Tom Doak’s apprentice, Mike DeVries, designed the Greywalls golf course at Marquette Golf Club and it opened for play in 2005 to a standing ovation. Golf has been played at Marquette since 1926 when William Langford and Theodore Moreau laid out nine holes close to Lake Superior and David Gill added a second nine in 1969 to form the club's original 18-hole course, named “The Heritage".
The holes at Greywalls weave through majestic woodlands and skirt past jagged, granite outcrops with fairways tumbling over broken, difficult terrain. The site is so demanding, it's hard to believe only forty thousand cubic yards of soil were shifted and three thousand cubic yards of rock blasted during construction.
Architect Mike DeVries articulated his thoughts on laying out Greywalls as follows:
"The routing for the course was very difficult, in that I had to find good golf holes that fit together and produced a good rhythm and flow to the course and not just one ‘wonder-hole’ after another, with rock everywhere and views of Lake Superior.
That was the biggest challenge, to not make it too dramatic and make sure it was good, solid golf. There are 233 acres that I had to work with, but much of that was not usable due to wetlands, a trout stream, rock ledge and outcroppings, and sheer rock walls.
These restrictions dictated how some holes could or couldn’t be developed and led to the routing being what it is."
A wild ride full of thrills, twists and turns. Greywalls is built on forested land that rises and falls dramatically in many places, with granite outcroppings popping up all over the place, some constituting “walls” instead of outcroppings. The first hole’s fairway is a rumpled carpet that tumbles downward to a humpback green, setting the tone for what’s to come. The short, par 4 5th entices you to hit driver, though the bell on the tee reminds you that you are hitting into a blind area that may or may not be hospitable. Too far left and you might find a little pocket of fairway inset behind a granite wall that imposes its will on your wedge game. The green’s surroundings denote the course’s name - a large grey, wall overlooking the putting surface, though benign in nature. The 6th is possibly the signature hole of the course, a longish par 3 that requires a carry over a deep chasm to a green with a slightly crescent shaped, granite wall surrounding the back. The 7th finds you bombing a drive over a granite cliff, with no idea where your ball may actually finish. You are well advised to take the time to ride up to the fall-offs in the fairways (or on your approach) to see where you need to aim. This may slow things up a bit, but is quite necessary on some holes. And be prepared to be completely ignored by the deer, who are oblivious to your presence and not a bit scared of you or your swing. The 11th may catch some off guard as “unfair”, due to its extremely undulating fairway that makes its way to an elevated and partially blind green, but pick a spot with your range finder and hit to it. The par 5 13th has a green that breaks in every direction and falls off dramatically from the back. The final hole is a par 5 that drops downward through a narrow chute to a wide open green, and it includes the final bell (there are 5) that must be rung to notify the group behind that it is safe to hit. There is no need to keep a score here for handicap purposes unless you’ve played it several times. Take your time and ride up to look at landing areas and green complexes without worrying about delays. The town is a nice little hipster town with great views and restaurants, and if you came this far, slow down and enjoy the ride. It’s a blast.
What is often vastly underappreciated by many who play golf is the skill it takes to design a course -- particularly when budget is a major consideration and where the site itself can prove a major challenge necessitating an architect with keen vision.
The name Mike DeVries may not be common to many but to those who follow golf architecture he is man of immense talents. DeVries was called upon to follow-up his sensational efforts at The Kingsley Club -- also in Michigan -- but this time with a public facility and one in which the people involved did not have the deepest of pockets. In addition, the 233 acres of land was not ideally suited for golf with wetlands and rock outcroppings that forced some hard decisions on how best to proceed.
The other factor concerning Marquette Golf Club is its location. Yes -- it's in Michigan -- but in the Upper Peninsula -- or as locals refer it -- the U.P. Given the duration of winter the golf season is not long but the love of the game from locals and those who head there makes for an active golf season.
If you happen to be in Northern Michigan and are able to play Crystal Downs, Kingsley Club and Arcadia Bluffs -- then you need to schedule the time to venture to Marquette to round out you golf agenda. Mind you it's not a short journey -- roughly 275 miles and a full five plus hours to get there.
Greywalls is worth the effort -- rousing fun -- never boring -- simply an art form in terms of how DeVries worked a routing through terrain that could have turned out far less so.
The opening hole at Greywalls has some similarity to what DeVries created at Kingsley Club. In this case the opener begins at a high point on the course -- on clear days Lake Superior is seen in the nearby distance. DeVries understands that too many architects overdo their involvement when the wonders of Mother Nature need to be promoted without overdoing things. At the 1st the golfer faces a downhill tee shot to a fairway that turns ever so gently to the right. The deeper the tee shot requires pin point accuracy as the right side of the fairway gets pushed inwards by a falloff area of rough grass. If you're able to play a left-to-right shot you can use the ground to propel your ball down the fairway. For those strong players the second shot proves to be just as daunting as the tee shot. The green is narrow with steep fall-offs to both sides. In sum -- if you want to go for the green the approach had best be well-executed. Birdie is possible -- so is double-bogey. It's a crafty start because you'll be forced to make countless other similar decisions throughout the round.
The most enduring dimension of Greywalls is how DeVries doesn't seek to impose his will -- the story of the course is the terrain and it keeps top billing for the duration of the time there.
The 2nd and 4th are both good par-4's with the 3rd a solid par-3 sandwiched between. However, the short 5th is a gem -- one of those moments when you'll wonder what you need to do when standing on the tee for the first time. The hole is listed at 312 yards and on the surface one would think it should be a pushover. Guess again. The uphill tee shot must find a fairway that turns gently to the left and narrows considerably the longer you hit the ball. Strong players may opt to go with driver but that decision means total commitment to reap any reward. The smarter play is hitting a club that goes 200 yards leaving a short pitch to an elevated target wonderfully contoured. The 5th shows what a quality short hole can produce because underestimating this hole is a big time mistake for anyone.
Just when you think you're OK as you leave the 5th green - you encounter the incredible par-3 6th. You start the hole from a tee atop granite boulders and although listed as 188 yards from the tips the hole plays slightly longer because of an elevated green surrounded by the same rocks. In fact, DeVries used a rock outcropping to the right to full effect -- if you push your tee shot that way you may end up striking it. In addition, the green is banked from right-to-left so you need to be mindful of where the pin is and how much the ball will move upon landing on the surface. The visuals for the hole are striking -- showing the consummate skills DeVries possesses as an architect.
The long par-4 7th at 491 yards heads swiftly downhill but beware of rock outcroppings placed in the heart of the fairway which resemble the letter "C". As with the other greens -- the 7th is narrow and somewhat deep which mandates a clear capacity to play a fine approach. Keep in mind -- at all times -- if you miss greens at Greywalls your short game had best be ready. There are no pedestrian recoveries.
The inward nine is less rousing from a terrain standpoint yet the hole are well crafted for various shotmaking requirements. There are parallel holes but the four-hole stretch starting from the 12th -- a long par-4 of 491 yards -- continuing with the par-5 13th and the long par-4 14th with its bottleneck fairway and treacherous green and concluding with a long par-3 of 240 yards at the 15th is a marvelous quartet that will require your complete attention.
The final trio of holes gives the player an opportunity to possibly make up some lost ground at the short par-4 16th and the short iron par-3 17th. I like the closing hole because as a par-5 DeVries gives you one last opportunity to end in fine fashion. The par-5 plays downhill but similar to other situations -- the fairway does have a serious choke point -- no pun intended -- and the key is whether you feel confident enough to get your tee shot through it. There is some room left to miss but not much -- only more so than the right which if you land there is deader than Elvis. The green is quite tame given what one has faced for the bulk of the round but the contours are quite subtle and more challenging to read.
The isolation of Greywalls and its short playing season will likely keep its full specialness limited to those hearty souls who make the conscious effort to get there. I enjoyed the course immensely and it served to reinforce my initial thoughts on the talents of DeVries after his initial success at The Kingsley Club which I found utterly captivating. Creating superior design in the public realm is the ultimate challenge when overcoming budget ceilings and encountering a site with so many potentials pitfalls. Hats off to DeVries -- Greywalls is a very special place and one worth playing whenever in the neighborhood.
by M. James Ward