The Kingsley Club, located a few miles south of Traverse City in Michigan, is laid out on links-like sandy ground. It opened for play in 2001 and is already being lauded as a modern classic.
The course was fashioned by minimalist architect Mike DeVries, whose design philosophy “endeavours to study the designs of the great courses of the world and writings by the "old masters'" of golf course architecture in order to learn and apply those ideas which have stood the test of time”.
The topography is a diverse, with an open links-like front nine and a back nine which is routed through mature hardwoods and pines. DeVries moved little earth in laying out The Kingsley Club and the result looks perfectly natural. “I say Kingsley is a 21st Century version of Crystal Downs”, said Golf Digest’s Ron Whitten, “and someday it will contend for a spot on America's 100 Greatest.”
Someday maybe for Golf Digest, but Kingsley is a natural for us now; it's been consistently ranked in our US Top 100 since 2006.
I had a 36 hole day at the Kingsley Club, which was one of the top golfing experiences of my life. It starts out with an up, down and up again Par 5 that sets the tone for the type of elevation changes you can expect throughout the course. If you get out of position on the front nine, there are a lot of wild slopes that could get you into trouble. The Par 3 2nd and 9th especially have very extreme green surrounds of perched up greens that make up and down, or even getting down in 3 very challenging. The back nine includes my favorite section of the course in holes 12-17. The standout drivable 13th with one of the craziest greens you will ever see, and the reachable par 5 13th are sandwiched by two difficult par 4’s. The long 15th is particularly tough, hitting to a fairway that slants left to right, with trees that block the perched green out from the very right side of the fairway. The 16th is a long massive Redan-esque hole with an enormous kicker slope on the right side that is a blast to play. The 17th was another hole I really like where there is an enormous ski slope in the middle of the driving zone. In my first round, my drive crested the hill and rolled all the way down for a mid-iron into the green. In the second round, my drive got caught up in the bunkers at the top of the hill and I had to play it as a three shot hole. A swig of whiskey on the 18th is a wonderful tradition to cap off such a memorable round.
"In the spirit of the game." That is the mantra for The Kingsley Club. Pure magic. Pure fun. When you arrive at The Kingsley Club you encounter simplicity -- no bells and whistles clubhouses -- no staff people suffocating you -- no inclusions that scream "excess" to the max. The 18-holes is the storyline here and the journey starts off in a big time way with the exciting par-5 1st.
The players are faced with a big time decision at the outset. How aggressive or safe does one wish to play on the 610-yard opener. The land on the outward side is simply top tier -- always moving in one direction or the other -- the bounce of the ball is always an element to be considered when deciding on one's line of attack.
I had been told about The Kingsley Club prior to my visit and often times the more I hear people gush about courses of recent vintage I am often left underwhelmed when I do make a visit. That was not the case with my visit here. The rare case when the complete opposite happened.
The goal of the club was to get core golfers in a setting that maximizes what they seek most -- the golf itself. It's amazing to think the ownership entrusted a relatively unknown person in the name of Mike DeVries to do the job. DeVries hails from the area and has always been a long time fan of the nearby gem Alister Mackenzie course -- Crystal Downs. DeVries delivered big time here.
What makes Kingsley so alluring is the constant changes and decisions you face. There's no set pattern -- no sense of predictability easily gleaned. Adjusting is a constant state of affair when playing. Shotmaking is the sine qua non at Kingsley.
To even have a conversation that would suggest a course can be in the same league with Crystal Downs speaks volumes on how good Kingsley really is.
There are plenty of interesting holes to mention. The downhill 7th is the perfect equal to the qualities encountered with the other par-5 on the front side. The land pitches left and the player able to work a left-to-right ball flight can reap huge dividends. Converesely, the player unable to keep the ball from going left will face a much more daunting task.
When you arrive at the par-3 9th you encounter a hole that provides plenty of fodder for what is considered fair and appropriate on a hole. The landing area is quite demanding -- but when faced with a shot that's under 170-yards I don't see it as being too much to ask for a player to be asked to execute at a high level. There's two different teeing areas -- the angles each provides presents its own set of challenges.
The lone weakness at Kingsley comes when making the turn -- I see the 10th and 11th as good holes but given what you have played already the fall-off is apparent. That changes when you reach the long par-4 12th. At 460 yards the hole is a clear statement that only the finest of shots will be rewarded. The fairway provides suffcient width but you get the feeling it's narrower. Hesitation in executing here can prove fatal.
The short par-4 13th is truly special. One would think that at 292 yards the opportunity for birdie and even eagle is certainly doable. The key at the 13th is making sure you leave your ball with the perfect angle to wherever the flag is located. The green is enormous -- the contours are akin to a stormy day on the Atlantic Ocean. Many have come to the tee thinking a low number is doable -- then left the green muttering why they fared so differently than they had expected.
Those playing Kingsley always talk about the demand of the long par-4 15th. The central aspect deals with a putting surface that is rather small and not entirely receptive to anything but a stellar approach to the perched target. The most important thing to remember about the 15th is not to steer the long approach. Being short of the green is not a bad situation but missing too far to either side is a quick roadmap for double-bogey or more.
The ending series of holes are well balanced and quite varied with a par-3, par-5 and par-4 conclusion. The 18th is good closer -- down an undulating valley -- finishing with a putting surface set in an amphitheater setting. The best part is how the green is angled and protetced by a right front bunker. A tough hole for sure but not an extreme one where finishing well is out of the question.
It's hard to put into words the incredible feeling one gets when playing such a top tier layout. Walking the grounds with the bag on your shoulder and the weather cooperating to the max provides a combination truly hard to beat.
For those always on the lookout for experiences that are truly tour de force in the deliverance of pure golf keep Kingsley on your radar screen. The time spent here will always be remembered.
by M. James Ward
Kingsley has 5 par 3’s all of which I truly enjoyed playing in the wind (and all of which I birdied, a first for me as earlier this year I actually birdied all the par 5’s at Royal Birkdale). My favorite would be their Redan hole #16. It’s an excellent version of this template hole playing to about 180 yds. The front 9 as mentioned, plays quite open, up, down, over and through the winding landscape of hills. The back 9 move into the trees but certainly doesn’t not give you the feeling that the course lacks width and/or strategy even so. It’s an excellent combination that works very well on this excellent golfing property.
Kingsley is definitely all about the golf. The clubhouse is very small and understated, more like a little cabin with the basic amenities. The only thing they lack is a locker room with a shower for those crazy guests who run straight to the airport after their game. I very highly recommend this course and definitely would consider it a destination course worth the trip up to play it if you ever have the chance.
I have just returned from I think is my sixth pilgrimage to The Kingsley Club and this time I left even more impressed than at previous visits.
That bu iyslef is meaningless other than to say the first five were great...I love this place.
Its understated nature welcomes the golfer, no frills approach works here perfectly.
If you expect grandeur off the course this is not your gig, but if you want some of the best golf in the world you are at the right place.
Although the course steadily climbs the rankings, it is to me the most underated golf course I have ever visited.
There is NOTHING about this course that should exclude it from a top 50 World Ranking on anybodys list, it check all the boxes.
Playable by all..certainly, with its spacious fairways, limited carries, wide open green approaches and wonderful variation of tee locales
Good use of the natural surroundings..totally the course plays like it is part of the natural terrain and has been there for centuries
This is as old school a course as any built in the past 25 years, its look and flow is such a reminder of the golden age, one that feels Dr Mac himself would have been proud to call his own.
No great surprise then that architect Mike DeVries is a member of that other Dr Mac course 45 minutes up the road, Crystal Downs.
The more fortunate I am to play both on the same weekend, the more I realise just how influential Dr Mac and his masterpiece must have been on MiKeDV.
the more I play them the more I see they portray the same qualities of toughness with fair play, superb bunker complexes that please the eye and ultimately frame great holes.
The bunkering complexes here at Kingsley I believe are as fine as anywhere, the visuals start at one tee with a complex centre fairway that stays in the mid forever and the spectacular visual from six tee I can stand and look at all day long.
But one of the things that stands out to me is the view from seven tee at Kingsley as it is so reminiscent of a similar views one gets whilst standing on the fifth tee or the seventeenth tee at Crystal Downs....
From those tees at Crystal Downs one can see across the extent of the course with four green 4,6,9 and 17 all in aligment...from #7 tee at Kingsley one gets a similar look with 7,8,9 all in line in one direction and then 6,4 and two in the other direction a stunning visual of almost nine greens from one singular viewing point on a course that is anything but flat.
A true treat to play, a great mix of short par fours, long par fours, very thinking par fives and a wonderful set of par threes.
Yes...as you can teel I really do like this place.
Foodies..Best Ice Cream on the planet at Moomers homemade ice cream in Traverse City