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Western Gailes Golf Club

A young course architect found inspiration for his first design at a lesser-known strip of raw, heaving linksland along the west coast of Scotland

By: Kevin Aldridge

Appeared in Spring 2011 LINKS

My family owns Indianwood Golf & Country Club in Lake Orion, Michigan, and I grew up playing and studying the grand heathland course, site of the 1989 and 1994 U.S. Women’s Open and 2012 U.S. Senior Open. When my dad, Stan, bought Lakewood Shores in Northern Michigan, I was tapped to design its second course, the Gailes, which opened in 1993.

I was 25 years old at the time and was working for a course construction company, but had never designed a course. Given the site, a sandy expanse less than a mile from Lake Huron, we decided to replicate the naturally firm, fast conditions of a links course.

The problem was that I had never played a true links, so Dad and I went to Scotland to see its great layouts. Many U.S. architects have taken this voyage, and based on what I saw, I think all designers should make the trip.

I had made a full set of drawings, which I  had in my hands on the first tee of our first course, Turnberry. By the time we got to the green, I had crumpled them up. You can’t capture the rugged movement of the land without experiencing them firsthand.

Of the courses we visited, the one that most captured my imagination was Western
Gailes, overshadowed by Ayrshire giants Royal Troon, Turnberry and Prestwick. While Troon has the challenge, Turnberry the beauty and Prestwick the history, Western Gailes has the psyche of pure golf.

The 6,899-yard layout fits into the dunes so well that while standing on the first tee, first-timers aren’t sure which way to tee off. All we saw was a series of heaving landforms that mirrored the waves of Irvine Bay.

Part of the uncertainty stems from the unconventional routing. The course has two lines of parallel holes that form a long loop on a narrow strip of linksland. But due to the location of the clubhouse in the middle of the property, the layout changes direction twice, at the 5th and 14th.

Weaving among dunes, the fairways rise and fall at random, leading to greensites tucked into hollows as if they had been there for centuries, waiting to be discovered. Even now, the 197-yard 7th, where the green sits in a ring of dunes like the stage of an arena, is as vivid in my mind as if I were standing on the tee.

This sense of place is what we emulated at Lakewood Shores, creating strategy and character from the environment. I wanted golfers at my course to stand in the fairway and ask: “How am I going to attack this?”

Besides the course, there was plenty more to like about Western Gailes: the simple scorecard and  clubhouse, where the elements, from the well-worn furniture to the utilitarian locker room, signal that the club is all about golf. Everything else is secondary.

That simplicity is the core of Western Gailes’ psyche.

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