I could play Kingsley Club every single day and it would never get old.
I didn’t sleep well the night before Kingsley, I was so excited to play the golf course and see what all the buzz was about. For weeks I spent ample time reading about the holes in advance and plotting out my commute about 2 hours north to the club. I woke up plenty early as if it were Christmas morning. We planned on teeing it at 1PM at Kingsley, so I was going to arrive around noon. I left with plenty of time to spare and took my time driving north. I spent the majority of my drive listening to my audiobook of Zen Golf, hydrating (it was upper 80 degree temps), and visualizing my drive on the first hole that I’d seen pictures of and heard about from my buddies that have played. I was jacked to say the least.
Finding the course is exactly how it is described by those that have played, it’s in the middle of nowhere. Yes, at one point I did question whether or not the dirt road I was heading down was the right direction but I trusted my map and then there she was; The lone sign pointing me towards Kingsley. It was going to be a good damn day.
My host was running just a little late becuase he ended up playing Crystal Downs that morning with none other than Mike DeVries, who is the architect of Kingsley Club. Our brief delay allowed me plenty of time to hit some shags on the range and roll some putts. I was taking it all in. And yes I did have a Jameson and soda to calm my nerves.
The Kingsley Club is pure golf in it’s truest sense. Their motto, “In the Spirit of the Game” rings true in just about every aspect of the golf experience. Let’s start with the clubhouse. It was made for golfers, not country clubbers, which being a member of a country club myself I can appreciate. This is a place to escape to so that you can focus on golf alone. You won’t find a ballroom. You won’t find a tennis court or pool. You’ll find a trailer. As you walk up the steps you find a stash of sunscreen and bug sprays on the porch, and you enter to find the small but adequate pro shop (which would make up the living room of the trailer). Just past the counter is a trailers kitchen to the left and to the right of that is a living room with a sofa and the golf channel on TV. The one bathroom of the doublewide serves as the clubs main facility and the two bedrooms of the trailer are offices for the staff. Taped up on the walls in the main room are plans for a simple but impressive clubhouse that they plan to break ground on in the Fall of 2017, according to my host.
The kitchen is small, but don’t let that fool you, the food that the chef pumps out of that area is nothing like anything I’ve ever experienced from a club before. I’ll tell you about that in a bit.
When you walk out the clubhouse around the putting green and get your first glimpse of the golf course it is stunning. Kingsley Club is cut out of some absolutely gorgeous wooded and hilly property just south of Traverse City, in Northern Michigan. Although I’ve never played links golf in the British Isles, Kingsley Club is said to represent the same challenges as those tracks. The fescue fairways are something I’ve never played on before, and was a very unique experience. It is said that only three highly regarded courses in America (including Kingsley) feature fescue fairways. The bent grass greens are quick yet true. I believe they were rolling to about a 10 or 11 when we played. The routing of Kingsley through the rolling hills of the “middle of nowhere” location is stunning. You get to play a links-design course in the most remote and rugged location that you wouldn’t think possible. It’s obvious that DeVries didn’t have to move much dirt in designing the golf course as the track is geniously layed out through the natural terrain. The bunkering is natural and beautiful. The trees don’t really come into play except for on borders of a few holes. What is really cool is that Kingsley is routed somewhat like a maze on some of the holes, so you can strategically check pin placements of many holes before you play them. What you will find out is most people haven’t heard about Kingsley. It’s kind of a best kept secret, and I’m pretty sure they want to keep it that way. I understand why. This place is all about golf, and I freaking loved it.
When my host arrived we made our way to the first tee and I was ready to go. I had ripped some drivers on the range and was puring my irons. My host was playing at a +3 that day, and I was playing at a 10, so I defintely had some nervousness to play well so I didn’t slow him down. The other two in our group, friends of my host, were from Grand Rapids, MI and Orlando, FL. We played the Gold tees (tips) the entire time at Kingsley and on the first hole, a big drive is a welcomed accomplishment.
The first hole is a 571 yard par 5 that has an amazing view from the teebox. There is a large mound of long fescue and bunkers in the middle of the fairway and you have the option of hitting to the split fairway on the right, or the left, or going big and hitting it over the mound. With the way I was hitting it on the range there was no question, I was going over and that is just what I did. I mashed a drive with a nice little baby draw right over the middle and was sitting about 5 yards from my host in position “A”, just in the left rough, as the ball rolled down and through the fairway. I had’t been hitting my 3-metal very good so I didn’t go for the green in two (we were about 250 yards out), rather I grabbed a 5-iron and hit one up to about 60 yards in the center of the fairway facing the green. So far, so good! I had a half-gap wedge to hit the green in regulation, and the gap wedge was my money club. I was going to hit down on it and create a litte juice so that it would stop beautifully on the green on the upper tier. The first green is severely tiered, and the pin was up above. The entire green slopes back to front. I hit it well but just took a little too much divot, and the ball stopped right on the crest of the first hill and sucked back down to the bottom tier. Now I had a challenging 2-putt for an opening par. What do you think I did? I underestimated Kingsley. My first putt up the hill I didn’t hit hard enough, it made it to the crest and then started to roll back down to me. Shit. I had a longer putt than my first attempt. I wasn’t going to leave that short. I blew it up the hill to about 10 feet past the hole. Missed that bogey coming back. Yes, I FOUR-PUTTED the first green at Kingsley for double-bogey. We all had some laughs becuase I literally don’t remember the last time in years that I had four putted anywhere, and I do it on the first hole at Kingsley. Nice double bogey, jackass. We were on to the second hole, and I needed to get my act together!
The second hole is a 155 yard par-3 with one of the most intimidating tee shots I’ve played on a par-3 before. Imagine having to hit an all-carry shot to a two-tiered green with severe trouble on all sides (bunkers and overgrown fescue), and multiple spots to set up the tee boxes surrounding the hole. Playing the tips we had a view that required an extremely accurate shot. It should be noted that we were elevated above most of the golf course so it is very beautiful at the same time. You have to hit the green here, or you are screwed. I walked away with double bogey. This was when I started to realize I needed to pull myself together to survive the round. Even though I told myself I didn’t care what number I posted that day, I certainly didn’t want to make my +3 cart partner watch some douche making double bogeys all day on his course. I’m happy to say that things turned around, thank the Lord.
Amidst my awe of the golf course and my panicked efforts to focus on hitting better golf shots, I forgot to take many pictures of Kingsley, so that is why I have so few here. When I go back I’ll be sure to make up for that. I started scraping up some pars and was having a blast. The golf course features hole after hole of true golf, and it was damn fun. Every hole I found myself saying, “Wow how did he (Mike DeVries) have the vision to layout this hole here”? Kingsley provides a golf nut like myself an amazing display of what good golf course architecture looks like, in it’s most classic form. It is such a treat.
The ninth hole almost made some magic for our group. Hole 9 is a 140 yard par-3 that looks back directly at the clubhouse. I hit a beautifully pure shot and stuck it to about 3 feet to the kidney shaped green that is guarded by bunkers on the front. I was feeling good now. The next guy in our group steps up and sends one right at the stick, it lands just short right and starts rolling at the hole. We all became quiet. It rolled right to the cup and promptly hit the wooden flagstick and sat about an inch outside. We all thought it was going to drop, but it didn’t. It was an exciting moment to say the least. Sadly, I missed an easy look at bird and walked away with par. My putting really sucked at Kingsley. I had a handful of good looks at bird all day and was left with tap-in pars, but I was having so much fun.
My host informed me that Kingsley is never busy, as a huge chunk of membership is national and play when visiting Northern Michigan. I did a little research and the national membership is impressive to say the least, with members from places like Pine Valley, Cypress Point, and Crystal Downs just to name a few. We never had a group in front or behind us the entire time playing Kingsley. It was like we had the entire place to ourselves.
When we finally made it to 18, I got to experience a little Kingsley tradition. 18 is a 422 yard par-4 that is pretty straight away. I learned however that you take two shots off the tee here, and they are both enjoyable. The first is a big drive down the middle (which I happily accomplished) and the second is a shot of Jameson Irish Whiskey which is hidden in a mailbox in a rock wall if you know where to look! Two days before I played Kingsley, Jimmy Walker of the PGA Tour played and tweeted a picture of himself taking a healthy pull from the Jameson Bottle. I hit the same bottle with authority!
After we finished 18 we headed up to the clubhouse to sit down for a 5-course dinner that was out of this world. Our host had the chef put together a dining experience that knocked our socks off. Chef Ben informed me that his goal was to have the food reflect the same quality as the golf course, and he didn’t disappoint. The first course was a pork dish of some sort, and it was awesome. Then we moved on to a quinoa salad. After that Chef Ben brought out the best duck that I had ever had. We were all marveling at the tendernous and flavor. After the duck we were stuffed. The Chef asked how we wanted our filet mignon (main course) cooked and we started laughing. None of us could comprehend eating any more. There was no better option than to go play 3 holes and work up an appetite! We hit the course again for some evening fun. We returned to dinner and polished off our steak and all had to take our cherry cobbler to go in the golf cart as we wanted back out onto the course. We played until we couldn’t see anymore, and it was a perfect summer night for golf. We literally played 30 holes all the way up to 10:00PM, and I could’ve kept going for hours if we had more daylight!
We played the Par 71 tips from 6956 yards and I shot 88 on our first 18 holes. I had a two-hour drive back down to Grand Rapids, MI in the dark, and I was thinking about Kingsley the entire time. I cannot wait to go back.