- Address249 Crystal Downs Dr, Frankfort, MI 49635, USA
- Championships hosted
Benjamin Merrick, a local Grand Rapids lawyer, coined the name Crystal Downs. He likened the vista from atop the hill (where the clubhouse now stands) to the rolling chalk downland found in southern England.
Set delightfully on a headland wedged between Lake Michigan and Crystal Lake in America’s Midwest, a rudimentary 9-hole layout was first brought into play in 1927, but this course was transformed and extended to 18 holes by Alister MacKenzie and Perry Maxwell over succeeding years.
Maxwell supervised course construction, returning each summer to live in a farmhouse beside what is now the 8th fairway, until the back nine was finally completed in 1933.
“MacKenzie, who was making his way back across America with the intention of returning home to Scotland, along with his then associate Maxwell, was talked into a trip to the wilds of Northern Michigan.” Wrote Mike Stachura in American Classic Courses. “What they saw once they got to this pristine golfing land set on a 100-foot-high sand-ridge overlooking both Crystal Lake and Lake Michigan was an opportunity to work a magical piece of property.
MacKenzie would draw up the holes in the late 1920s, not long after finishing his work at Cypress Point and his touch-up work at Pebble Beach, and only a few years before his collaboration with Bobby Jones at Augusta National. Clearly at the height of his game, he created at Crystal Downs a series of unconventional but spectacular holes (the kidney-shaped green on the seventh hole is unforgettable), all of them legitimate challenges for even players of the highest ability both then and now. The combination of the setting, the ever-present wind off Lake Michigan, the staggered, undulating, angled fairways and the adventurous greens make Crystal Downs a unique challenge.”
Writing in The Confidential Guide to Golf Courses, Tom Doak explains that until the mid-1980s, Crystal Downs was genuinely Michigan’s hidden gem:
“Most people who known me have heard of Crystal Downs, the Alister MacKenzie course that lured me to northern Michigan as a college student in 1982, so it’s hard to explain how unknown the course was back then. The only person on the GOLF Magazine rating panel to have played the course was Jack Nicklaus, who visited on a summer trip with his parents as a young teen; even in Detroit, the most that you could find anyone to say about it was that they’d heard it was very good. I decided to investigate and fell in love with the course and the region.”
Fittingly, Renaissance Golf Design was involved with restoration of the 13th green and 14th tee before expanding the 2nd green in 2017. Hole locations in the middle and back tiers of of the 11th green were then scheduled for extension the following year.
Tom Doak commented as follows in his January 2020 newsletter:
“I only got over to play the course where I pay to belong for a half-dozen rounds last year, but I was also there for several days with Brian Schneider in September to rebuild the diabolical green at the par-3 11th. Our friends at the PGA Tour tell us they won’t use a hole location that has more than 2% of slope; I wonder what they would have made of the middle and back tiers of the 11th, which each had 6% of slope, separated by a tier that was 9%? We wound up lowering the back of the green by more than two feet to make it all work, and I think we are right on the cusp of people thinking we didn’t do enough.”
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Alister MacKenzie was born in England, but his parents were Scottish and the family holidayed every year close to where his father was raised in the traditional Clan MacKenzie lands of Sutherland.