on the course although I feel two-three holes on the back nine are harder. The hole plays as a sharp dogleg to the left. The left side has thick trees making it impossible to cut the corner. The Championship tee is closer to 510 yards and plays over a small pond. The bunkering is good on the hole with a right bunker about 80 yards from the green, a left one about 60 yards from the green and another one just short on the right. There is a final bunker on the right side. I hit a decent tee shot and had 250 yards to the green due to the position on the right side of the fairway. The green is almost two-tiered as the back part is much higher. It is another large green and also slopes to the left which I did not believe so I missed my par putt. It is a fine golf hole.
4. Par 4 – 343/336. This hole began a string of missing four short birdie putts of less than eight feet in a row for me. It is likely the easiest hole on the golf course. There is a bunker and tree on the right that is very short off the tee so likely not in play. The fairway goes downhill and the bigger danger is avoiding the large bunker on the right about 250 yards off the tee that one cannot see. There are two cross bunkers about 40 yards short of the green which is raised with a false front. The bunker on the right and behind the green are fairly deep while the bunkers on the left are a bit lower. It is a pretty hole as you look at the approach shot. The green has good interior slopes back to front.
5. Par 3 – 160/133. This is likely the prettiest hole on the outward nine completely surrounded by bunkers with a green that rises to the rear. The green is angled left to right with the back par narrowing to 40% the size of the front of the green. There are two tiers to this green sloping overall to the left and quickly to the front. It is a wonderful short par 3.
6. Par 4 – 356/326. Playing in the same direction as the first and second holes, this hole offers two bunkers on either side of the fairway making it important to hit one’s drive straight. However, there is a small pond blind from the tee on the right side of the fairway that one needs to lay up. The green has a single bunker off its right side and is relatively narrow but long sloping to the back. It is a relatively easy hole much like the fourth.
7. Par 4 – 402/379. Heading back to the clubhouse, this hole is too similar to the previous hole in its bunkering with two bunkers on either side, both about 20 yards apart. Farther up on the right is a single bunker for the long hitter as the fairway slightly turns to the left. The green complex is a good one as it is nearly surrounded by bunkers with the rear bunker being particularly deep. The false front will stop balls hit short. This is one of the most undulated greens on the golf course. It is a nice hole.
8. Par 3 – 178/163. This green offers a “bumper” on the left side as the bank will bring balls down to the right. However, miss the green to the left and one will have a nervy recovery shot from a deep bunker. What I also liked about this hole are the two bunkers fronting the green appear to be at the green but are actually fifteen yards short. The green has good inner contouring which is why I missed my final short birdie attempt.
9. Par 5 – 541/513. The tee shot must avoid the two bunkers placed about 180 and 220 yards out that come into the fairway. This fairway rolls a bit. There is a small pond off to the left off of the tee that should not be in play. Farther up is another fairway bunker about 80 yards from the green. This bunker is raised and also comes into the fairway. Fronting the green are two bunkers about ten yards short of the raised green which offers multiple pin locations. There is an iconic tree off the left side of the green blocking the view of the clubhouse. While not as stately as the tree behind the eighteenth at Sunningdale Old, it is a wonderful, shorter tree. There is a mound in the center of the green. We had a back right pin location and the uphill putt I had raced by as did the return attempt. It was one of two three putts on the day, frustrating after missing several short birdie attempts. I like the hole.
10. Par 4 – 470/459. This previously played as a par five and is a difficult hole. You play downhill with mounding on either side of the fairways. I felt this hole looked out of character to the rest of the course. The mounding pinches in about 160 yards from the green. Three is a large bunker left off the fairway and two cross bunkers another fifty yards up. A big hitter will fly all of these bunkers. There are two hidden bunkers on the right set opposite the beginning of a pond shared with the ninth hole. The pond comes into about half of the front of the green. The green has a large ridge on the front right while the front left has a swale near the pond. The green runs to the right. I topped my second shot leaving a shot of about 190 yards but knocked that one to 8 inches to save par. This hole could easily lead to a double or triple bogey. I felt the hole to be more difficult than the third hole, but my host members disagreed.
11. Par 3 – 216/176. Near the halfway house that one can also access from the ninth hole, this par 3 offers a bunker about halfway to the hole. Nearer the green is a bunker on the left while there are two fronting bunkers to the right. The green is angled left to right and has a spine in the middle making the back right seem like a separate green. I found the hole to be visually unappealing but it does have a good green.
12. Par 4 – 338/315. Likely the most picturesque hole on the back nine is another dogleg left with a pond on the left side very much in reach from the tee for most length of players. Down the right side are two bunkers just after the turn. 50 yards from the green is another bunker that eats into the fairway and continues 10 yards into the rough. At the green, angled opposite the fairway are three deep bunkers to either side. The false front repels a lot of balls. This is a raised, two-tiered green and is very speedy down the tier to a lower pin. It is not a difficult hole but there is a lot of opportunity to make a double or triple bogey.
13. Par 4 – 435/379. This is the best hole on the golf course and has the most terrifying green as well. There are large cross bunkers making the tee shot blind but there are easily cleared. Off to the right is a small bunker. Farther down is a small bunker left and a tree line begins which can catch the longer hitters. There are two bunkers near the green. The green is very large with a false front with big fall-offs on all sides, but particularly steep off of the back. There is a huge swale in the middle front of the green. We had a front left pin position leading to my second three putt of the day. I tried the putt five times and never came close due to the severity of the break and the pace. I like this hole a lot.
14. Par 4 – 388/341. Heading the other way this hole has a single cross bunker at the beginning of the fairway but it is not in play. Another bunker farther down the right side is very much in play and is blind from the tee. This hole has some rolls to the fairway. If playing down the right side there is a tree coming into the fairway that one must go above or play under. The green is surrounded on three sides by five bunkers and slopes steeply to the right and to the back. It is a nice, short par 4.
15. Par 4 – 401/328. This hole has a very steep valley in front of the green and is the most difficult walk to the green on the course. The hole plays as a dogleg right with a single bunker and tree on the right. Longer hitters will have to decide whether they want to carry all the way to the bottom of the hill and have a 50 feet high blind short approach or lay-up and stay on higher ground on the left side of the fairway where they can see the flag. The green has a plateau on the back left and overall slopes quickly back to front. One must be below the hole to have an easier putt.
16. Par 3 – 186/172. Playing over the same valley fronting the fifteenth, this hole plays slightly uphill. Miss short and your ball will not advance, but will likely come off the front. The green is steeply sloped back to front and to the right. There are two deep bunkers fronting either side of the green, another deep bunker right and a nasty deep bunker behind the green. If one goes in the back bunker, good luck as the bunker shot has a good chance of going off the front of the green. Like many holes on the front side, I missed a short putt for par.
17. Par 4 – 419/379. This hole used to play as a short par 5 of 520 yards as a slight dogleg right. From either tee the trees on the right must be avoided. The fairway is fairly wide. The right side of the fairway falls away to the trees. A bunker left is very much in play off the tee for the shorter hitters with another bunker left 50 yards up in play for the longer hitters. Short of the green about 60 yards are two cross bunkers that were blind to me from my poor drive down into the right rough. The green has bunkers on the front sides and another one at the rear. I think the hole is good either as a par 4 or playing it from the back tee as a par 5.
18. Par 4 – 398/351. A lovely finishing hole to complete the round. Much like thirteen, there are cross bunkers off the tee that are not in play. Trees are scattered down both sides of the fairway. Near the green are two bunkers on the right with the first one coming into the fairway. Surrounding the green are four bunkers, three of them on the left. All of this are deep bunkers. The green is very large and elevated, offering some of the most difficult pin positions on the golf course and overall slopes to the right. The husband-wife tournament was going on the day I played and the two members joked that the pin placement was known as the “divorce pin” as it was on the more difficult left side. This is another good hole that seems to play a bit shorter than its length but does not yield many good scores due to its excellent green.
Barton Hills is a gem as it is very playable, an easy walk and offering a good variety of length of holes. The front nine does play easier with the exception of a few holes. Had I known the course better I think I could have scored as much as seven shots lower, although my shot on ten saved me at least one stroke. The greens are very good, not in the same league as Brookside in Canton, but as good as mine at Aronimink. The green complexes are also good with a nice placement of bunkers both in depth and width. There is a good mixture of easier holes here and more difficult holes. As mentioned, it is very much a member’s golf course in that one will not tire of playing it. Perhaps the only real criticism is that the bunkering looks two similar and a few of the holes have the bunkers located at similar distances and sides of the fairways. But these are minor criticisms. While there are better courses in Michigan, this deserves its lofty reputation as one of the better “classic” courses in the USA.
I grew up playing Barton Hills and will try to keep any bias I have built up over the years out of this review. The course has gotten even stronger with the recent renovation work. The first is a strong opener with a slight dog leg left with a bunker in the crook of the dog leg. The green is well protected and and has good undulation. Two has OB down the left off the tee which gives more trouble than it should. 6 is a bit weird with a blind hazard off the tee (water) about 220 out. It does not seem very Rossian to me. 8 is a strong par 3 the funnels balls to the back left. 9 has a fun green with a bit of a top hat which makes the challenge on the par 5. 11 is a strong long par 3 that welcomes a low and hard fade in to the green. 13-15 are 3 strong and difficult par 4s with the 15th green having an extreme front to back tilt. 16 is a odd long par 3 over a large valley that seems a bit out of place and 18 is a strong finisher back to the clubhouse.
Overall Barton is fun to play and offers the golfer good challenge and a good amount of fun. A must play if you are in the area.