GAM Travel - Michigan

Hemlock Golf Club Offers Something Different and Something Special


  LUDINGTON – The developers of Hemlock Golf Club in Ludington set out 15 years ago to create something different.

  “We have that, something different than the other courses around here,” said John Kennedy, the greens superintendent and general manager at Hemlock.

  Raymond Hearn Golf Course Designs of Holland, Mich., did the “something different” design perfectly and the Golf Association of Michigan member course opened in 2002. Golf Digest in 2003 named it among the top 35 of the 325 new courses built in the U.S. that year and the reviewers immediately pointed out the low profile natural look of the course and of course the incorporation of the natural dunes area that cuts through the site.

  “There was a lot of sand on part of the site, and Ray Hearn did a great job of featuring that in the holes on that part of the course, and that’s why the bunkers are designed the way they are designed with a natural look,” Kennedy said. “Also, we feel like everything fits with the land. We didn’t move much dirt at all. Ray likes to have a golf course fit the land that is natural to the site, and he really did that here. We do feel like we have only been here 15 years, the course looks like it has been here a long time.”

   Hearn created a lot of golf course with championship tees at just over 7,000 yards and a slope rating of 142. He also built large tee areas, which gives the golf course the flexibility for as many as six different tee position areas that range from 7,000 yards to 4,328 yards. The slope ranking from the 6,197 setup is a more manageable 129.

  “The one complaint we probably have here the most is that the course plays too difficult,” Kennedy said. “We do have a lot of sand. We hear that a lot, too. I guess what we feel and what we have done is people play the wrong tees, so we’ve adjusted where we place markers quite a bit to move the golfers up to where they can have a little easier time of it. There really is plenty of room at the right spots. It’s designed to be played by all levels of golfers.”

 Hearn, an international award-winning designer, considers Hemlock one of the favorite designs of his career.

  “I was able to design a course that fit our philosophy of creating golf that fits with the natural areas you find on a site,” he said. “That’s why the sand. The natural dunes area was there and the big sand areas with the long grasses were part of the site, so we made a golf course that used them as hazards but also to define the holes.”

 Hearn said the design is more visually intimidating than the actual play.

  “It really can be played by everybody,” he said. “They need to play from the correct distance for their game so they can find room to play golf shots. Then they can enjoy it and enjoy the natural beauty. It’s really a great, natural area of Michigan, and the course reflects that.”

  The 12th hole, a par 5 with a sand dune that splits the fairway into two pieces and ends with a unique pitched green is the hole most golfers talk about after playing Hemlock, which is named for the trees that line part of the course and not the poisonous plants of the Mediterranean.

  The tee shot is more visually intimidating than difficult, but a side to play is best chosen. Those who fade their shots might want to try the left side. Those who draw their shots might want to go right. Reaching in two shots is only for those who hit it very long and high enough to carry the dune and the trees in the middle of it.

  Mark VanLoon of Ludington plays Hemlock regularly and considers it the best course and value in that corner of Michigan.

  “It has interesting holes, very natural and you don’t get tired of playing it,” he said. “If you get to this part of the state, it’s the place to play.”

    Kennedy said owners Dr. Mike Kennedy and John Wilson support the efforts to be something different and unique in the area. Peak season rates are in the $45 to $65 range depending on the day played, and the GAM Golf Card is honored.

   It’s a GAM must-play.  The average rounds per year is somewhere in the 13,000 rounds range. The course offers some specials. Ludington is 60 miles straight north of Muskegon and about 90 miles from Grand Rapids, two of their primary market for visiting golfers.

 A significant amount of local play with leagues and regulars is enjoyed by the course, but Ludington is also a tourist destination with its sandy beaches and quaint community events. Travel golfers can find packages that include relationships with local hotels and Manistee National’s golf properties. Go to and click on the Stay & Play button.

-Greg Johnson