The top 10 golf courses designed by Michigan's Jerry Matthews

Matthews, who passed away Sept. 15, 2022, designed and renovated more than 200 courses, mostly in Michigan.
Aerial view from Bucks Run Golf Club.

Jerry Matthews might not be a national name in golf course architecture, but in Michigan, he was the man for many years.

Michigan boasts a healthy share of influential golf architects - from Tom Doak and Mike DeVries to Arthur Hills - but none of those big names designed as many local courses as Matthews, who passed away Sept. 15 at age 88.

Jerry Matthews designed and renovated more than 200 courses in Michigan.

Of the roughly 200 courses Matthews designed or renovated, 95 percent of them were in Michigan. He learned the business from his father, W. Bruce. Jerry's nephew, W. Bruce III, also designed a handful of courses in their home state.

“The Matthews family is known as the ‘Johnny Appleseed’ of golf in Michigan, bringing the game and golf course architecture to so many people across the state,” American Society of Golf Course Architects President Jason Straka said in a statement. “Jerry’s legacy of course design and the impact of his service to ASGCA will carry on.”

Even though I've played more than 200 courses in Michigan, I've still not come close to teeing up all those touched by Matthews. After earning bachelor’s degrees in Landscape Architecture and Urban Planning at Michigan State University, he teamed with his father in 1960 to form the golf course architecture firm of W. Bruce Matthews & Son. In 1979, he took over as president. He was at the right place at the right time during the golf boom of the late 1990s. Michigan led the nation in new course openings for five straight years from 1995 to 1999, and in that span, Matthews designed 17 of them.

None of his courses have cracked any sort of national Top 100 list. They're more solid to strong than spectacular. Sadly one of his best courses - Elk Ridge in Atlanta - closed in 2016. He was fortunate enough to work on unique sites such as ski hills, quarries and the beautiful topography of northern Michigan. His Michigan golf legacy will live on forever, especially with these 10 public courses I consider his best work.

  1. Timberstone Golf Course at Pine Mountain Resort, Iron Mountain
    A sunset view from TimberStone Golf Course at Pine Mountain.

    Timberstone rises and falls off of the ski hill at Pine Mountain Resort, in Michigan's rugged Upper Peninsula. Trees squeeze the fairways tight, so hit it straight.

    "#18 is my favorite finishing hole in Michigan. It’s a long par 5 straight downhill. It’s a blind tee shot and the course installed a periscope type thing to see when the group in front of you clears. #17 will be the toughest club selection of the round with a steep downhill longish par 3. Make sure you grab lunch at Famers (Restaurant) at the resort. It is the UP sports hall of fame." - 2020 GolfPass review

  2. Bucks Run Golf Club, Mount Pleasant
    The "putting island" putting course at Bucks Run in Mt. Pleasant, Michigan.

    The three large lakes prominently in play at the Bucks Run Golf Club were dug during the property's life as a quarry, where both rock and mineral rights were mined for more than 30 years before shutting down in the 1990s. Battling issues with trespassing, the owners hired Matthews to build a beautiful golf course where Fisher Lake and the Chippewa River influence more than a dozen dramatic holes.

    "Staying at the nearby Soaring Eagle Casino, the location was ideal. First time playing this course. Very nice layout with par 4s that are distinct. Excellent conditions. Bent grass fairways. Greens very good, leaning toward fast with tricky undulations but fair. Fairways tend toward narrow if you spray your drive." - 2021 GolfPass review

  3. Sundance at A-Ga-Ming Golf Resort, Kewadin
    The scenic 13th is one of several drop-shot par 3s on Sundance at A-Ga-Ming Golf Resort.

    With 121 sand traps, Sundance - one of four courses at A-Ga-Ming Resort - is among the most bunkered courses in the world. Hilly terrain and thick rough add to its demanding challenges.

    "Somewhere there is a desert missing its sand. I like to play this course a couple time per season, so I don't get over confident about my golf skills. As a senior, I find this course to be challenging." - 2022 GolfPass review

  4. St. Ives Golf Club, Stanwood
    The St. Ives Golf Club is one of two beautiful courses at Tullymore Golf Resort in Stanwood, Mich.

    St. Ives gets overshadowed a bit by its sister course - Tullymore by Jim Engh - but it's every bit as good. Matthews made good use of the hills and water hazards for a truly memorable day.

    "St. Ives offers a unique experience with a course carved through the Michigan woods, trees lining nearly all the first 13 holes. Then a bit of marshland golf for variety. Greens are elevated but reasonably flat, so putting is not too difficult." - 2022 GolfPass review

  5. The Majestic at Lake Walden, Hartland
    View of a green at The Majestic At Lake Walden

    The Majestic battles with The Orchards and Shepherd's Hollow as metro Detroit's best public course. Although one hole is visible on U.S. 23, many of the 27 holes feel rustic and secluded like Northern Michigan.

    "Water water everywhere ... Beautiful layout of this track. Would recommend playing this course. Staff very friendly. Greens were in nice shape." - 2022 GolfPass review

  6. Hawk Hollow Golf Club, Bath
    The 27-hole Hawk Hollow Golf Club in Bath is a popular facility near Michigan State University.

    Hawk Hollow - yep, in mid-Michigan near MSU's campus - is one of Michigan's most complete facilities with 27 holes and a putting course. It's usually in good shape, too.

    "From the fairways to the greens the course was in the best shape of any course I’ve ever played. The grounds crew can be proud of their work." - 2022 GolfPass review

  7. Greystone Golf Club , Romeo

    The claim to fame at Greystone Golf Club is its final three holes play along a gravel pit filled with water. It's dramatic, difficult and fun all at the same time.

    "Great course with very unique holes which were a lot of fun." - 2022 GolfPass review

  8. Timber Ridge Golf Club, East Lansing
    A view from a tee at Timber Ridge Golf Course

    Timber Ridge gives golfers that "up north" feel without the drive. It's another 6,600-yard beauty in mid-Michigan. Sensing a theme? Matthews dominated Spartan country.

    "Greens are large, undulating, and somewhat quick but not super fast. Nice layout with all four par 3's scenic and challenging. Fair amount of elevation changes." - 2022 GolfPass review

  9. Eagle Glen Golf Club, Farwell

    Dollar for dollar, Eagle Glen - another mid-Michigan gem that's almost off the grid - might be the best course in the state.

    "Fun, challenging course. Eagle Glen is always in great shape. The course requires a player to use most clubs in his bag. Played here many times and always like the challenge and quality of course." - 2022 GolfPass review

  10. The Emerald Golf Course, St. Johns

    The Emerald Golf Course is the first of several mid-Michigan courses on this list. It's mostly flat, defined by mounding, and a stiff challenge despite being only 6,600 yards.

    "Staff is amazing and the course was immaculate. Greens were smooth and the in-cart GPS was great and accurate. Hidden gem for sure." - 2021 GolfPass review.

Jason Scott Deegan has reviewed and photographed more than 1,100 courses and written about golf destinations in 25 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.

These certainly look like strong value courses that I wouldn't hesitate to play the next time on a Michigan golf trip. Jerry Matthews is prolific, though from some of your pictures I would infer, too, that his imagination was impressive enough. As you point out, golf courses don't always have to be greatly innovative or spectacular to be worthwhile.

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The top 10 golf courses designed by Michigan's Jerry Matthews