Marquette Golf Club (Greywalls)

Golf in Michigan's Upper Peninsula: The 9th green with the 1st fairway beyond.

A common excuse for much of today’s golf course architecture is that the “old guys” were given the best property to work with, while today’s designers are left with table scraps. Such a belief prevented questions being asked about what yesteryear’s architects would have done with today’s property (and environmental and other) restrictions and what today’s architects would have done with the prized sites many architects enjoyed before World War II. The latter question has been answered with designs such as Sand Hills and Pacific Dunes, which occupy sites as fine if not finer than those enjoyed by MacKenzie, Raynor, et al. The former question is an ignorant one, as it makes the faulty assumption that previous generations of architects were blessed with nothing but ideal pieces of property. Have people forgotten about the great engineering feats and expense that went into carving Yale out of the New England rock and creating Lido out of the water?

The wild undulations of the 2nd are Nature's work.

The Greywalls Course at Marquette Golf Club offers a glimpse at what the revered architects might have designed in today’s world. Its site is demanding, but with the potential for an intriguing course somewhere among the rocks, trees and severe elevation changes. Architect Mike DeVries agonized over the routing for the course to show off the many natural features of the property while at the same time downplaying the obstacles the severe site presented. Despite the imposing site, DeVries showed restraint in the amount of earth (and rock!) moved, as only 40,000 cubic yards of dirt was moved and 3000 cubic yards of rock was blasted. What he accomplished was technically possible in the 1920s. The result is a dramatic and rough design that always reminds the player of his environment while also imposing many strategic questions. As DeVries describes the routing challenge:

The routing for the course was very difficult, in that I had to find good golf holes that fit together and produced a good rhythm and flow to the course and not just one ‘wonder-hole’ after another, with rock everywhere and views of Lake Superior. That was the biggest challenge, to not make it too dramatic and make sure it was good, solid golf. There are 233 acres that I had to work with, but much of that was not usable due to wetlands, a trout stream, rock ledge and outcroppings, and severe slopes (sheer rock walls). These restrictions dictated how some holes could or couldn’t be developed and led to the routing of 4-7 teebeing what it is. I needed to transition from the low valley of #4 (a natural hole in either direction as a par 4 or 5) up to the ‘Middle Plateau’ where 1 tee, 9, 10, 11 tee, 17, and 18 tee are located. Getting down to the ‘Valley Holes’ (#11-16) was an easy proposition with a big downhill drive on the 11th that everyone would enjoy. There were numerous other fine holes on the property but there really isn’t much unused space and certainly not enough room for a full driving range without acquiring some adjacent land. I am very pleased with the routing, as I think the Lake views come appropriately throughout the round (1 tee, 7 tee, 9-11 tee, 17-18 tee) and not constantly. Likewise, the rock outcroppings serve as hazards, dictating strategy, and the rock walls like at 5 greenare dramatic and yet work very well agronomically, due to orientation and tree removal. Therefore, it is a good mix of views, features, strategy, and the golf always shines — that makes me very happy. The construction cost for the course was $2.7 million, not including cart paths, which were added a year later.

As seen from the right, the 8th green is well integrated into its rough and natural setting.

Perhaps more so than any other course in the United States, Greywalls demands thought from the tee of straightaway holes. People often associate strategy with holes that bend one way or the other, but at Greywalls there is an unusual number of straight holes requiring much thought as to both club selection and direction. As shown below, holes such as 4, 7, 8, 10 and 18 offer several options that, even after several rounds, the author is still not comfortable with or certain which is the best play off every tee – an imminently desirable trait that keeps the golfer coming back for round after round.

Holes to Note

1st hole, 580 yards: While the prospect from the 1st tee is dramatically beautiful (e.g., with the famed Pictured Rocks55 miles away often visible), the first is much more than just a pretty hole, and it sets the stage nicely for what lies ahead. With the nearby 10th tee, the 1st tee occupies one of the highest points on the property and has the golfer immediately drooling to start his round. To his left he can determine the hole location for the 9th and well below to his right he can see the 18th green and start thinking about how best to attack that day’s hole location. In front of him lies a long, rough, tumbling three-shotter. There is an appropriately wide fairway for the tee shot beyond the ravine, but once there the player already faces a key decision, as the green is usually out of reach in two: (1) Should he play a 4-iron short of the ridge that cuts across the fairway 80 yards short of the green, realizing that this tack will often result in a blind pitch to the difficult green, or (2) should he risk a fairway wood to knock his ball over this ridge, to leave him a short pitch to a fully visible green? Whatever length approach the player has left, the pitch immediately sets him on edge, as the green slopes away on all sides and has some challenging interior undulations as well. The low-handicapper is often pleased to find the green some 20 feet from the hole.

Let's play golf! The opening tee shot.

Even with a wedge in hand, the 1st green is a challenge to find (and stay on), as this view from behind the green shows.

2nd hole, 425 yards: The 2nd fairway is one of he author’s favorite walks in golf, as it is fun simply to walk up and down the tremendous undulations. The approach is one of the more precise on the course. At first look, the key to the approach appears simply to be negotiating the ravine in front of the green (which is nowhere near as fearsome as it looks), but subsequent rounds will makethe golferrealize that it is the undulations of the moderate-sized green that dictate the play. The green has two levels, stepping down from the left. The left (upper) shelf would seem easy to find, given the large left to right portion of the fairway left of the green, but the slope is so severe and the upper shelf is narrow enough, that a ball landing left of the green will often find its way to the right (lower) part of the green. This hole captures the allure of Greywalls: A ruggedly natural hole with the barely discernible finishing touch of an accomplished architect.

The approach to the sloping 2nd green beyond a ravine. A ball landing ten yards left of the green could finish to the right of the green.

3rd hole, 175 yards: This hole currently stands at a sort of intersection, with carts carrying golfers from and to the distant (original) clubhouse out to the 1st tee of Greywalls hurrying past. When the new clubhouse is built behind the 18th green of Greywalls and this traffic ceases, the third will be better appreciated as a calming hole in a peaceful corner of the course following the bold opening two holes.

The peaceful corner of the 3rd with its wetlands.

4th hole, 425 yards: The fourth, on the other hand, attacks the golfer right away with its bi-level fairway. The higher (left) side offers a shorter and slightly downhill approach, while the lower (right) side offers a longer approach but right up theaxis of the right-to left angled green. The left is certainly the more difficult to find, but, even after six rounds, the author is still not sure which is the better play off the tee.

The tee shot on the 4th: Left or right??

The difference in elevation between the left and right sides of the fairway off the tee is evident looking back down the fairway.

5th hole, 310 yards: While admittedly a “forced” hole between the fourth and sixth (e.g., given the long walk back to the tee just to stretch the hole to this length), the fifth is one of the most intimidating holes of its length the author knows. From the tee, the prospect is less than encouraging: A carry of 190 yards uphill across a ravine to a narrow fairway that slopes from left to right, with the hole bending from right to left. A large rock outcropping is on the left, with dense woods (and a likely lost ball) to the right. On a hole of this length, a player can often play a shorter club off the tee to ensure avoiding trouble, but that is not an option here, as at least a 3-iron is needed just to reach the fairway. The pitch is then to an undulating green wedged between an outcropping on the left and sheer rock wall on the right. After several rounds the player may well conclude that a driver toward the green is actually the safest play off the tee.

The tee shot at the 5th: More than a bunt is needed.

The 5th green nestled between rock outcroppings.

6th hole, 190 yards: As this has been the most photographed hole of the course to date (largely because the exposed rock walls illustrate that the course’s name came from the natural features of the site rather than the hotel at Muirfield), the author is tempted to dismiss the hole for its attraction to the masses. However, this snobbish view must be abandoned, because this visually-dramatic hole is also a demanding one to a cunning green in a natural green site. The long or middle iron across the chasm is made even more demanding with the knowledge of the false front and the severe back to front tilt of the green. The player feels compelled to play toward the back of the green, but he could well then putt off the green from there with a front hole location. DeVries’s account of how he ‘found’ the 6th:

The 6th was a naturally made hole just sitting there to be taken, but it caused quite a bit of consternation at first. When I first got to Marquette, everyone would ask me, ‘Have you been to the Rock?’ and I would say, ‘What rock?’ Well, it meant the tall, bald peak that is above 5 greenand 6 tee. I went there on my first visit on the property and the view was amazing, as it is today. Of course, everything was covered with trees but I knew I had to get to this spot sometime in the round, so later on, as I was searching around for a how to get from the lower valley at #4 and up to the Middle Plateau, I was able to feel out the 6th greensite and figured this was a natural hole just waiting for me and it was a bit extreme but so was the site and this just ‘fit’ too well — everyone would want to try to make that shot! It is rugged, fits in with the site, and makes for a great hole — now it is liked by everyone (at least I haven’t heard any negatives in the lasttwo years).

From the 6th tee it is evident how the course came by its name -- from the rock outcroppings that look like, well, grey walls (and not from a hotel in Scotland).

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