One of my many pet peeves is a links course that isn't. Whistling Straits in Kohler, Wisconsin, comes quickly to mind. It's a beautiful test of anyone's golf game and it may look like a links course, but it doesn't play like one. Granted, there aren't any trees in sight and the rough is tall, tangled, and gnarly, but the fairways are soft so there's not much roll and you have to fly your approach into almost every green. One the other side of Lake Michigan, though, is a real modern links course, Arcadia Bluffs in Arcadia, Michigan.
Arcadia Bluffs is a collection of roller coaster fairways lined with prairie grass rough and protected by huge shaggy bunkers. Howling winds off the lake sweep the course and there's nary a level lie in sight. Speaking of sight, there are numerous blind first and second shots where you really have to trust your swing to play for par. The turf is firm and low rollers will play as well if not better than high booming tee shots or feathery pitches--especially in the wind. Best of all, most of the holes are designed to give the player the option of a bump and run approach to the green. The combination of unexpected bounces and optional playing strategies is what makes links golf my favorite.
Arcadia Bluffs was designed by Warren Henderson and Rick Smith to not only have some of the best views of Lake Michigan but to be one of the toughest courses in the state. At 7300 yards from the championship tees, it challenges the best players with a 75.4 course rating and slope of 147. It's no pushover at 6,702 from the black tees, either. From the whites, though, Arcadia Bluffs is perfectly playable--although still testing--at 6,244 yards with a 70.3 rating and 129 slope.
Choose the tee box appropriate to your handicap or you'll be faced with challenges like the 13th hole, a par 3 that plays 240 over a ravine from the championship tees but a manageable 160 from the whites.
A perfect example of how links golf works is the 441-yard (from the whites) par 4 16th hole. It's downhill from tee to green and the day I was there it played down-wind. My drive rolled out like a marathon runner, my nine-iron approach landed just where I intended in front of the green and bumped on into birdie range.
Arcadia Bluffs is one of the many excellent courses you'll find in Northern Michigan. Because the season is short in that part of the country, you'll want to make your tee times as far in advance as possible since the great daily fee courses like this one fill up prime times early.
Dave Donelson, author of Heart of Diamonds a romantic thriller about blood diamonds in the Congo