Sean originally nominated the University of Michigan Golf Course as a Gem and we added it to the Top 100 website in April 2008. In 2012 we launched our US Best In State rankings and the University of Michigan Golf Course debuted in the Top 15. We liked Sean’s original article so much we’ve left it intact:
“The University of Michigan Golf Course would be considered the purest example which best exemplifies the unique blend of Maxwell and MacKenzie if not for the famed Crystal Downs Golf Club some 240 miles north of Ann Arbor. Soon after the completion of Crystal Downs, Maxwell submitted plans for the Michigan design. MacKenzie subsequently made alterations to the plans, which included an additional 350 yards, the quirky par five 3rd and the horseshoe-shaped 6th green. Maxwell then stayed at Ann Arbor to oversee the construction of the course which opened in the spring of 1931.
The course, often referred to as the Blue, is set in an enviable location on the University of Michigan campus and offers wonderful views of the city centre. How the architects took advantage of this hilly property by creating green sites in devilish locations more than makes up for the relatively short length of 6,700 yards. However, like many classic English heathland courses such as Swinley Forest, the Blue plays longer than its listed yardage due to several of the approaches being uphill.Despite a controversial renovation in the early 1990s, the variety of holes and the rhythm of the routing, which are testaments to Golden Age principles of design, have been preserved very well. The Blue is reserved for students, staff, alumni and guests, but a well-placed letter stands every chance of earning one a game. It is an effort worth making as after nearly 80 years Michigan is still considered one of the best university courses in the country.”
Having played this course 20 years ago, it’s almost hard to justify a review, but I remember the course well enough, so here goes! It’s a parkland-style course on a hill overlooking the campus and sports complex at U of M, designed by Alister Mackenzie whose influence can be seen in fewer places than one would hope. It seems like about half of the green complexes were reduced drastically in size from the original design, and half were kept relatively close. Bunkering is done in the classic Mackenzie style with forced carries only when necessary. Overall, I enjoyed the back nine more than the front nine, as it played a bit more open and had more interesting holes with the exception of #6.
Notable holes include: #6, a driveable par four with a multi-tiered peanut-shaped green surrounded by bunkers, #12, a very long par three with an open green front to allow for a bounced on shot, #14, a par three with a U-shaped green that supposedly inspired Pete Dye to design #15 at Crooked Stick, and #18, a beautiful downhill par four with a treacherous fairway bunker and pond making a difficult tee shot – not to mention staring straight down into the 100,000-seat “Big House”.
It’s a beautiful, pastoral location in the midst of the hustle-and-bustle of one of the largest college campuses in the United States, and a solid course that’s well worth playing if you are in the area. But perhaps being partial to the fact that I attended a rival school, I can’t say it’s even among the top two campus layouts in the Big Ten. Sorry, Michigan faithful, but Ohio State (Scarlet) and Purdue (Kampen) are better.
Played August 28, 1998