Course Review: Blackheath Golf Club

April 28, 2015

Preamble: I have been sitting at my computer for roughly 15 minutes now trying to figure out how to start this review.  I feel like this used to be easier, or maybe I just used to be better at this…  Also, I apologize in advance for the lack of photos in this review.  The photos I took do not do the course justice, so I decided not to use them.

Let’s just rip the bandage off and start writing.  For the last several months, I have been living in the Detroit, MI area and attempting to keep my hands warm enough to hit a few balls.  See LG on golf in the tundra.  One great takeaway I’ve had from my time here is to learn just how excellent Michigan golf can be.  Don’t quote me on this, but I’m pretty sure Michigan has 3.2 golf courses for every golfer that lives in this state.  Northern Michigan also has some of the most breathtaking courses I’ve ever had a chance to play.  Later, I’ll post a review of my 9 hole round at Arcadia Bluffs.  The pictures cannot begin to show the elevation change and character of that amazing property.  More to come there.  Another added benefit of having so many amazing courses – tons of selection, quicker rounds than I’m used to in California, and excellent courses are highly affordable!

Now for the good stuff.  Today, I review Blackheath Golf Club located in Rochester, MI.  So, I was sitting on the couch last night trying to decide where to play.  Not having a set of golf buddies in Michigan, any sense of which courses are worth playing, and no last minute access to the Red Wings game, I decide to tool around on golfnow.com and golfadvisor.com to book a tee time for Saturday morning.  Blackheath catches my eye for a few reasons: 1) bent grass greens 2) links style course 3) $37.  That might be enough to sell me alone, but the reviews on golfadvisor confirm that the course is generally kept in very good shape.  Anyone that knows JK and me knows that this is a no brainer.  I book the 10:18 am spot through the course’s website because it’s cheaper than golfnow.com.  (Sorry to out you, golfnow, but hey, you weren’t the cheapest).

Upon arrival, I know I’m coming to a place that is purely about golf.  The only visible structure on the course is the pro shop/maintenance shed.  To the right is the practice facility where you can take your mish-mash bucket of balls and warm up, or just head straight to the first tee.  Don’t expect a large menu in the grill, mainly because there isn’t a grill.  The staff will happily make change for you for the vending machine, however.  No bells, no frills, just golf.  I love it.

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While the course had not grown in entirely from the winter, I can confirm that the bent grass greens were in immaculate shape.  These could be the best greens I’ve had a chance to play in Michigan, and they definitely rival the condition of many I’ve played in California.  My deepest thanks to the greenkeeping staff!

As far as the layout is concerned, my immediate impression was that this Par 71 is a true links style course.  Don’t let the yardage fool you.  6700-6800 yards here will play much longer than the scorecard yardage when the wind is blowing its normal pace.  That 73/137 is no joke.  The gentleman in the pro shop told me it is more of a “heathland” style course (see definition found via the Google), which was a fascinating new term for me to learn.  In either case, this is truly one of the courses any golf trip to the area should include, and residents of the area should play regularly.  For a course located in an area that is generally flat, there was a surprising amount of elevation change built into the course.  While most of this must have been manufactured by the architects, it did not have the “cookie cutter” quality that is generally off-putting about those types of courses.  Moreover, the architect took care to fabricate run up and collection areas with these elevation changes that play the way these features are meant to be played – fast and firm, but penal if shots are not executed well.

As I tend to do in my reviews, I focus on the par 3s and par 5 holes because I tend to enjoy those the most.  Blackheath has five par 3s and four par 5s, and they contain my favorite and least favorite holes on the course.  My favorite hole was the par 3 12th.  I wish the picture had turned out better, but today, it played 214 yards with a steady left to right wind.  The pin was cut in the front and framed between two massive heather-faced bunkers.  I drew 4 iron with the holes of holding up a draw into the breeze and softly landing 3 feet left of the flag.  4 additional shots later, I’m walking off the green with a spoiled round and a giant smile on my face.  Golf does that some times.  If there’s a criticism of this course, it must be the design of the par 5 11th.  The 600 yard hole bends sharply around the outside of the course’s par 5 8th.  Without any real penalty for missing the drive, the prudent way to play this hole is up the 8th fairway to take a large bite out of the yardage.  While I believe that courses should always allow for some creativity off the tee, the play should always be to the fairway that the hole is designed around.

All in all, for a true links (heathland) style experience, I would highly recommend Blackheath golf club.  Towards the summer when the course firms up and the run up areas play as they are designed to play, this will be a true test of a complete set of golf skills.  The course is kept in immaculate shape, and the lack of trees on the course will keep the greens and fairways firm, fast, and playable throughout the season.  If played from the appropriate tees, this would be an excellent course for players who may not carry the ball very far or who may be newer to the game.  This style course lends itself to “ground play” and can help build confidence of players who may have trouble getting the ball into the air.  Moreover, only 3 or 4 holes have water or hazards that may come into play, so if you’re trying to figure out where your driver is going, this could be a good test round.

That’s all for now, folks.  If I get a chance to play again, I’ll update this post with pictures.

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