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The Grande
By William Shelton

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In addition to a little moxy, you need a very defensible reason to name a new golf course "The Grande" in this burgeoning market of championship facilities. For principal course owner and builder Doug O'Rourke, there are at least three components that justify such a regal moniker for his latest project. Located near Jackson, the upscale, public golf complex shares a 440-acre tract, featuring a diverse terrain of wetlands and forest, with a planned residential development.

The most important component of any golf complex is the course itself and this layout by architect Ray Hearn may represent his most spectacular design to date. But, the amenities certainly contribute to the overall impression of the golfing experience. An imposing clubhouse, sitting on top of a knoll overlooking the 18th green will welcome the golfer in grand style. Complete with a pro shop, restaurant and banquet facilities, the comfortable ambiance will make for an inviting gathering place to relax and visit.

Need to warm up before the round? Would a traditional putting green, a two-acre putting course of 27 holes, a three-acre chipping area, greenside and fairway practice bunkers, and a huge practice range with tees at both ends and fairways leading to seven target greens fill your needs? The biggest challenge could be getting golfers to head for the first tee. Practicing may have never been so much fun.

A grand clubhouse and an exceptional practice area could justify the name but this championship course really needs no supporting cast. Hearn, the architect, cannot suppress his enthusiasm when describing the diversity of terrain with five types of wetlands, clusters of oaks and maples, and elevation changes of up to 130 feet. The challenge of routing the 7,000-yard layout without disrupting the ecology resulted in numerous holes with scenic vistas and a few challenging carries off the tee. There are five sets of tees creating a course length from 5,078 yards from the front tees to 7,024 yards from the tips. Most players will find either the blue tees, 6,700 yards in length, or the white tees measuring 6,300 yards most enjoyable, leaving the championship tees to the pros and scratch players.

The fairways are bent grass with bunkers that meld into the natural features of the terrain. The sand selected for the bunkers is the highest grade frequently used on the most exclusive golf courses. The greens are large, averaging almost 8,000 square feet, and feature a hybrid series of bent grass. The grass has a higher density than other series and thus provides a faster and truer roll while reducing the scarring caused by ball marks and spikes. Somewhat undulating, the greens are roughly divided into three sections, allowing for pin placements ranging from very accessible to extremely difficult.

In all probability The Grande will deviate from Hearn's philosophy in a couple of ways. First, he does not focus on the concept of a signature hole but rather strives to make all 18 holes memorable. Admittedly every hole has its own character but most golfers will tend to remember the par-4 finishing hole at The Grande. From 280 to 427 yards in length, the hole will require a drive over water to a split fairway with more water between the landing areas. Depending on the fairway side selected, the approach shot will range from a fairway wood to mid-iron to a large green in the shadow of the clubhouse.

Hearn also is committed to keeping his firm small, avoiding the tendency to mass produce course designs. "I want to always view course design as art rather than business. My measure of success is the uniqueness of each design not the number of courses that carry my name as designer." Based on early reviews by the golfing media and professionals, staying small may be his greatest challenge.

Opening in July, the course is located just south of I-94 at 127S and M50. Fees will be comparable to other upscale courses in southern Michigan. The Grande should definitely be on your "must play" list for this season.


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