GAM Travel Series: Stonebridge in Ann Arbor Offers Quality Golf Experience
ANN ARBOR – It’s not visible from the nearest road and the drive in to the course past a gate house and through a high-end neighborhood makes the visitor think private golf.
Stonebridge Golf Club is a public golf facility, however, and features the quality normally reserved for private golf. Renowned Arthur Hills designed the course and it was built and opened in 1991 before the many impressive homes were added in the area.
It’s a GAM Must Play and a must-find for the golfer who seeks a playable, fun design with plenty of challenge, a fair price and a great course condition.
Show up and show your GAM Golf Card because Stonebridge has all of the above and hands-on owners Jim Roland and Doug Mervis, who were former college roommates at the University of Michigan. Roland, in fact is the superintendent. He was previously at the University of Michigan managing the university golf courses and other grass-covered athletic fields on campus. Mervis brings a skill set from the banking business and oversees the business side of the club, which includes a premier wedding and banquet facility.
They purchased the golf course and clubhouse in 2001 from the original developer of the entire Stonebridge complex and have carved out a niche as one of the top public venues in Michigan. In 2013 and 2014 Stonebridge was voted the No. 1 Golf Course in Metro Detroit via WDIV Channel 4’s "Vote for the Best" on clickondetroit.com! In 2011 Stonebridge was ranked No. 1 on the Best Public Golf Course in Washtenaw County list on AnnArbor.com, and over the years it has consistently made best-of public course lists in Southeast Michigan.
“We closed on Sept. 1, 2001 and 10 days later the world changed (9-11 terrorist attacks) and we thought what did we just do?” Roland said. “A lot of business in this country changed that day, including the golf industry. Since then the economy, local and national issues, and other things have greatly impacted golf. It’s been a challenge to deal with all these things in the last 13 years. What we thought prior to and what we have experienced are completely different things.”
Roland said it has been a challenge for Mervis to make the 6,500 square-foot clubhouse a profitable part of the venture. They closed the restaurant it once contained, though they still run food service for weddings and events that use the facility as well as maintain a bar and grill for the golfers. In 2012 and this year they were named the winner in “The Knot Best of Weddings” resource guide for brides.
“Doug has made it work, and I spent my time getting the course condition the way we wanted it and putting in place proper procedures to maintain it,” Roland said. “It was overgrown. Things that were being done made it more difficult to play. We’ve addressed all those things to make the round of golf enjoyable for golfers of various abilities.”
They continue to battle the ups and downs of the golf industry and of course the weather while maintaining a goal of continued improvement. PGA professionals teach golfers of all ability levels at the facility and run clinics for juniors to help grow the customer base. In addition there is a continued marketing and advertising effort.
“The hardest thing is getting people to come find us because we’re in a unique setting here,” he said. “Once they find us, they like what they find.”
It’s not difficult to find Stonebridge. It just takes a few turns through a beautiful neighborhood. The course is less than two miles from the Saline Road exit off I-94, just minutes from downtown Ann Arbor as well as the campus of the University of Michigan. It’s a popular place on football Friday’s before home games for the Wolverines, a perfect spot for visiting golfers who seek it out based on recommendations from others.
Roland would like to see a greater impact with the local public golfer in Ann Arbor as well as the many golfers in Michigan who are willing to travel a bit to find new places to play.
“I still find people who have lived in Ann Arbor 30 or 40 years and they don’t know where we are, or if they do assumed we were private,” he said. “We’re totally public, we have leagues, we host events and parties, we can do a lot of things with the golf course and the clubhouse that we have.”
The standard golf fees range from $25 to $59 for 18 holes and a cart depending on day, time and other factors, but a cart isn’t necessarily needed on a very walkable course. That lowers the fees. A chart is available along with other information at the web site; www.stonebridgegolfclub.net