50 Words or Less
The Kingsley Club, located in Kingsley, Michigan, is a private club with one of the boldest, most testing layouts that I’ve played. Laid back feel. Isolated and utterly beautiful.
Hype is a double edged sword. A healthy dose of excitement and anticipation can help you to fully appreciate something. However, anticipation breeds high expectations which are easy to fall short of.
Our round at Kingsley Club, the capstone of this fall’s Plugged In Golf team trip, was much hyped to say the least. The experience of playing there met the hype and then some.
Befitting a place focused solely on the game, Kingsley has a fantastic practice area. You’ll see the driving range as you pull in. It has ample grass teeing area and numerous target greens with seven flags for finding your yardages. Across the road, there’s a beautiful short game area. A large green allows multiple players to practice from the bunker or grass, and you can hit wedge shots from up to fifty yards away. Finally, there’s a small putting green next to the clubhouse. It is largely flat, so you can learn the speed, but you need to discover the breaks on the course.
Customer Service & Amenities
Kingsley Club is a golf club, not a country club. You start to understand that the minute you leave paved roads to find the place. The clubhouse is an understated structure with a small kitchen and a covered patio that’s hard to walk away from. Their pro shop teeming with premium gear, and getting out of there without severely damaging your bank account is as tough as avoiding bogeys on the course.
The staff at Kingsley are well-schooled in maintaining the immaculate vibes. They’re present but not overbearing, friendly but not cloying. Caddies are required for unaccompanied guests, and they’re worth every penny. Our caddie, Kyle, was invaluable at deciphering the greens and starting us on the right path off the tee.
I can’t close this section without mentioning the Kingsley Club tradition pictured above. Hidden in the rock wall on the 18th tee is a metal box with a bottle of Jameson’s. Tradition dictates that players pass the bottle for a quick swig before hitting their final tee shot.
Beauty & Scenery
Kingsley Club sits on 400 acres of the most beautiful, varied property you could ask for. On the front nine, everything is wide open. There are virtually no trees, so only the immense elevation changes keep you from being able to see every other hole. Architect Mike DeVries kept a healthy amount of fescue and left the edges of the bunkers natural so that the course looks more uncovered than created.
On the back nine, the holes play through mature forests. This creates a more isolated feeling for each hole until you finish on the wide open 18th. Though the back nine is more tree-lined, it maintains all the rollercoaster up and downs of the front nine.
Finally, if you have the chance to play Kingsley, take a moment to appreciate the unbroken quiet. While it’s not something you can see, it’s certainly a major addition to the beauty of this place.
Kingsley makes no secret of the importance of the driver, hitting you with a massive test on the very first shot. The challenges keep coming for the entirety of the front nine. For the first timer, the correct line of play is nearly impossible to decipher (hence the caddie requirement). Even when pointed in the right direction, you need at A) trust the line and B) execute with a high level of skill. Neither of these is easy.
When you move to the back nine, the tee shots become more comfortable. They’re not necessarily easier, but you can see the fairways more completely. Hitting the ball the required distance on a good line is still challenging.
As scary as all that sounds, it must be noted that the fairways at Kingsley are generally quite wide. What makes them tough is that there’s so much movement in them – often dramatic – so the ball rarely stays where it lands. You’re also typically changing elevation to some degree, adding another degree of uncertainty. There are no boring tee shots here.
Four sets of tees, plus a members combo set, allow the course to play anywhere from 7,005 yards to 4,908. Normally I’d say something like, “Put your ego aside and pick a reasonable set of tees,” but this is the rare course where I’m not sure it matters. Kingsley is going to get its pound of flesh from you whether you play it forward or not. That’s not to say going back won’t make it harder, rather that going forward won’t make life easy.
Kingsley Club demands a lot off the tee, and nothing changes when you move to your approach shot. The fairways are cut tight, so you will be rewarded with a perfect lie. Your stance, however, is almost never flat because of the fairway undulations. The rough is mild, but losing even a little spin into these greens can be hurtful. If you drive it into the native areas…good luck. In spots, the fescue is wispy, and you can draw a good lie. More likely, you’ll be happy just to find your ball. The combination of bare dirt and dense tufts of tall grass can make even a punch out tricky.
The challenge of the approach compounds with elevation changes. You’ll rarely play a stock yardage, more often adjusting for up or down hill, plus the wind. And this is all before we’ve even looked at the green.
When you plan your approach shot, you must take into account the pin location and the contours of the green. The combination of firm, fast greens and bold undulations mean that it’s not enough to simply land the ball on the putting surface. This is another way in which deep course knowledge – or a skilled caddie – are essential to success at Kingsley.
There are going to be a couple of generous pins located in bowls in the green. Enjoy those and take advantage. When your caddie tells you to buckle up and hit a great shot, know you’re in for a ride. The margin between great and awful can be staggeringly small, and some pin locations don’t allow for bailouts. Embrace the challenge.
Greens & Surrounds
Some courses with tremendous tee-to-green challenge let up once you get to the putting surface. Kingsley Club isn’t one of those courses. These greens could provide a stout defense of par on their own. They’re the youngest brother of three NFL linemen…who is also an NFL lineman.
I don’t typically like to write about conditions as they vary over time, but it needs to be said that Kingsley’s greens are mint. They’re as smooth as glass, quick, and very consistent throughout the course. That speed combined with the often-wild undulations makes for a strenuous test of your putting and your nerves. Putting off the green is not out of the question when the pin is near the edge, and being above the hole is a nightmare.
Around the green, there’s a mix of fairway cut and light rough. It’s all firm and fairly quick, but the surrounds are more about the bunkers than the undulations. If you can stay out of the deep, nasty sand traps (easier said than done), the short game is fairly straightforward. Truly, the biggest defense of the green is the green itself. There are spots where keeping a pitch on the green is your number one goal. Again, when the course gives you a charitable pin location, you need to take advantage of it because a nasty one is likely right around the corner.
With all this talk of difficulty and trickery, you may have the impression that Kingsley Club is not a fun round of golf. That’s not the case. A round at Kingsley is an absolute treat, a rare pleasure to be thoroughly enjoyed. I hope I get to play it again with the knowledge I have gained. But you have to go there knowing what you’re in for.
If you aren’t ok with some blind or blind-ish shots, this isn’t for you. If you can’t take some tough pins – maybe even bordering on unfair – stay home. And if you won’t accept that a firm, fast course is going to give a little and take a little, play elsewhere.
Also, I don’t know that I’d recommend this course to players with handicaps much over 15. I don’t mean that to be elitist – regular readers knows I don’t even keep score – but Kingsley is hard on players who don’t strike it well. If you’re going to hit it sideways off the tee (something I know a bit about), you need a stout mental game to keep from getting overly frustrated and checking out.
Finally, Kingsley is one of the more strenuous walks I’ve taken. The design is great for walkers – the course is quite compact – but the elevation changes can leave you huffing and puffing.
#1 – Par 5 – 602 Yards
Your welcome to Kingsley is a handshake so firm it might break a couple bones. This is the boldest, most fitting tee shot this side of Tobacco Road [review HERE] where you can go right, left, or over a patch of centerline bunkers – but most balls end up in the sand. If you crush the drive, it’s relatively easy to make par. If you don’t, you’ll be scrambling to keep your card clean.
#13 – Par 4 – 292 Yards
The only short par 4 nearly this nasty is the legendary 14th at Bandon Trails [review HERE]. Our host drove the green and walked away with bogey. I was pin high and made a gasping double. There are a couple tame flag locations on this green, but many of them will have you wondering, “What more was I supposed to do?”
#17 – Par 5 – 544 Yards
A very fun, exciting way to finish. If you find the short grass, you’ll hit one of the longest drives of your life – possibly over 400 yards – thanks to a severely downhill fairway. The approach – a mid or short iron – is back uphill to a small green with a false front.
The motto of Kingsley Club – “In the spirit of the game” – couldn’t be more fitting. This is a bold, testing course meant for those with a measure of skill and the ability to embrace the game’s fickle nature.
*Kingsley is a private club. Those looking to play should have their PGA Professional contact the club to arrange a visit.