A slight name change last year was the first sign for golfers that something new was going on at Hunters Ridge, located in the farming region of Howell between Detroit and Lansing.
The sprucing up to what was once a U.S. Open qualifying site, the re-named Links at Hunters Ridge is led by a group of new owners who are long-time friends and graduates of Michigan State University.
A handful of upgrades were made last year. The clubhouse received a face lift outdoors, and serious renovations are almost completed inside, including a new bar that will be open after COVID-19 restrictions are lifted. The owners were able to secure a liquor license for which the locals said was the first one obtained in that township since Prohibition. Major enhancements in food choices will be offered, and a large deck overlooking the 18th green has been upgraded.
“We make up an entire team that will manage it with all sorts of backgrounds in legal, banking, golf, marketing, hospitality,” says Gary Kendra, a lawyer, golf lover, and the quasi-spokesperson of the group made up of four married couples who purchased the property last year from former owners Joe and Janet Miesle. Their son, Mike Miesle, has been the course superintendent since day one, 25 years ago, and has stayed onboard. The property has been in Janet’s family dating back to the 1870s.
One new partner, Jenny Simich, will be using her marketing and promotions background to expand offerings at the course. She is especially hoping to attract more women and youth.
“My husband came home one day with what he said was a crazy idea,” Simich says. “And I said ‘What? We’re not golf course-buying type of people.’ When we went out to the property to look around (late winter 2019), my first step on the course, I stepped on a golf ball under some snow and as I looked around, it was like, ‘wow, this has some possibilities.’ We got really excited about it, and we thought our ownership structure would be a really nice set of skills, and we could put in some sweat equity.”
Kendra adds: “When we first looked into it, we thought it was strange that we never heard of this course, given we often drive a lot farther to golf. It’s out in the country so it’s very quiet. It’s got good bones, so we thought it was a good investment with a good group of people who could really make some improvements. And we thought it would be fun. It’s always had a good reputation as a hidden gem, and that was the part we thought was the opportunity.”
The Links at Hunters Ridge was designed by Jerry Matthews and Paul Albanese, the latter who was onsite almost daily for two years overseeing the construction in the early-1990s.
My favorite stretch of holes on the front nine are holes 4-6. The 4th is a short par four that goes a little uphill and slightly to the right. The 5th is a downhill par 3 over a marsh to a thin front-to-back, but wide green. Then comes No. 6, a long par five that has a creek cutting across and one of the few large trees in play on course to navigate around.
Perhaps the crowning jewels, though, are the closing holes. The 17th tee (shared with 9th tee) is the highest point on the property from where you can see the entire course and drops 45-60 feet (depending on which tee) to the par three green. Then 18 is a par 5 risk-reward hole with water guarding the right side of the three-tier green complex.
Another owner, Luigi Folino, who works at Ford Motor Co., said they hired Paul Albanese, a golf architect, to create a master plan to guide the next few years of upgrades.
“Our first improvements were the greens last year,” he says. “We spent a little money to get the greens back in great shape. We worked on some of the bridges that needed repair; we have maybe two bridges to go.
“What really attracted us was the layout of the course. The design of it was really nice. The course had a lot of potential, it was just a little bit overgrown (shrubs and trees) and needed a little loving care. This course was affordable to purchase, and we knew we’d have to put some money into it, so this was a good situation for us.”
Jan Brintnall, a Lansing native who is an LPGA Teaching Professional and the instructor for “The Business of Golf” at the Eli Broad College of Business at MSU, will be offering learning opportunities through the LPGA-USGA Girls Golf program. Also on tap will be multiple-day clinics for boys and girls and adults, plus mother-child, father-child and grandparent-child golf days that will provide instruction and team games.
More information can be found at www.golfhuntersridge.com.
Tom Lang is publisher and editor of Michigan Golf Journal, a monthly golf news e-magazine he created in January 2018 to cover all things golf in the Great Lakes State. Lang also has written about the sport for more than 30 years at the Detroit Free Press and Lansing State Journal, and was involved as media manager for the former Ford Senior Players Championship and as a consultant to the Meijer LPGA Classic.