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Sean_A

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4 Commanding CRYSTAL DOWNS - 2022 Lake Michigan Tour New
« on: October 19, 2022, 10:41:46 AM »


Frankfort, Michigan is a soporific town set on the M-22 in the enviable location between Lakes Michigan, Crystal and Betsie. I guess the townís main claim to fame is being the self-proclaimed gateway to the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Shoreline; hence tourism is a mainstay of the local economy. A few miles to the north is the home of Crystal Downs Country Club. Like the surrounding area, the club is a low-key affair. There is a community of sorts around the club, but traditionally Crystal Downs has been a summer club for Chicagoans, DetroitersÖfolks from well south of Frankfort. The club was founded in 1927 and a 9-hole course was quickly arranged and opened in the same year. A main driver of the club, Walkley Ewing, soon realized that the hilly property over-looking two lakes had potential to be something out of the ordinary. He decided to contact Robert Hunter who suggested Dr Alister MacKenzie was a good architect and that it would be possible for him to stop by enroute to the east coast. On the trip to Frankfort, it became apparent to MacKenzie and his associate, Perry Maxwell, that much of the landscape they were travelling through was sandy and therefore suitable for golf. After viewing the property, the Good Doctor delayed his Atlantic crossing and immediately began designing a new course. It was agreed that Maxwell would return the following spring to oversee construction. Maxwell spent four summers on property, MacKenzie spent about 10 daysÖand he would never see the finished product. Crystal Downs feels very much like a collaboration of parts. Much of the compact front nine has a MacKenzie feel, while the spread-out back nine feels more like Maxwellís work.

For many decades the course was benignly neglected, thus Crystal Downs was fairly well preserved over the years save for several new back tees (3, 6, 13 & 18).  Although, in recent years T Doak has been tinkering here and there by expanding greens.  Much like Pinehurst #2, in the past several decades topdressing has raised the height of greens perhaps as much as 12 inches. Therefore, the expanded green sections had to be raised to match the existing greens. Despite their reputation (rightfully earned I might add) as sometimes wildly sloped and contoured, there are only a few greens with more than five feet of fall from back to front. The 11th is a different matter. It is this hole which demonstrates that modern green speeds are not suitable for some classic courses such as Crystal Downs. This uphill par three has a three-tier green that required surgery to make the surface even remotely reasonable. Doak lowered the back of the green which makes it possible to stop downhill putts on the tiers. Even with the work, I am not convinced the green works well at the speed we played, which I doubt stimped more than 10. The 11th is the most obvious victim of overly speedy greens, but there are others. I reckon you must play to the front of 1 & 9 regardless of the hole location. There are a few other holes on the front nine where that strategy isnít a bad play. The bottom line for me is the greens roll too quickly to be properly enjoyed. Scanning my memory, Merion is the only other course I played for which I thought this may be the case.



The property is shaped like a pipe with the front nine simultaneously reminding one of the pipe bowl or a left hand. The back nine is the stem of the pipe. The entire property features dynamic land with sizable elevation changes, but it is the tightly bunched holes on the front which stick in the front of my mind. The variety of terrain and outstanding holes slammed into the first nine holes is dream-like golf and it is self-evident why many believe this to be one of the best nines in golf.  Even with added tees the course measures less than 6600 yards, not that many should play that far back. I found the course plenty tough at 6300 yards. This difficulty is borne out on the opening hole, a 450 yard par 4 which I didn't reach with two good blows.


The green doesn't look unreceptive, but this is one of six (1, 5, 9, 11, 13 & 16) openly tiered greens which can wreak havoc on a score if one swallows the aggression pill. Stay left for the approach!


Just as on the first, one can blow a drive well right on 2. I wouldn't recommend this play, but a five can still be made from these areas.


Its sounds like a broken record, but this green is savage despite appearances. Sitting well above the fairway, it is easy to hit approaches too deep and therefore the possibility of putting off the green is very real. 




Despite being upfront, the hole is in a thumbprint which is a relatively easy position on this section of the green.   


More to follow.

Ciao
« Last Edit: January 07, 2023, 05:44:12 AM by Sean_A »
New plays planned for 2023: Cardigan, St David's City, Panmure, Kinghorn, Harrogate, Hinckley, Robin Hood, Sandiway & Ladybank

Tom_Doak

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Re: 4 Commanding CRYSTAL DOWNS - 2022 Lake Michigan Tour (1-2)
« Reply #1 on: October 19, 2022, 11:57:57 AM »
Sean:


Two notes worth noting:


1.  Your pictures show new mowing lines on the course, which were incorporated just this year.  There is a lot less native rough in some areas than before.  Previously, for example, there was a swath of native between the combined fairway bunker on holes 1-2 and the fairway of the 2nd.  The changes have not been without controversy at Crystal Downs; good players lament the course being made "easier".


2.  Those back tees on 3, 6, and 18 have been there since before my time; I think they were put in back in the 1950's or 60's.

Ben Sims

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Re: 4 Commanding CRYSTAL DOWNS - 2022 Lake Michigan Tour (1-2)
« Reply #2 on: October 19, 2022, 12:10:40 PM »
Your pictures show new mowing lines on the course, which were incorporated just this year.  There is a lot less native rough in some areas than before.  Previously, for example, there was a swath of native between the combined fairway bunker on holes 1-2 and the fairway of the 2nd.  The changes have not been without controversy at Crystal Downs; good players lament the course being made "easier".



Thanks for this, I thought I was taking crazy pills. I know itís been 13 years(!), but in just a handful of photos the place looked markedly different than my memory.

Michael Chadwick

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Re: 4 Commanding CRYSTAL DOWNS - 2022 Lake Michigan Tour (1-2)
« Reply #3 on: October 19, 2022, 12:13:52 PM »
Sean,


Looking forward to following along. That corner of Northern Michigan, extending to the Leelanau Peninsula, is a special area.



Your pictures show new mowing lines on the course, which were incorporated just this year.  There is a lot less native rough in some areas than before.  Previously, for example, there was a swath of native between the combined fairway bunker on holes 1-2 and the fairway of the 2nd.



Interesting to hear about this change. I have heard that the native at CD can be as hazardous as Prairie Dunes's in regards to the slim odds of finding one's ball. Hopefully Tom can continue pointing out key mowing changes on holes going forward. Already that area dividing 1 and 2 is a dramatic difference. 


 
Instagram: mj_c_golf

Sean_A

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Re: 4 Commanding CRYSTAL DOWNS - 2022 Lake Michigan Tour (1-2)
« Reply #4 on: October 20, 2022, 10:11:26 AM »
Sean:

Two notes worth noting:

1.  Your pictures show new mowing lines on the course, which were incorporated just this year.  There is a lot less native rough in some areas than before.  Previously, for example, there was a swath of native between the combined fairway bunker on holes 1-2 and the fairway of the 2nd.  The changes have not been without controversy at Crystal Downs; good players lament the course being made "easier".

2.  Those back tees on 3, 6, and 18 have been there since before my time; I think they were put in back in the 1950's or 60's.

Thanks Tom. I recall you saying there are some new mowing lines. The tee shots on 1 & 2 are very inviting for two difficult holes.

CRYSTAL DOWNS TOUR CONT

A bit like the first two holes, the short third doesn't look harsh until trying to putt from the openly accessible right side of the green to the more protected left side. This photo was taken well in front of the tee. 


We climb to the green on the dogleg right 4th. Once again there is plenty of fairway.


Successfully taking on the right fairway bunker off the tee will open the green. The right bunkers below blend well with the vegetation. After playing the 4th I noticed all the greens up to now moved toward the 8th fairway. I was on the lookout for future holes.


While a good looking hole littered with the most bunkers on the course, the famous reverse camber 5th doesn't strike me as complicated for a golfer of my abilities...stay right. The Three Sisters lie in wait in the face of the fairway and register the extreme far left line for the tee shot. I suspect for good players the same motto of stay right isn't a bad plan even if that stay right may end up quite near the green. I was looking for the green to break toward the 8th, but the opposite is true. Right rear is the low end of the green and three bunkers on that side must receive plenty of action. Photo courtesy of Doc Hiseman.


More to follow.

Ciao
« Last Edit: October 25, 2022, 04:29:36 AM by Sean_A »
New plays planned for 2023: Cardigan, St David's City, Panmure, Kinghorn, Harrogate, Hinckley, Robin Hood, Sandiway & Ladybank

David Wuthrich

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Re: 4 Commanding CRYSTAL DOWNS - 2022 Lake Michigan Tour (1-5)
« Reply #5 on: October 20, 2022, 10:20:12 AM »
I agree with Tom about the mowing lines.  I was fortunate to play there this summer and didn't recognize the place!  They have taken all of the charm and bite out of the Downs in favor of less looking for balls and faster play.  A huge mistake IMHO!

Buck Wolter

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Re: 4 Commanding CRYSTAL DOWNS - 2022 Lake Michigan Tour (1-5)
« Reply #6 on: October 20, 2022, 10:37:14 AM »
I agree with Tom about the mowing lines.  I was fortunate to play there this summer and didn't recognize the place!  They have taken all of the charm and bite out of the Downs in favor of less looking for balls and faster play.  A huge mistake IMHO!


Hard disagree -- I don't see how having weaker players lose balls and look in the native all days adds to the charm. I think #1-2 looks perfect.
Those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end, for they do so with the approval of their own conscience -- CS Lewis

Jason Topp

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Re: 4 Commanding CRYSTAL DOWNS - 2022 Lake Michigan Tour (1-5)
« Reply #7 on: October 20, 2022, 10:52:07 AM »
The day I played there was a Monday and the greens were not mowed that day.  They seemed a perfect speed for the contours that day - difficult but I felt like I had a chance.  I can only imagine those greens freshly mowed and rolled.

Kevin_Reilly

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Re: 4 Commanding CRYSTAL DOWNS - 2022 Lake Michigan Tour (1-5)
« Reply #8 on: October 20, 2022, 02:40:56 PM »
It is too bad that Peter Pallotta has left the site, as CD was one of the (few, I think) top courses that he had the opportunity to play.
"GOLF COURSES SHOULD BE ENJOYED RATHER THAN RATED" - Tom Watson

Michael Chadwick

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Re: 4 Commanding CRYSTAL DOWNS - 2022 Lake Michigan Tour (1-2)
« Reply #9 on: October 20, 2022, 03:20:50 PM »

While a good looking hole littered with the most bunkers on the course, the famous 5th didn't strike me as complicated for a golfer of my abilities...stay right. The Three Sisters lie in wait in the face of the fairway and register the extreme far left line for the tee shot. I suspect for good players the same motto of stay right isn't a bad plan even if that stay right is quite near the green. I was looking for the green to break toward the 8th, but opposite is true. Right rear is the low end of the green and three bunkers on that side must receive plenty of action. Photo courtesy of Doc Hiseman.





Looking from above on Google Maps, it seems the optimal tee ball carries the left edge of the foregrounding tree. Or at minimum splits the difference between tree and beginning of three sisters?


The image of this tee view has always both fascinated and perplexed me, not unlike Cypress 18. Perhaps the connection is the small shock of needing to take on a tree as a strategic hazard, which isn't something you encounter much in 1920s design.
Instagram: mj_c_golf

George Pazin

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Re: 4 Commanding CRYSTAL DOWNS - 2022 Lake Michigan Tour (1-5)
« Reply #10 on: October 20, 2022, 05:06:52 PM »
Honest question, I genuinely appreciate the effort thus far:


I'm assuming that, like photos of Augusta and others, the topography is more dramatic in person than it appears in the photos. I know the photos I've taken of Oakmont pale in comparison to the actual experience.


Does anyone have any suggestions of how to better capture land movement? Hills? Green contours?


Apologies to the haters who will question why I simply don't get out there and experience it myself live..... :)
Big drivers and hot balls are the product of golf course design that rewards the hit one far then hit one high strategy.  Shinny showed everyone how to take care of this whole technology dilemma. - Pat Brockwell, 6/24/04

Sean_A

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Re: 4 Commanding CRYSTAL DOWNS - 2022 Lake Michigan Tour (1-5)
« Reply #11 on: October 20, 2022, 05:10:37 PM »
It is too bad that Peter Pallotta has left the site, as CD was one of the (few, I think) top courses that he had the opportunity to play.

Pietro left?

Ciao
« Last Edit: October 20, 2022, 05:12:41 PM by Sean_A »
New plays planned for 2023: Cardigan, St David's City, Panmure, Kinghorn, Harrogate, Hinckley, Robin Hood, Sandiway & Ladybank

JMEvensky

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Re: 4 Commanding CRYSTAL DOWNS - 2022 Lake Michigan Tour (1-5)
« Reply #12 on: October 20, 2022, 05:49:26 PM »
It is too bad that Peter Pallotta has left the site, as CD was one of the (few, I think) top courses that he had the opportunity to play.

Pietro left?

Ciao


Same question.

Kevin_Reilly

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Re: 4 Commanding CRYSTAL DOWNS - 2022 Lake Michigan Tour (1-5)
« Reply #13 on: October 20, 2022, 07:24:41 PM »
I had just noticed his "Guest" status the other day.
"GOLF COURSES SHOULD BE ENJOYED RATHER THAN RATED" - Tom Watson

Tim_Weiman

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Re: 4 Commanding CRYSTAL DOWNS - 2022 Lake Michigan Tour (1-5)
« Reply #14 on: October 20, 2022, 08:46:15 PM »
Honest question, I genuinely appreciate the effort thus far:


I'm assuming that, like photos of Augusta and others, the topography is more dramatic in person than it appears in the photos. I know the photos I've taken of Oakmont pale in comparison to the actual experience.


Does anyone have any suggestions of how to better capture land movement? Hills? Green contours?


Apologies to the haters who will question why I simply don't get out there and experience it myself live..... :)
George,


IMO, this picture of #5 isnít too bad in terms of topography.


As for Augusta, IMO it is really television much more than still photos that distort (meaning donít capture) the topography.
Tim Weiman

Charlie Goerges

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Re: 4 Commanding CRYSTAL DOWNS - 2022 Lake Michigan Tour (1-5)
« Reply #15 on: October 21, 2022, 11:28:21 AM »
As for Augusta, IMO it is really television much more than still photos that distort (meaning donít capture) the topography.


Most of the TV cameras are in towers. Look at Mount Everest from high enough and it will look like a molehill.
Severally on the occasion of everything that thou doest, pause and ask thyself, if death is a dreadful thing because it deprives thee of this. - Marcus Aurelius

Tim_Weiman

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Re: 4 Commanding CRYSTAL DOWNS - 2022 Lake Michigan Tour (1-5)
« Reply #16 on: October 21, 2022, 01:11:42 PM »
As for Augusta, IMO it is really television much more than still photos that distort (meaning donít capture) the topography.


Most of the TV cameras are in towers. Look at Mount Everest from high enough and it will look like a molehill.
Yes. The broadcasts havenít changed much over the years in terms of displaying the golf course. Doubt Augusta has any interest in innovation to display topography better.
Tim Weiman

Sean_A

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Re: 4 Commanding CRYSTAL DOWNS (1-5) - 2022 Lake Michigan Tour
« Reply #17 on: October 22, 2022, 10:56:32 AM »
CRYSTAL DOWNS TOUR CONT

The run of 5-7 is entertaining for a few reasons. There is great use of a ridge running through the three holes, which isn't surprising for Dr Mac. What is surprising is the use of trees on these holes. There are six principal trees which to a large extent define the strategy of the holes unless one can bomb the ball. We have seen the right tree on 5. There are three trees on 6; two left and one right. The right tree is particularly important because the fairway leans right. There is a decent chance of a play if the tree does cause problems, but it will usually take a good shot. The Scabs bunker is short of the tree. Somewhat similar to the Sisters on the 5th, I am not convinced the bunkers add much other than beauty. The tee is also cool, it is essentially formed from the high green surrounds of the 5th. I see this sort of design sometimes on old courses, I suspect modern archies think it is a bit dangerous.


A look at the green from near the tree on the right. The green felt a bit different from the first five. At somewhere near 7500 sq ft, it is the largest green on the course and I detected a bit of Maxwell Rolls. I would like to spend time on this green.


As this photo looking back to the tee indicates, it takes an exceptional drive to stay left.


The 7th is a complicated hole. It is one of four half par par 4s (5, 7, 15 & 17). The drive is blind between two trees, there are bunkers at the foot of the trees and the boomerang green has two bowls.


On the drive you can lay back for a view of the green or risk bunkers and rough for a blind shot.








More to follow.

Ciao
« Last Edit: November 04, 2022, 05:33:34 AM by Sean_A »
New plays planned for 2023: Cardigan, St David's City, Panmure, Kinghorn, Harrogate, Hinckley, Robin Hood, Sandiway & Ladybank

Michael Chadwick

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Re: 4 Commanding CRYSTAL DOWNS (1-7) - 2022 Lake Michigan Tour
« Reply #18 on: October 22, 2022, 06:18:50 PM »
Tom or Sean,


Are 7 and 8 mown similarly to 1 and 2 now as well? There looks to be more fairway, or at least less native, well left of the left approach tree on 7.
Instagram: mj_c_golf

Sean_A

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Re: 4 Commanding CRYSTAL DOWNS (1-7) - 2022 Lake Michigan Tour New
« Reply #19 on: October 23, 2022, 10:02:06 AM »
Tom or Sean,


Are 7 and 8 mown similarly to 1 and 2 now as well? There looks to be more fairway, or at least less native, well left of the left approach tree on 7.

Michael

You will have to ask Tom, but it did feel like left of 7 and 8 were mowed a bit more than previously.

CRYSTAL DOWNS TOUR CONT

The par 5 big league 8th is fierce, formidable and fabulous. Even though the hole is not narrow, it seems like all three shots should be played for position. From the tee the hole looks obvious, but the convex land, uneven lies and uphill nature of the terrain conspire to encourage poor planning. Despite not looking as impressive as some earlier holes, in some ways the 8th is more so.  Once again an important single tree is in play for some that venture right on the tee shot.


The terrain is used exceedingly well.


An uphill approach off an uphill lie can quickly lead to bogey country.


There is the famous story of Maxwell going to town to buy provisions while MacKenzie stayed behind to resolve the front nine while being somewhat in his cups. Maxwell returned to find the routing was complete, but noticed there were only eight holes. Maxwell then decided that there should be a green for a par three just below where they were sitting.  The hole plays maybe 10 yards uphill along a ridge spine and it is most intimidating. The green is crazily sloped toward the 8th fairway (see 1- 4, 6, parts of 7 and 8) . I had a 10 foot uphill putt toward the pro shop. The hole location was front middle. The ball rolled back to a pocket where the hole was! I don't recall ever seeing that before where it wasn't dead obvious this would happen. I am still stunned by what happened. While very different holes, the strategy is similar to the 5th at the Sacred 9. Play to the front of the green, short is fine. 


An old photo courtesy of Josh Bills.


A view of the 9th toward Crystal Lake. Photo courtesy of Doc Hiseman.


More to follow.

Ciao
« Last Edit: November 26, 2022, 01:16:30 PM by Sean_A »
New plays planned for 2023: Cardigan, St David's City, Panmure, Kinghorn, Harrogate, Hinckley, Robin Hood, Sandiway & Ladybank

Ally Mcintosh

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Re: 4 Commanding CRYSTAL DOWNS (1-9) - 2022 Lake Michigan Tour
« Reply #20 on: October 23, 2022, 11:23:04 AM »
5 to 8 is undoubtedly the centrepiece of the course.

Ben Stephens

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Re: 4 Commanding CRYSTAL DOWNS (1-9) - 2022 Lake Michigan Tour
« Reply #21 on: October 23, 2022, 01:21:36 PM »
Good to see that Doc is finding the fairways!

Noah Jurik

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Re: 4 Commanding CRYSTAL DOWNS - 2022 Lake Michigan Tour (1-5)
« Reply #22 on: October 24, 2022, 11:16:55 AM »
Honest question, I genuinely appreciate the effort thus far:


I'm assuming that, like photos of Augusta and others, the topography is more dramatic in person than it appears in the photos. I know the photos I've taken of Oakmont pale in comparison to the actual experience.


Does anyone have any suggestions of how to better capture land movement? Hills? Green contours?


Apologies to the haters who will question why I simply don't get out there and experience it myself live..... :)


I've found that a longer focal length lens (85mm+), a larger sensor camera, and shadows do the most for capturing the course as we see it in person. An iPhone can capture photos that tell the true story of the land, but it's much harder to achieve.

PCCraig

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Re: 4 Commanding CRYSTAL DOWNS (1-9) - 2022 Lake Michigan Tour
« Reply #23 on: October 24, 2022, 11:49:21 AM »
Enjoying the tour, Sean. Thank you.


Curious on the new mowing lines. Was the decision to mow down some of the natives due to pace of play (as noted) or was it restorative in nature?



H.P.S.

John Mayhugh

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Re: 4 Commanding CRYSTAL DOWNS - 2022 Lake Michigan Tour (1-5)
« Reply #24 on: October 24, 2022, 12:36:21 PM »
They have taken all of the charm and bite out of the Downs in favor of less looking for balls and faster play.  A huge mistake IMHO!
If Crystal Downs relied on tall rough to supply its charm, it didn't have much to begin with! Fortunately that is not the case.
Surely you don't think golf is better with slower play and looking for balls?? Especially on the first two holes of the round.

Here's what the rough looked like back in 2008.
cd 1 2 4 ws by john mayhugh, on Flickr

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