The Kingsley Club: A firm, fast playground in northern Michigan

KINGSLEY, Mich. -- Mike DeVries didn't design The Kingsley Club as much as he "found" the course on deforested land 20 minutes south of Traverse City.

And that is what excites golf's big-game hunters, attracting them from all directions. Firm all-fescue fairways and the ever-present wind on a raw, exposed site give the 6,931-yard course its distinctive British Open feel. In 2010, Golfweek Magazine rated The Kingsley Club as the 19th-best modern golf course in America.

"For a golf purist, this is as good as it gets," said Jim Hearn, a club member from Houston who summers in northern Michigan. "They found the course on the land. They moved only a little dirt to uncover it."

DeVries, who grew up playing Crystal Downs Country Club in nearby Frankfort, estimates he moved 20,000 cubic yards of dirt, a drop in the bucket compared to most modern playgrounds.

Most of the work came in three places such as the plateau green on the tough-as-nails, par-4 15th and the par-3 16th, a redan hole. The rest is the handiwork of glaciers centuries ago and Mother Nature.

The Kingsley Club: The golf course

Kingsley, a par 71 that opened in 2001, is essentially a more playable, fun version of Erin Hills, the Wisconsin course that will host the 2017 U.S. Open.

"It plays harder and faster than anything in the state," DeVries said. "It lends to continually changing conditions. Someone hits a drive they hit in a similar place the day before, and it catches a slope and goes somewhere different. Some people don't like that. They think it's not fair. That creates an ever-changing palette of shots."

The quirky bounces and the wildly sloping fairways of Kingsley are just part of a unique golf experience that, for now, offers some limited outside play. The private club allows non-members to play if a PGA Professional calls to make the arrangements. Greens fees are in the $150 range, plus a forecaddie fee.

Members both rave and curse the course's five dynamic par 3s. The greens at the 161-yard second hole and the 171-yard ninth are virtual islands, surrounded by ferocious drop-offs and deep sand pits.

The ninth features two tee complexes, the south tees are behind the eighth green and the west tees off to the right. Missing the green from any direction means judgment day on the scorecard.

The Kingsley Club: The verdict

Hearn, who estimates he's played roughly half of the world's top 100 courses, loves the course's short par 4s, the 365-yard eighth and the drivable, 292-yard 13th.

"You can take (holes) eight or 13 and put them on any course on the planet, and they would be happy to have them," he said.

The Kingsley Club just might be the most intriguing golf course in the state. It plays like a pure links, with weird bounces and wild lies. It's a fun puzzle to try and solve.

Jason Scott Deegan has reviewed and photographed more than 1,000 courses and written about golf destinations in 20 countries for some of the industry's biggest publications. His work has been honored by the Golf Writer's Association of America and the Michigan Press Association. Follow him on Instagram at @jasondeegangolfpass and Twitter at @WorldGolfer.
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The Kingsley Club: A firm, fast playground in northern Michigan