Midwest Road Trip in Review: Memories and Awards

Wow! What another amazing golf trip I had last week. Almost everything worked out exactly as planned, the weather was nice for the most part and I got to experience some incredible courses in the Midwest region. 

I did feel like a stranger in a strange land at times. In those parts, there’s a Cracker Barrel AND a Waffle House on every freeway offramp. There’s no such thing as a Carl’s Jr. They have Hardee’s (several of which featured a Red Burrito menu inside as opposed to the Green Burritos we have around here). I learned that I do not care for the taste of Ohio’s own Skyline Chili, yet the Amish in Kentucky make one heck of a turkey sandwich!

Where I never felt out of place was on the many great golf courses I visited. It’s clear that excellent golf can be found nationwide, which makes this quest even more rewarding.

Holes Played: 210

Miles Driven: 2382.9

New States Visited: 6 

I am now up to 27 states played and 240 different courses, so it’s been a very productive year when it comes to adding to my overall totals. Like I did with my last trip, I wanted to hand out some “awards” based on different categories, which will allow me to highlight the most memorable aspects of the various courses I played. Two courses will kind of dominate the rankings, but most all of them will get some sort of mention below.

 Onto the Golf Nomad awards…

“MOST SCENIC COURSE” 

  1. Arcadia Bluffs • Arcadia, MI
  2. Stonehenge • Fairfield Glade, TN
  3. St. Ives • Stanwood, MI

Perched above the expansive shores of Lake Michigan, Arcadia Bluffs is carved out of the rugged hillside. Spectacular views of the waterfront can be found on almost every hole. The contrast of the green fairways and greens against the golden heather framing the holes adds an additional level of beauty on what I am calling an “extreme links” course.

Stonehenge doesn’t lack in beautiful Tennessee scenery with trees, limestone formations and rolling hills. It culminates in the signature 14th and 15th holes, which overlook a small lake that provides a stunning backdrop on these most memorable holes. St. Ives is billed as “Heaven in the palm of Michigan” and it really is a scenic layout with a lot of hills, trees, twists and turns to keep you visually stimulated throughout your round.

“MOST PLEASANT SURPRISE”

  1. St. Ives • Stanwood, MI
  2. Longaberger • Nashport, OH
  3. Old Silo • Mt. Sterling, KY

I have to give this award to St. Ives. It was a late addition to the trip because of a stay and play package associated with Tullymore. I was there to play Tullymore, but ended up enjoying St. Ives even more. With a more dramatic landscape and excellent scenery, it didn’t take long to win me over.

Longaberger and Old Silo both fall into the same category. On Golf.com’s rankings, they are the two top courses in their respective states. So I did have somewhat high expectations going into both rounds. What surprised me at both courses was how dynamic the layouts were and how beautiful the scenery was. They both use their natural surroundings well and both courses definitely exceeded my expectations.

“BEST VALUE”

  1. Old Silo • Mt. Sterling, KY
  2. Stonehenge • Fairfield Glade, TN
  3. Cog Hill #2 (Ravines) • Lemont, IL

This is a new category, but it’s a topic worth discussing on a trip that overall cost me a pretty penny. For $39 on a weekday morning (cart included), Old Silo is a heck of a deal. The weather was great, the course was beautiful and well-conditioned, and the service was solid. 

Being part of a nice resort/residential community, I expected the Stonehenge round to be a little steep. But they only charged me $37 as a non-resident/resort guest. For that twilight rate, this course was well worth the price of admission. Cog Hill #2 benefits in that it was a “replay” round. I did have to pay $155 for the morning round on the acclaimed #4 course, but getting to play the #2 course for only $35 at a replay rate made it a good value on an enjoyable course.

“MOST DISAPPOINTING”

  1. Purgatory • Noblesville, IN
  2. Tullymore • Stanwood, MI
  3. Stonehenge • Fairfield Glade, TN

This is always a tough category to include because I REALLY enjoyed all the courses I played on this trip. But there are always rounds that come up a tad short of your expectations, so hence this category. 

Purgatory was neither as challenging or as interesting as I would have hoped for such a boldly named course. Now, I know the challenge would have been ramped up significantly had I dared to play the tips, but simply adding ridiculous distance to a layout does not necessarily make it more interesting. The rugged bunkers were neat and plentiful, but not as penalizing as they could be.

My round at Tullymore was partly marred by the rainy/drizzly morning we encountered out there. Though this course has some of the signature Jim Engh design features that I’ve enjoyed on his other courses, it didn’t have the dramatic scenery or elevation shifts to take it over the top. Now, it’s unfair to compare Colorado landscape to Michigan when it comes to scenery and elevation, but right next door to Tullymore, the St. Ives course offered those elements in excess. 

Even though it was a “bonus” round on the trip, I had higher hopes for Stonehenge. The signature holes did impress and the rest of the course is a solid, scenic layout, but it didn’t “wow” me as much as I wanted it to.

“BEST CONDITIONED COURSE” 

  1. Cog Hill #4 (Dubsdread) • Lemont, IL
  2. Brickyard Crossing • Indianapolis, IN
  3. Arcadia Bluffs • Arcadia, MI

No contest here. Cog Hill #4 is not only the best conditioned course I played on this trip, but it’s the nicest course I’ve ever played on. So green and lush out here, it is insane. When it comes to conditions, it will be the course I measure all others to from now on. 

Brickyard Crossing was in near-immaculate shape, as well. Very green, very well-maintained and excellent all the way around. Arcadia Bluffs has got to be a difficult course to take such good care of, so my compliments to the greenskeepers here. The greens were lightly sanded on top, which was my only minor beef with the conditions because it did throw a few putts off course. Otherwise, given the extreme landscape and unpredictable weather that can be found out here, they do an amazing job.

I have to admit I was terribly spoiled on this trip when it came to conditions. All the courses were in excellent shape and well above average compared to what I’m used to here in Southern California (especially in the dead of summer). For example, the course I would deem to have the “weakest” conditions on this trip (Purgatory) would still register about a 7.0 on a Greenskeeper.org rating!

“MOST FUN LAYOUT”

  1. Arcadia Bluffs • Arcadia, MI
  2. Brickyard Crossing • Indianapolis, IN
  3. St. Ives • Stanwood, MI 

Arcadia wins again here. Though I wouldn’t want to play this course every day because it’s such a crazy and over-the-top kind of layout, it’s the kind of place where you plan a buddies golf trip every year just to test your mettle and enjoy the one-of-a-kind setting and extreme links features.

When you are standing on the 7th tee at Brickyard Crossing, it’s hard not to get a little giddy knowing that you are about to hit a golf ball INSIDE the world’s most famous racetrack. It’s just plain cool. Even when you pull into the parking lot and park next to the Turn 2 grandstands, you know you are in for a fun ride. They really embrace the history and tradition of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway throughout the clubhouse and on the course, so the theme and gimmick pay off very well.

St. Ives is an enjoyable layout with a lot of twists and turns. It winds up and down the hills and has a ton of trees, so there’s rarely a dull moment on this beautiful course.

“MOST CHALLENGING COURSE” 

  1. Arcadia Bluffs • Arcadia, MI
  2. Cog Hill #4 (Dubsdread) • Lemont, IL
  3. Longaberger • Nashport, OH

Now, if I had played the 7700-yard version of Purgatory, I can guarantee it would be #1 here, but from the blue tees I found it to be average in terms of challenge. The course I found toughest was Arcadia Bluffs. Partly because of its extreme design where the bunkers are penalizing and the deep heather rough is to avoided at all costs and partly because I always struggle on throwback links layouts like this, Bandon Dunes and Chambers Bay. It’s just such a different style of golf that I get to play so rarely, it always takes getting used to. By the time I do, the round’s over!

Cog Hill’s challenge is a bit more subtle, but that’s what makes it such a fantastic layout. On the front nine, the fairways are tight with trees all around and the big doglegs force you to play the right angles. On the back nine, the course opens up more, but positioning is still key and there are more hazards waiting to swallow up your ball. On both sides, the greens are extremely well-protected by tricky mounds and perfectly placed bunkers in front, leaving little room for error on your approach shots.

Longaberger offers a great mix of long holes and shorter risk/reward holes, so your mindset has to shift throughout the round. It’s a great test for any level of golfer.

“MY FAVORITE OVERALL COURSE” 

  1. Arcadia Bluffs • Arcadia, MI
  2. Cog Hill #4 (Dubsdread) • Lemont, IL
  3. Brickyard Crossing • Indianapolis, IN
  4. St. Ives • Stanwood, MI
  5. Longaberger • Nashport, OH

Picking between Arcadia Bluffs and Cog Hill #4 is a difficult task, so it’s really more of a 1A and 1B kind of ranking. It’s tough because they couldn’t be more drastically different courses. They are both great in their own ways. Arcadia features an over-the-top layout with unique links stylings and spectacular scenery all around. Cog Hill features a classically excellent parkland layout and the best conditioning I’ve ever seen. So it’s a bit like apples and oranges. 

If forced to pick, though, I give the slight edge to Arcadia Bluffs just because that’s an experience I will never forget and it’s a course I would go way out of my way to play again. 

Brickyard Crossing earns my third spot because it’s more than just a clever gimmick to tie in with the racetrack. It’s a great Pete Dye course design that is also exceptionally maintained. It would be a great course without the Speedway next door, but that puts it even further over the top to make it a truly memorable golf experience on all levels. 

St. Ives won me over on the first hole with it’s scenery and fun layout. I really enjoyed my experience at that course. Likewise, Longaberger features a top-notch layout that’s equal parts fun, challenge, diversity and beauty.

THE SPECIAL BALL:

Last but not least, I have to talk about the special Bogeys Across America ball. I was able to add six new states to it. It started off on a roll. I used it on the first hole at Brickyard Crossing and got an easy par. I used it on the 6th hole at St. Ives and got a nice up-and-down to save par. At Cog Hill, I used it on the par-3 2nd hole. I hit my tee shot into the greenside bunker, but was able to get up and down for a “sandie” par save.

At Longaberger, I used the ball on a par-5, which is rare (not sure if I’ve ever done that), but was able to scramble for another par there. Unfortunately, the par streak came to an abrupt end at Old Silo, where I made a mess of a par-4 and took a double bogey. Finally, at Stonehenge, I used it on probably the easiest hole I encountered all week long: a very short par-3 with very little trouble to get into (or so I thought). Unfortunately, I hit into the lip of a greenside bunker and was left with a very awkward lie. I ended up with another double there. Oh well, as long as it survived the trip (knock on wood), I am happy!

Well, there you have it. Another great Golf Nomad adventure. I’m not sure when my next big Bogeys Across America trip will be, but it likely won’t be until next summer. Time to save a little money, so I can play somewhere truly special next year! In the meantime, I’ll be playing plenty throughout Southern California and will likely be playing up in Northern California and Southern Oregon a few times before year’s end.

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