Laid out on a naturally wooded landscape, the par 73 course at Pilgrim’s Run Golf Club has been entertaining golfers in the Grand Rapids area ever since the layout first opened for play in 1997.
“The program for this course sounds like a complete disaster,” remarked Tom Doak in The Confidential Guide to Golf Courses, “six of the developer’s friends were entrusted to design three holes each, with the help of a young architect and superintendent to build them. Fortunately, most of the committee leaned heavily on the talents of their helpers, resulting in the best course we’ve seen in the Grand Rapids area.”
DeVries Designs commented as follows: “Set on a large tract of land 30 minutes north of a large city, Pilgrim’s Run is a lush parkland course with an interesting history.
The challenge was to take the six different philosophies and blend them into a whole course. Superintendent Kris Shumaker and Mike DeVries did just that, with the result an amazing golf course that is affordable and fun for the public to play. Mike was able to work with the co-designers to adopt their ideas into golf holes and a routing that flows across the land. Then he built rolling greens and beautiful bunkers that tie into the natural landscape, accenting the ridges, rolls, woodlands, and beauty of the site. The bentgrass greens, tees, and fairways give the public golfer a rich playing surface and allow the feature shaping to stand out in this natural playland.”
The course is blessed in being free of intrusions and the turf quality is quite good. The main deficiency is that the bulk of the holes are merely satisfactory -- with precious little in terms of architecture design that really elicits rapture.
The routing does move around the property but the land movement is fairly tame as holes are slotted through wooded areas.
The par-3 7th is done quite well. Wetlands need to be respected from the tee.
The inward nine is the better mixture of holes with the par-4 16th the main standout. The driving zone is well-defended by a menacing pond but it's too bad the green wasn't placed close to the same pond for the approach. The closing 18th is a fine closer by turning right around a pond.
Pilgrims Run demonstrates a fine "walk in the park" experience and, as I mentioned at the outset, the turf quality certainly is a plus. But the core of a course comes from what the actual architecture provides. On that critical front Pilgrim's Run is lacking a meaningful consistency for the bulk of the round.
M. James Ward