The management at the Shanty Creek Resort laid out the ground rules for Tom Weiskopf’s Cedar River’s design: “Do whatever you want with the 536 acres; just save us room for a lodge.”
Everything he needed was there, in excess. Masses of tall oaks and beech trees. Hills that roller-coastered across 200 feet of elevation change. Open areas of meadow and scrub that would provide relief from the sloping terrain on most holes and allow for a contrasting visual style. In the end, it is the distinctive transition zones between rugged and meadow-style land (a balanced pair of three-hole strings on each nine) that give Cedar River its unique flow and keep it strategically and aesthetically fresh.
For two-thirds of Cedar River’s design, Weiskopf stayed fairly true to Michigan’s northland golf heritage—hearty holes cut through the forests, spiced by some exquisite bunkering and illusions—while keeping in mind his audience.
Weiskopf’s menu begins at the 1st hole with a full-bodied 427-yard par 4 blasted from the thick of a forest. It’s the first of a five-hole stretch of steak-and-potatoes architecture that, while robust, allows a golfer ample room to land his tee shot. But the approach shots are more demanding.
On the 4th hole, an uphill, 170-yard par 3, Weiskopf uses a sprawling maple to distort the apparent distance of the shot, virtually guaranteeing that a first-time player will under-club. Which brings up another hallmark of Cedar River’s design: The bump-and-run golfer can have a field day here. In place of constant forced carries to the greens, Weiskopf installs many a false front, which are friendly to running shots and disdainful of tepid wedge shots arriving by air.
The architect completes his initial Hansel-and-Gretel stroll through the woods with his favorite hole on the front nine, the 5th. It’s another par 4, 418 yards, calling for a long drive followed by a deft iron shot to a small green fortified on the left by a gaping bunker.
The 295-yard 13th, about as distinctive as a short par 4 gets, was to have been a par 3 requiring a carry over the rushing Cedar River. The 14th was to have been a short par-4 requiring a return flight across the river, but now sits as a dramatic par 3 with a steep, 75-yard descent to a semi-concealed, rigorously bunkered green 144 yards away. Well into construction, it was a nearly straightaway par 4 measuring 421 yards. Now the green is tucked seductively to the left, in much the style of the 11th hole at Augusta National.
All this was made possible by a vocal group of preservationists who wanted Weiskopf nowhere near the Cedar River. The controversy forced Weiskopf into some changes that, in the end, pleased all parties. A tribute to Cedar Ridge’s design is that, for all the personality that stretches like 12–14 provide, there’s no real compartmentalization to the layout.
The 18th ends at green protected by a pond; chances are slim that any player, even a big hitter, could reach this behemoth in two. Better to play it safe with a wedge, assuming you can stay focused on the shot. Because above the green is the 19th hole, populated by a happy band of vultures enjoying beer and chicken fingers and waiting to snicker when you plunk that wedge shot into the drink.
That’s the Alfred Hitchcock coming out in Weiskopf: He wants you out there dreading the specter of that sarcastic communal moan from the patio. But when you cut one in there to 10 feet and make the putt, he’ll also be there with you in spirit, offering congratulations on a perfect ending to one of the best rounds of golf you will have played in an area where one-upmanship is a hard thing to achieve.