Situated a couple of miles to the west of downtown Grand Rapids, the Mines Golf Course is built on the site of an old gypsum mine, with architect Mike DeVries setting out the bluegrass fairways and bentgrass greens for public play in 2005.
Discussing reclaimed golf courses, Tim Gavrich, Managing Editor of the Golf Vacation Insider newsletter, said; “the course embraces this heritage not just with its name but with one of the best public-course logos we've seen. Furthermore, materials from the mining operation were incorporated in the design of the course. An example of the minimalist design philosophy of Mike DeVries, the course only has 31 bunkers – including half a dozen bunkerless holes – so its main defense is a set of fun but potentially fearsome greens. There are not too many courses by name designers whose green fees top out below $54, but The Mines is no ordinary course.”
“The Mines is a rollicking little track that has proven quite popular,” commented Tom Doak in The Confidential Guide to Golf Course, “though it is much more severe in spots than one would script for a public golf course. The very first hole swoops sharply downhill on the second shot to a difficult green, and within a couple of holes you realize that hole is the rule for the course, not an exception. It’s just unfortunate that it is too hilly for most people to walk.”
Built on a former gypsum mine -- the layout is the handiwork of rising star architect Mike DeVries. The course opened about four years after his most successful effort also in Michigan -- The Kingsley Club. Unlike Kingsley, Mines is open to the public and while there are elements of Kingsley, the Mines is a good step or two behind that effort.
The best feature of the course is the terrain. You see it right from the outset at the opening hole. A blind tee shot over a rise to a green set down below. The putting surface is also an indicator of what you will find. The target is elevated with fall-offs on each side. The first four holes play on one side of a road that split the course.
Matters intensity at the downhill long par-5 5th. The main issue is that a fence which runs the length of the hole down the right side also has a paved cart path alongside it and the green is not more than a few paces away. Those who hit to the right can suffer the cruel injustice in hitting the road and bounding OB. The better alternative would have been to place the cart path on the far left side and swing to the next hole by going around the back of the green.
The other main issue with the outward side is the near similarity with two back-to-back par-3 holes. It's OK to have such holes in this manner but the architectural distinctions need to be clearly differentiated -- think of the 15th and 16th at Cypress Point as one example. The side concludes with a quality par-4 at the 9th.
The inner half of the Mines is clearly the better of the two nines. The 10th is a fairly ordinary hole but at the par-3 11th there's two distinct teeing area. The one on the far left extends the hole to over 200 yards and requires a quality approach.
What adds to the experience considerably comes with the sensational uphill dog-leg right 13th hole. Playing 468 yards -- and every bit of it -- the 13th commences with a first rate tee shot test. You need to propel your ball up the hill and come as near to the right side fairway bunker as you dare. Even after hitting the fairway the uphill shot will add anywhere from 1-3 clubs to get near the green. On top of all that -- the green is long and somewhat narrow with fall-offs looking to take your ball and propel it further away. Without question -- a tour de force hole.
The 14th that follows is an exceptional counterpoint. Running downhill it appears to be easy prey for a quick birdie but guess again as a pesky fairway bunker hogs much of the fairway area. You can play to the right side of it or for those looking to flex some muscle attempt to fly it.
The 16th hole is nearly as good as the 13th and the former has as much of the same characteristics as the latter. Once again the need for tee shot accuracy and length is brought to the forefront. This time around -- a series of bunkers guard the inside corner of the turning right hole.
The 17th, sadly, is a letdown of a hole. Going downhill and not really standing apart as a par-5 hole.
The concluding hole is another tough long par-4 which excels in not having one bunker. The land movement -- both fairway and green -- is done well and no one can hope to escape with a par unless the shotmaking is present.
What's interesting to point out is that the 13th, 16th and 18th holes, all play in the same direction in east-to-west. Ideally, I would have loved to see just a bit more variety on that specific front.
The Mines provides a very reasonable price to play and given that reality draws a healthy response from avid players. The design details which DeVries has made his calling card are present but given the public audience are a bit muted. The only other concern I had when playing was the turf quality. Greens were a bit too slow -- plenty of grass -- but not cut to properly roll. Don't need them in excess of 10 but being near it would only add to the design details. The same can be said for the fairways -- a bit more "bounce" to them would add a bit more uncertainty on where balls eventually end up.
There are a number of fun shots and holes to play when there -- certainly worth checking out when in the immediate area of Grand Rapids.
M. James Ward