The Kingsley Club
These days it is fashionable, almost expected, for architects to sing the praises of the ‘old masters’ (Macdonald/Raynor, Ross, MacKenzie, Thomas, Tillinghast, Maxwell) as they are embarking on a new project, hoping that this expressed fondness will reassure their clients that (1) they will not do anything silly and (2) the course will have the look and feel of an old club. However, how much time do the architects actually spend studying the ‘classic’ courses? One architect who cannot be accused of not appreciating the work of the ‘masters’ is Mike DeVries, for he spent a number of years on the maintenance staff at Crystal Downs. By spending thousands of hours on this Alister MacKenzie/Perry Maxwell gem, the elements that separate Crystal Downs from all but a few courses on this planet became clear. Then, when given his first solo design project in nearby Kingsley, Michigan on land that has some similarities to that at Crystal Downs, DeVries knew what to do. At the Kingsley Club DeVries focused first on the routing, to ensure a natural course where little earth had to be moved (in fact, only 30,000 cubic yards of dirt were moved, including 10,000 yards for the greensmix) that best showed off the property; then he focused on the putting greens, knowing full well they are what ultimately make a course for a private club; then he focused on the details, especially the bunkering, where he created flowing, rough-edged bunkers that would fit in well at the Downs. DeVries also brought good experience, having worked with Tom Doak and Tom Fazio for several years. Before the Kingsley Club, he was given a unique opportunity at Pilgrim’s Run north of Grand Rapids: To design and build the green complexes (including bunkering) for a course whose routing had already been determined.
Architecturally, the most appealing aspect of the Kingsley Club lies in its green sites. A quick run through the course shows the tremendous variety: the 1st in a saddle, the 2nd green along the top of a ridge, the 4th set behind a berm, the punchbowl 5th, the 6th built into the side of a slope, the 7th set into the hillside, the 11th nestled back in the trees, the 12th at the end of a valley, the wild 13th which offers a combination of most of the above(!), the raised 15th, the Redan-esque 16th where the green is just part of a huge expanse of fairway built into the hillside, and the 18th nestled among the dunes. While some actual greens such as the 15th and 16th were manufactured a bit, the other greens are the result of having taken great pains with the routing.
Another highlight of the thoughtful routing is the resulting intimacy. When standing on the 2nd tee, for example, the player is within 150 yards of the 1st green, 5th green, 2nd green, 4th green, and 6th tee. Therefore, when walking from the 1st to 2nd hole, the player may check the punchbowl 5th green to note where the hole is that day; when walking from the 2nd to 3rd hole, the player can see where the hole is on the huge (and from the 4th fairway partially hidden) green. In fact, standing on the 2nd tee, the player almost feels as if he is on one of those private courses where there are a handful of different tees and greens and an almost endless number of combinations of holes to play. This effect increases the player’s awareness that he is playing one course and not just a collection of holes. With the routing DeVries did a most commendable job blending the two nines together, for there was the danger that the two sides could be drastically different, given the different property each occupies. The first nine reminds the player of the first nine at Crystal Downs, a wild, open expanse of rolling, sandy ground, while the second nine, as at Crystal Downs, is routed more through the trees. After the open first nine, where the player can always see another hole, he goes into the trees on the 10th and 11th. ‘Uh oh,’ he thinks, ‘This could be another split personality course.’ Fortunately, that is not the case, as holes 12-18 occupy terrain more similar to the first nine, although with more trees. The player does not lose sight of the rest of the course thereafter, as the 13th hole essentially overlooks the 12th, the 14th and 15th fairways are close to each other, the 15th green, entire 16th hole and 17th tee all seem part of the same feature, ‘melded’ together, and the 18th green brings the player back out from the trees into the dunes, where he started his round just paces from the 18th green. The player thus feels he has made a complete trip, finishing where he started. This effect ties the course together.
The authors have often commented on the desirability of a private course to have some sort of ‘edge’ to it to draw members back for round after round. (After all, who wants a home course that you feel you have ‘conquered after a handful of rounds?) While the greens and bunkering give much of an ‘edge’ to the Kingsley Club, the conditioning also plays a large role. The course was built with the ground game in mind, and superintendent Dan Lucas ensures that the greens and the fescue fairways play firm and fast, requiring more thought from the player
Holes to Note
2nd hole, 150 yards: Perhaps the finest short one-shotter built since World War II, the 2nd runs along the top of a ridge, with each side of the narrow green dropping off precipitously into deep bunkers (if the player is fortunate) or gnarly rough (if he is not). This narrowness highlights what should be the feature of such holes: the ability to play a short-iron (normally downwind, the 2nd often requires only a pitching wedge) to a precise target. For better players, the task of hitting the ball to a long, narrow target is more difficult than to a wide, shallow one, where the emphasis is on distance rather than direction.
5th hole, 220 yards: A wonderful, old-fashioned hole, the 5th with its punchbowl green looks artificial, yet it is entirely natural. Played into the prevailing wind, the task of finding the green appears daunting from the tee, but the bowl in which the green is located effectively increases the size of the green by half. Still, finding the green remains an accomplishment.