Daily fee golfers in Grand Rapids, Michigan, are in for a treat.
Indian Trails Golf Course, the city’s popular, 88-year-old municipal layout, is undergoing a significant facelift, including construction of five new holes, renovation of two existing holes, and the addition of a state-of-the-art practice facility.
Golf course architect Chris Wilczynski met the challenge of re-creating a sustainable facility on a comparatively small piece of property (90 acres), devising a plan that eliminated three original holes to make room for the practice area, yet left enough space to accommodate five new holes. He designed the full swing and short game practice grounds, and the new and renovated holes.
“Facilities like this are important to the game of golf,” said Wilczynski, whose design firm CW Golf Architecture is based in Saline, Mich. “Indian Trails is a classic, entry-level course in a great location, and now it will have a practice facility worthy of elite players.”
The 25-acre practice space features 30 hitting stations on TurfHound artificial turf; multiple target greens; three greens in a short game area that can be used for putting or chipping; and four practice bunkers designed to present a wide variety of sand situations. The TurfHound product, which employs advanced technology to replicate natural fairway turf conditions, has been installed at many of America’s finest private golf courses.
Indian Trails historically has drawn a diverse and loyal clientele from across Grand Rapids’ demographic. (Between World War II and the late 1960s, Indian Trails was one of the few courses in Michigan that was open to non-white golfers.) But after years of neglect, the facility fell on hard times. In 2007, Grand Rapids’ municipal government decided to sell the property, but public protest prompted it to drop that plan.
The course operated at a deficit as late as 2012, but the financial picture improved after the city engaged new management for Indian Trails. That paved the way for the City Commission to consider proposals, including Wilczynski’s, to upgrade the facility. After considerable deliberation, a majority of commissioners came to the conclusion that a first-class practice range and an upgraded golf course would generate enough revenue to cover Indian Trails’ annual operating costs and recoup the investment within 20 years.
“We think it’s a community jewel that we need to invest in,” Grand Rapids City Manager Greg Sundstrom told the Grand Rapids Press before the $2.7 million project was approved in September 2015.
Wilczynski collaborated with the city of Grand Rapids’ parks and recreation division; Viridis Design Group, a landscape architecture planning and design service company; and Wadsworth Golf Course Construction Co.
“This project is going to have a very significant impact on Grand Rapids, both economically and socially,” said Lance Climie, whose stewardship as Indian Hills’ General Manager has been marked by a 5 percent increase in rounds played each year since he was hired in 2013. “Chris has done a great job. He appreciates the utility of the project, as well as the aesthetics. With the course upgrades and new practice facility – which already is drawing a great amount of interest – golfers who play Indian Trails will be getting an exceptional value.”
In order to find room for the practice areas, Wilczynski had to eliminate three holes at Indian Trails and adjust the course routing with the creation of five new holes and the renovation of two existing holes. Given the space constraints, that was no easy task. Wilczynski had to devise three different plans before gaining approval from the city.
Indian Trails isn’t lengthy – the revised layout will be 5,500 yards at most – and its new iteration will have no par 5s. The existing ninth, 17th and 18th holes were eliminated to make room for the new range and short game practice area. Their replacements were tucked into space south of the practice range, with Nos. 9 and 18 parallel to each other, and the new first hole playing eastward.
“Chris’ new and renovated holes are fantastic,” said Indian Trails course superintendent Craig Kooienga, who has been closely involved with all aspects of the project. “The quality of the golf shots needed to score well has gone up significantly.”
As the renovation evolved, Wilczynski, Kooienga and the golf course construction team from Wadsworth devised a strategy to further tweak the routing and still stay on budget. Wilczynski designed a new par-3 second hole; rebuilt the bunkers and green at the par-4 third; and took what had been the par-5 sixth hole and turned it into two holes – a new par-3 sixth and a par-4 seventh, retaining the old sixth fairway and rebuilding the old sixth green to accomplish the latter.
“The old sixth green was disliked by everyone,” said Kooienga. “It was really ingenious how the solution came about. Chris and I click really well. He garners respect from everyone he works with and gets the best out of people.”
The resulting18-hole layout will be ready for play next spring, with a formal grand opening scheduled for May 20. The 18-hole green fee will remain less than $25. Indian Trails will play to par 65 with 11 par 4’s and 7 par 3’s. The practice area may open this fall, depending on how weather conditions affect turf grow-in.
About C.W. Golf Architecture
C.W. Golf Architecture, based in Saline, Mich., was formed in 2010 by Chris Wilczynski, a member of the American Society of Golf Course Architects. C.W. Golf Architecture is a golf course design company whose mission is to transform golf landscapes into sustainable businesses that provide economic, environmental, social and health benefits for all of society. Two Florida courses designed by Wilczynski – Esplanade Golf & Country Club at Lakewood Ranch near Sarasota, and Esplanade Golf & Country Club of Naples – are featured on Golf Digest magazine’s list of Best New Courses of 2014.
For more information, please visit www.cwgolfarch.com.
Chris Wilczynski at 734-395-7941 or firstname.lastname@example.org