Hearn makes over Island Hills


Sean Dudley

Michigan-based architect Ray Hearn has spent the last two years tweaking his 1999 design at Island Hills Golf Club, located at Sturgis in his home state.

Owners Bob Griffioen and his wife JoJo bought the club nearly two years ago, and initiated a complete makeover of the 7, 078-yard course, located on the shores of the 1,000-acre Lake Templene.

“Island Hills already had some of the best features in golf with the lake, the woods, and Ray's design,” Bob Griffioen said. “We wanted to improve on that and bring our public club up to the standard of service and amenities of a top country club.”

Hearn's main challenge was to return Island Hills to a full eighteen holes: the Griffioens purchased 17 holes of the course as the original owner kept one of the two par threes directly on Lake Templene. Fortunately, he spotted a site for the new par-three hole hiding in the woods near the entrance to the complex.

“We found this old crumbling farm ruins dating back to the early 1900s and one of the early landowners,” said Hearn, principal of Raymond Hearn Golf Design. “You see these kinds of neat old ruins over in Scotland and Ireland. We cleared the trees away, uncovered it, and I integrated the par three into the ruins. I’m pretty proud of it and it’s been well received. People like it.”

In his makeover, Hearn recalibrated the risk-reward scenarios he designed a decade ago, taking into account today's players using better equipment to hit the ball further.

“We've repositioned some of the bunkers and tees to make them more strategic but still friendly for players,” Hearn said.

Another change involved shaving the 47 acres of fairway down to 35 acres, significantly reducing maintenance costs. “Island Hills opened in 1999 on a very grand scale during a roaring golf boom when bigger was better,” Hearn said. “I still wanted to keep some of that with the redesign and repositioning of bunkers and tees, but with different angles and avenues to play the holes.”

Lengthening a course and moving tees to account for longer hitting players is fairly routine for architects. “But to do the nip and tuck on the design to make it more affordable, less costly to maintain, that's challenging,” he said. “It's a hell of lot of fun but you really have to put on your thinking cap and that's what we did at Island Hills.”