On the Green
The city's Leslie Park Golf Course keeps winning national acclaim.
by Louis Meldman
From the October, 2018 issue
In 2009, Golf Digest began a search for the best municipal golf course in each of the fifty states. It picked Leslie Park as the best in Michigan. In 2015 it was ranked in the top twenty of all municipal courses in America by Gear Patrol magazine--along with such famous spots as Torrey Pines in California and Bethpage Black in New York, both of which have hosted United States Open championships.
Municipal courses are typically the poor relations of private clubs like Barton Hills and "public" ones like Stonebridge that are privately owned but allow anyone to play. Leslie Park is one of the rare exceptions. Designed by E. Lawrence Packard, it opened in 1967 and was renovated in 1995 by the internationally renowned golf architect Arthur Hills; Hills elegantly refined Leslie's greens, tees, and bunkers and added a pond in front of the eighth green.
In the mid-2000s, the city set up a golf course task force to look at ways to reduce financial losses at Leslie and the city's other course, Huron Hills. A proposal to shrink Huron Hills to nine holes was rejected, but that wasn't even considered at Leslie; instead, the city improved it to attract more players.
In 2007 it hired a new golf-course superintendent, Scott Spooner, and a new director of golf, Doug Kelly; both had managed upscale public and private courses around the world. Traver Creek, which runs through the course, was widened, and lush vegetation was planted, including glorious yellow and purple wildflowers to filter sediment and nutrients and decrease bank erosion. Today, the water that flows out of Leslie Park is cleaner than what flows in. And "we built turtle nesting boxes, above-ground duck nesting pads, bat houses," says Kelly. "Everything we could do for local fauna."
Mark Twain said that golf is a good walk spoiled, but Leslie Park is expansive and graceful. The gigantic hardwoods and mature Austrian pines are stunning, and the course rises
and falls dramatically. The par-five fourth hole is just over 500 yards long, but the last 125 are nearly straight uphill. Going downhill is just as sensational, as when curving down and around and through the woods on number nine. A dozen years ago a number of stately ash trees fell to the dreaded ash borer, but there has been judicious and creative replanting.
The same team runs Huron Hills. The flat front nine holes there are geared to beginners, kids, seniors, and families. The hilly back nine is as wonderful as any nine in southeast Michigan.
Huron Hills has won awards, too: its vertiginous eighteenth hole is perennially named "best sledding hill" in Ann Arbor.
[Originally published in October, 2018.]
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