Forestry management lays foundation for Crystal Mountain renovation

  • Crystal Mountain
    Crystal Mountain

    Renovation work at Crystal Mountain in Michigan has followed a tree management programme

  • Crystal Mountain
    Crystal Mountain

    The approach bunker on the par-five eighth was reshaped and enlarged to create a better view from the first landing area

  • Crystal Mountain
    Crystal Mountain

    The fourth hole, one of the six renovated so far by golf course architect A John Harvey

  • Crystal Mountain
    Crystal Mountain

    The project has received an Environmental Excellence Award from ASGCA

Richard Humphreys
By Richard Humphreys

Golf course architect A John Harvey has completed the renovation of six holes at Crystal Mountain Resort in northwest Michigan, following a forestry management programme.

The resort opened in the 1950s and was originally called Buck Hills Ski Area before a name change in 1960. The Bob Meyer-designed Betsie Valley course was built in 1977, while the William Newcomb-designed Mountain Ridge course was completed in the early 2000s. Paul Albanese oversaw renovations to Betsie Valley in the early 2010s.

Owners Chris and Jim MacInnes decided to begin a forestry management programme in 2021, which would balance the harvesting of marketable timber with healthy ecological development of the environment.

The programme, overseen by project manager Kirk Davidson, would ensure that more favourable and indigenous species could thrive within the managed areas at Crystal Mountain.

“The genesis of this tree exercise began with opening up the golf corridors to new and unique opportunities,” said Harvey. “This allowed the ownership to realise and understand that this project could create opportunities to improve playability, turfgrass management, drainage, sunlight penetration, aesthetics and strategic values. Once the trees started to come down, ideas to benefit the course’s design began to brew.”

Selective tree removal on the Betsie Valley course took place between April and May 2021. In June, Great Lakes Golf Construction began work on holes four to nine and 12, reclaiming corridors of play, creating and renovating bunkers, sculpting sand waste areas, rebuilding and recontouring several tees, and shifting fairway landing zones.

“The goals have been to piggyback course improvements on top of the significant corridor work that were reclaimed and widened by the tree management programme,” said Harvey. “This has opened up some incredible vistas throughout the course and Crystal Mountain property, as well as towards the distant northern Michigan countryside.

“The widening of golf corridors has allowed the team to create more links-style waste areas with exposed sandy soil. Being so close to Lake Michigan, exposed sand and fescue grasses planted within these design features echo the feel of links golf.”

A wetland mitigation area to the left of holes four and five was created during a previous renovation. “The recent work saw the design team excavate and generate fill material and use it for course shaping, while constructing additional wetlands, contiguous to the existing system, planted with viable woody and herbaceous vegetation,” said Harvey. “Wildlife such as deer, black bear, turkeys, bald eagles and other raptors are seen by golfers and resort visitors on many occasions. Since the forestry management programme instituted at Crystal Mountain helps to cultivate healthy, vibrant and functioning woodland and wetland transition areas with desirable plant species, these landscape zones complement the shelter, habitat and food sources necessary for a variety of animals that call northern Michigan their home.”

“As owners, we are grateful for our partnership with A John Harvey,” said Chris MacInnes. “He not only listens carefully to our goals, including playability, revenue generation and budget, but also sees potential for the Betsie Valley course that we never imagined. Working closely with our golf course team, led by course superintendent Jason Farah and the contractor, John exposed natural features and native species that have transformed a humble track into a masterpiece.

“As a skilled and thoughtful golf course architect, A John Harvey has guided us to better honour the Betsie Valley track and improve playability. This allows us to increase rates and the number of rounds we can comfortably accommodate. We believe this is a great example of the value of a partnership with a talented architect – preserving and enhancing our land and generating more income from golf course operations.

“Although closed most of the season to allow for turfgrass establishment, the renovations have received rave reviews from the resort’s members and guests. The land features that were enhanced by the tree removal programme have given the front nine of Betsie Valley some spectacular new views and has made shotmaking easier.”

The project has received an Environmental Excellence Award from the American Society of Golf Course Architects.