GAM Travel - Michigan

Family Operation: Hampshire Country Club Offers Great Golf, Food, Fun

  DOWAGIAC – Barry Levsay of Orland Park, Ill., and some friends vacationed recently in the Southwest corner of Michigan, and wanted to play some golf.
  “We did a little research on the Internet, and Hampshire Country Club popped up with a lot of positives,” he said during one of those vacation rounds.
  “I’m impressed. This is a nice golf course. The greens are good, the trees beautiful, the holes make sense and the people are really friendly.”
  Levsay’s comments sounded what became a familiar refrain regarding Hampshire, which is located near Dowagiac on Pokagon Highway.
  It’s been there 55 years this summer, since Rolfe Wells, a farmer who loved golf, decided to build an 18-hole golf course and hired noted architect and former president of the American Society of Golf Course Architects, Edward Lawrence Packard, to design it.
   “There were only nine-hole course available to the public in the area back then, so he decided to build 18 so the regular guy could play some golf and not have to be a member at some club he couldn’t afford,” Rolly Wells, his son and the current clubhouse manager, said.
  Rolfe is soon to be 96, and still pops in to see what is happening at the golf course from time to time. Hampshire Country Club is now two courses (Hampshire and Dogwood), or 36 holes for public play, and it remains family that runs the place and does a large portion of all the daily work, too.
  “Steve is the general manager, here every day, and he is the one who has always loved golf from the first he heard of it,” Rolly said. “He knows every aspect from soil structure and course maintenance; he’s a PGA pro, loves to play and has really made the game a lifetime study.”
  The family follows the lead of Steve, and Steve’s wife Laurie manages the food service and entertainment part of the facility. Yes, she’s the one that makes the great hamburgers the course is known for in the local community. Rolly works the clubhouse operation, from the finances to the filters for the heating and cooling system, and his wife Karen is on hand, too. She’s the one with the green thumb who is behind the flower displays around the grounds.
  “Most of our family is involved in some way,” Rolly said. “We live here. We work here. We have almost a 100 percent return of our staff from year-to-year from the community as well.”
   The mission of the work has been the same since Rolfe started the place.
  “We strive to provide the best quality we can all around followed with the best quality as the best price we can,” he said. “Not to say best we can for the price, but the best we can while doing everything we can to keep the prices fair and accessible as possible to golfers. We want to offer a good golf experience for the golfer.”
    Levsay and his playing partners, and others from groups around the golf course the same recent day, gave testimony to the prices and quality of the course.
  “You get great quality for the price,” Levsay said. “You can’t imagine what a place this nice would charge in the Chicago area. It wouldn’t even compare, maybe twice and probably three times what we paid.”
  The rates, which include specials of various types, range between $20 and $34 for 18 holes with cart. And both courses are walker friendly, too, despite some elevation changes.
  The original Hampshire course is 7,014 yards from the tips, and 5,380 from the front tee positions. Packard, true to his calling card, built a playable parkland style golf course through the natural rolling woodlands and meadows. Mature trees are all around, but do not hamper the play and make for an enjoyable, serene, setting. The downhill and long (213 yards) par 3 second hole is a great challenge and is probably the signature hole of that 18.
  Dogwood was added 22 years ago. Duane Dammeyer, who designed several Indiana courses, did the first nine, and the family’s own, Steve Wells, the second nine. It is 6,833 yards from the back tees, and 4,968 from the front spots. It is of similar style to Hampshire, but has some unique features as well. The No. 14 hole stands out as a downhill par 4 through a natural valley that closes with the green protected by a small marsh.
  “With 36 holes, 99 percent of the time you can get on the golf course when you like,” Rolly said. “Dogwood used to be kind of the little sister course as first, but it’s evolved and now we really have a 50-50 split on the courses as far as how much play they get and who likes which course better. They are different, so some golfers just like the variety they can get.”
   Rolly said their location in Cass County means they are a destination course, and the audience includes a lot of regulars from the surrounding small towns, but also golfers from Indiana, Illinois and the many counties that surround Cass.
  “We get a good response for the way we are doing it here,” he said. “It is family owned, family run and we’re happy we are still cooking along.”
    Levsay said it is worth the drive for the golf, and the hamburgers. Put 29592 Pokagon Highway, Dowagiac, Mich., in your GPS. Call 269-782-7476 for more information.

The second hole on Hampshire is a long, challenging par 3 with a large tilted green.
The flower wagon on Hampshire is among the pleasing sights.
The No. 14 hole on the Dogwood course rolls naturally down to a protected green.
A golfer hits a shot into the 17th green on Dogwood.
This is the view from behind the No. 9 green on Dogwood near the clubhouse.