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Sunday, October 16, 2005

Lakewood Shores Resort - Gailes Course, great Northern Michigan golf


7751 Cedar Lake Rd.
Oscoda, MI

Architect - Kevin Aldridge
Par - 36-36=72
Price - Seasonal Unlimited Golf Packages $68-114 including one night stay,
minimum two nights required
Design: Four stars (all ratings out of seven)
Conditioning - Three and one half stars
Natural Setting - Four stars

Overall - Four stars
Value - Four and 1/2 stars

Its heyday as a premiere destination may be past, but the Gailes Course is still a fun diversion for architecture heads and traditionalists. Michigan natives still come on droves all summer and architecture students will have an excellent field day studying the solid fundementals laid down here by designer Kevin Aldridge.

Built to resemble a UK inland links, the Gailes, the premiere course of the resort's three layouts, may be short, scruffy and out of the way, but with pot bunkers placed where the land dictated, a burn cutting perpendicular across nine holes and undulating greens and fairways, the course offers a pleasant change of pace to the many traditional parkland tests that pepper the golf rich Greater Traverse City/Northern Michigan area.

Despite being outstripped recently by many modern masterpieces, (the course was once a Golf Digest top 10 in 1992-3), Aldridge's solid architecture is the primary reason the course remains firmly in the North Michigan rotation for travellers, even though the much larger resorts and newer designs like Forest Dunes and High Pointe command more attention.

Realizing that 20 mph winds are the norm, Aldridge makes use of the prevail in a north south fashion, playing long holes downwind and short tests upwind - avoiding crosswinds whenever possible as even 60 yd wide fairways are near impossible to hit in a gale. There are 18 flat lies on the whole course - one on each tee box. Greens and fairways will test players' skill at hook lies, fade lies and at all sorts of crazy angles. Not only is there a good variety of hole lengths, but even though the routing is a symmetrical seeming 36-36 with an even split of 4 par-3s and 4s, there are back to back par-5s in different directions at 7 and 8 that are nothing alike - one bisected twice by the burn, the other peppered with random fairway bunkers. The par threes appear quickly at 2 and 4, but then dont come back into the mix until the difficult pedestal green 12th.

If there are drawbacks, the topography of the property is flat and uninteresting. The site is not the most stunning natural plot - after all it's Michigan, not Colorado. Perhaps that is why Aldridge settled on an old school, old style design. Also, sadly, the course plays nowhere near as firm and fast as it should for the sandy soil on which links are meant to be built and the ground game suffers dramatically because of it. Most of the bump and run shots catch and hold in the longer fairway grass and collars. Also, several fairway bunkers need to be dug deeper and reclaimed. Nevertheless, many of the good bunkers that still remain admirably fill the pot bunker requirement of being merely small enough for one angry player, his ball and his wedge.

There are two double greens and double fairways. The back nine has stronger holes, including the terrific 10th with its alternating shot requirements and wonderful punchbowl green, a magnificent 476 yd par-4 13th playing downwind through towering dunes, and the sod bunker protected par-5 14th. The course has a natural and authentic feel and provides a good case study for students of the game.

The Best Western Four Seasons in Traverse City offers Jaccuzi rooms with lofts for an incredible $75 per night off season and proves a great base to play nearby Forest Dunes, High Pointe, Arcadia Bluffs and some of the pricier resort courses.

Pix coming when I return this week. Tomorrow Forest Dunes and a round at High Pointe and Arcadia Bluffs. Stay tuned also for interview snippets with Tom Doak.