LANSING, Mich. — The location of many American state capitals were determined by a combination of geography and logistics. A buddies trip captain like me can appreciate the beauty of appeasing a variety of voices from different cities within the group.
While they might lack the romance of farther-flung outposts, these small-to-midsized capitals shouldn't be overlooked for a golf trip. They're typically easy to get to, have a lot of restauarant options, and offer a tidy sampling of public or semi-private golf. Case in point: Lansing, which boasts convenience, reputable value and one of Michigan's top daily-fee courses.
The state capital was moved to Lansing from Detroit in 1847 to both spur development on the west side and to move farther away from British troops stationed across the Detroit River in Windsor, Canada. (Here's a fun fact: the original name of Lansing was "Michigan" before it was changed in 1848, a year after it became the capital city.) Lansing is located in the lower-middle section of the mitten within an easy 60-90 minute drive of Detroit, Flint and Grand Rapids. It's a little farther from Indiana's Fort Wayne and "The Region." Interstates I-96 and I-69 form an "X" at the metro area. With its own commercial airport (LAN) and easy access up Highway 127 towards Mt. Pleasant, which is home to some standout destination courses like Bucks Run and PohlCat, plus Roscommon's Forest Dunes to the north, Lansing can also serve as a good arrival-day or meeting spot for buddies groups coming in from various markets.
Off the golf course, Lansing visitors can tour the Capitol, attend one of many MSU Spartan athletic events, or check out museums like the Michigan Historical Museum or Michigan Transportation Museum. The summertime is also primetime for the Lansing Lugnuts, an affiliate of the Oakland Athletics. Baseball fans can also check out the Michigan Baseball Hall of Fame.
While metro Detroit had most of the old and early auto money, thus opening the door to build many of the state's exceptional private clubs, Lansing's golf legacy is largely due to modern development from the late-1980s through mid-2000s. The private Country Club of Lansing dates back to 1909, while not far from downtown, municipal Groesbeck Golf Course dates back to 1926 and has since been updated by Michigan-based architects Jerry Matthews and Ray Hearn. MSU's Forest Akers came along in the 1950s but was significantly modernized in the early 1990s, around the time Michigan's golf course market went hog-wild.
Today, the good news for golf travelers is that the Lansing area's public-access courses are well worth sampling and many provide solid value. You can play three rounds on its A-list courses for about $200-250.
Eagle Eye Golf Club
Headlining the golf in Lansing is Eagle Eye Golf Club, comfortably on the short list of Michigan's best daily-fee facilities. In fact, it made our Golfers' Choice U.S. Top 10 for 2020. There are only two Pete Dye designs in the state (Radrick Farms and Wabeek C.C.) and both are private, making this layout by longtime Dye associate Chris Lutzke (with design consultation from Dye) unique to the market. Lutzke transformed a generally flat and wet site into a heavily sculpted and dramatic one full of bold bunkers and mounding and Dye's famous railroad ties. Dye fans will notice the greens here are often a little larger than his portfolio's average. Regardless of which nine you start on, each culminates similarly, with a risk-reward par 5 hugging opposite sides of the same huge pond from tee-to-green, and finishing at the base of the 65,000-square foot clubhouse. The highlight for many golfers however is the 17th, a Sawgrass-inspired island green replica.
Eagle Eye is presented and priced more like a resort experience than a public facility. This means that in the COVID-19 era of stacked tee sheets, you're likely to enjoy a little more solitude during play, especially midweek. That's by design. Practice facilities, a huge clubhouse, customer service and conditions all deliver. (Green fees: $95-120)
West Course at Forest Akers
The state of Michigan is rife with top collegiate courses and one of the best in the country that can be played by the public under $100 is Michigan State's West Course at Forest Akers, the jewel of the 36-hole golf facility in East Lansing. MSU graduate Arthur Hills updated the original Bruce Matthews design south of campus on delightfully rolling and forested topography. It's a sharp contrast to flatter and more wide open Eagle Eye but similarly challenging.
The West hosted the Division III Women's NCAA National Championships in 2021 and can stretch past 7,000 yards from the tips. Its par 5s are a strength, from the 8th hole, doglegging left narrowly through a chute of trees, as well as the 17th, which starts from a scenic elevated tee and then gently rises up to the green. Some holes are lined with all sorts of various tree specimens (the straightaway 16th is lined with everything from pines to willows), while other holes have a little more room to swing big.
Since Hills' renovation in 1992, the West has been re-routed to account for the new clubhouse location, which means there are back-to-back par-3s on the 9th & 10th holes. To hit range balls, you'll want to cross the street to the East Course, where a golf center, added as part of a 1997 course renovation, now features TopTracer Range. (Green fees: $54-70)
Timber Ridge Golf Club
When Timber Ridge opened in the late-1980s, it earned instant acclaim regionally and was considered one of the best new public courses right around the time Michigan's golf boom was taking flight. The Hawk Hollow-Eagle Eye group assumed ownership a few years back and has the course back among the top tier in the market. Carved out of a former tree nursery, it is scenic but tactical with hills and marshes to navigate in addition to an ever-present mix of hardwoods.
"If I could, I would play this course every day," wrote Lpant34 in their July, 2021 review. "And I play a lot of golf. I drove 95 miles to play here. Worth every penny!"(Green fees: $55-75)
Hawk Hollow Golf Club
The predecessor to Eagle Eye across the street, Hawk Hollow Golf Club helped elevate the destination further with its opening in 1996. Featuring 27 holes designed by Jerry Matthews, the layout features a mix of woods and water and, with many holes hugging large ponds, can require precision to score well.
Here's a fun option for families or couples at Hawk Hollow: the Little Hawk putting course, an all-grass, 18-hole (par 54) putting course complete with small bunkers, water and doglegs to navigate.
More golf courses around Lansing
College Fields Golf Club, opened in 2005, is a generally wide and friendly layout with solid value, especially if you're walking. Set in a residential community but with natural wetlands and quiet corridors, it presents a Neo-classical-inspired design by former Nicklaus Design associate David Savic of wide, sloping fairways and plenty of short grass around the greens. There are some neat elements like the Biarritz green on the par-3 17th, and the 9th and 18h holes share a massive fairway. (Green fees: $35-60) | Browse College Fields and more Lansing tee times on GolfNow.
The East Course at Forest Akers is a notch below the more fabled West course but it has a pleasant, gently rolling layout and some shorter yardage good for seniors and less-serious groups. (Green fees: $28-40)
Curious to play a 12-hole golf course? Woodside Golf Course, now under the Eagle Eye-Hawk Hollow ownership umbrella, recently called back Lutzke to add three holes to the existing nine-hole course and is now a walker- and time-friendly loop. ($25-40)
Stay and play in Lansing
At Forest Akers, a Candlewood Suites opened in the mid-2000s that is attached to the clubhouse making for a supremely convenient hotel option for groups with other campus stops on the itinerary. The Eagle Eye-Hawk Hollow group also books stay & play golf packages in partnership with a handful of local area lodging partners.
For dining, Lansing's Old Town is located beside the Grand River and has a collection of popular restaurants. For some belly-filling barbecue, head to Meat, which specialized in southern-style barbecue from brisket to pork ribs. In East Lansing, most of the action is on Grand River Avenue, where an assortment of bars and dining can be sampled. For local beers, check out Hopcat, which has a long list of Michigan drafts. If your group is hoofing it for your golf, you can feel a little less guilty about ordering their fully loaded Cosmik fries.