Review: Meadowbrook Country Club
Architect: Willie Park Jr. (1916) / Andy Staples (2016)
Location: Northville, Michigan
Meadowbrook Country Club is a fascinating take on modern golf renovations. In late September 2022 I participated in The Fried Egg‘s Stalemate event to get a glimpse at this fantastic looking golf course. This Willie Park Jr./Andy Staples design is spectacularly brilliant. When I arrived, I certainly did not picture such a grand property—its natural rolling terrain is great for golf.
While the original design credit goes mostly to Willie Park Jr., much of the course has been touched by many other architects. That was until 2016, when Andy Staples, the man behind the bold redesign, began the major facelift. According to the club’s website, Andy did preserve the original Willie Park Jr. holes at the 2nd, 3rd, 7th, 10th, 11th and 18th but on the rest of the holes, he took a bold approach to integrate many features from other Willie Park Jr. courses including his work at Sunningdale and Huntercombe.
When you arrive at Meadowbrook, you’ll first see the vast sweeping vistas across the property. These views help illustrate what appears to be a large scale of the property, even though it is relatively small in acreage. As you explore each hole you will find there are a few blind shots, however they never put the golfer in a position where you do not understand where you are going and offer plenty of options for recovery. There are big and small false fronts, blind approach shots, greens sloped front to back, and back to front. There are humps and bumps that propel balls around the greens and combined with the slopes and ridges you can use to recover poor tee shots with some creativity. It all makes for an exciting round.
The greens here are wild: they can reward you, surprise you, perhaps they’re penal in places, or a combination of any of those (or all three!). In many cases. the green complexes and surrounds are dramatic—the internal contours and the surrounding slopes can be crazy, but with enough patience and creativity are not overly complex or silly. They impressively combine the right amount of wild contours with the green size to make you feel that making your putt(s) won’t be impossible. There is great balance—the challenge and scoring opportunities exist. It is fun.
The clubs website has a really great set of overhead shots and descriptions if you would like to check those out.
The course starts off with my least favourite hole. A shorter Par 4, 1 is characterized by an awkward—for me at least—downhill tee shot. Go too far long and left, and you are in the pond or come up just a bit short, and you’ll find the fairway bunkers. A creek meanders up the right side, further complicating the hole. The approach is uphill to a back to front sloped green, coming up short may result in the ball coming way back down the hill, and you can’t go long either. It is a challenging hole, but one which I did not appreciate in my two cracks at it.
The monster Par 5 second is a beast. The drive up and over the hill is long, if you are lucky or can hammer a drive, you may hit the speedslot downhill and gain an extra 50 yards. As you crest the hill you’ll see the pond on the right side of the hole, while it is tucked mostly out of play, make note it is there. Descending the hill, you come to the valley floor and then must ascend way up to the green site. The approach can be blind to the large two-tiered putting surface, which falls off on all sides and has bunkers guarding both the left and right sides.
Enter Huntercombe’s tricky two-tiered green
The short Par 4, 3rd is one of my favourite holes on the property. The tee shot is straightforward and offers ample options from the tee, with only a few fairway bunkers to avoid. Things get trickier and more creative at the green. Inspired by the 4th hole at Huntercombe, the green has two-tiers, the larger main section on the left and the back right section which sits like a punchbowl some five feet below the larger section of the green. I got to experience a pin in both the punchbowl area and on the main section. Both are equally awesome and tricky on the approach. Putting down to the lower section requires precision and creativity, the steep slope is wicked fast, and you’ll likely play away from the hole to ever get a chance to make your par.
The Par 5, 4th is one of the most picturesque holes on the course. From an elevated tee above the valley, the hole slings to the left around several trees and a large pond comes into play on the second and third shots. Approaching the hole, the fairway is split, with a major hump dividing the upper and lower tiers. The upper tier provides a much better approach to this tricky green. The green has a significant false front which drops off some 10-12 feet on the front left side to the lower tiered part of the fairway. The humpback/crowned nature of the green can be diabolical on all sides. Play three good shots, and you may have an excellent chance at birdie on this fabulous Par 5.
Making your way into the central area of the course, the 5th hole has a blind, uphill, slight dogleg right tee shot. The trees on both side of the hole can be difficult to navigate around, and the long approach into the green is tricky if you don’t hit a good drive down the centre of the fairway. There is a creek short of the green to avoid, also. The green is a punchbowl with a huge ramp at the back of the green you can use to feed a long iron shot back to the centre and coming up short there is another ramp which can stop balls in its tracks.
The 6th hole is likely my favourite Par 3 on the course, elevating itself from the other good one-shot holes. Depending on flag position, the pin may be guarded by a large hill which fronts the short right side. Conversely, you can use this hill to vault your shot forward to this tiered section of green. I had success doing this and had a great chance at birdie as a result, which was fun! There are several plateaus within this green, making some putts extremely tricky and quick. Be mindful of the bunkers as well, they make for challenging up and downs.
The 7th plays from another elevated tee over a pond. If you don’t manage to get your ball up the hill far enough, the approach is blind to another tricky green. In my view, this is the only blind approach that worries the golfer about the right direction of play. Avoid missing the green long or on either side, as the up and down is extremely challenging. The green is long and relatively narrow, with a small bowl in front that is totally awesome to play into. The green slopes from the front to the back and has an internal swale bisecting the middle. On our first loop around the course, I hit an awful drive to the bunkers on the left side of the fairway, I punched out and up the hill. The pin was in the small bowl in the front, and I hit a great wedge shot to 5 feet and sank the putt. This was by far my best up and down all day.
The 8th is certainly a great one-shot test. The long carry over the valley and ponds to a large green seems easy enough from the tee. However, the bunkers on either side of the green and the short grass mowed area at the back are extremely tough up and downs. There is also a large false front to the green and the internal contours can make for tough long putts. Best to hit it close, but that is always easier said than done.
The short Par 4, 9th is simply spectacular. Similarly to the short 4 at number 3, the 9th allows for plenty of options off the tee. You can lay it up short of the bunkers or to the left of them, carry the bunkers and play into the preferred central landing zone some 90 yards short of the green, or try to drive the green. Avoiding the meandering creek and fescue rough down the right side of the hole is preferred. The relatively small and thin green is angled to the right with two tiers and a backstop up top. Further complicating things is a steep false front, which will propel short shots back down and away from the green. A large-sized deep cavernous bunker fronts the central part of the small putting surface like a Lion’s Mouth and another bunker on the either side guards against errant shots. A really tricky approach no matter where you hit the tee shot.
The 10th is a mid-length Par 4. The drive up the hill is somewhat blind to the landing zone and green, and failing to reach the top of the hill leaves a blind short iron into the large green. This green once again slopes from the front to back and most approach shots, even with a good amount of spin, should land 5-10 yards short of your preferred target for an optimal result.
The 11th is another highlight Par 3. The beautiful view of the long downhill tee shot usually plays one club less. There is a central Biarritz-ish swale on the right side, creating two plateaus and a low valley where they do put the pin. The entire right side of the green complex is short grass, but make no mistake, the up and down is tough with significant mounding guarding the putting surface from this area.
The 12th is a moderate length Par 5 back up the hillside. A good tee shot provides ample opportunity to reach the green in two, those laying up should be aware of the bunker 80 or so yards short left. The large green has a somewhat steep rise in the front and a fall-off behind.
13 is the final Par 3 on the course, and a real looker at that, too. I absolutely loved how this hole played, with its large green appearing relatively flat from the tee. Also, the numerous teeing options further enhance the ability for course setup, a plus for a member’s club like Meadowbrook. A front pin from one of the forward tees plays around 130 yards, but a back pin from one of the rearward tees can play over 190 yards. We got to experience both at the event, and it was fantastic to be able to see the hole’s flexibility. There is a large bunker short right, and going long may cause the creek to come into play.
Shades of Yale
The 14th is another simply stunning golf hole at Meadowbrook. The uphill tee shot is split with a channel navigating the two humps in the fairway; simply tantalizing to look at. A pegboard near the tee will guide you to the pin position that day and the optimal line for your approach, which will eventually reveal itself as you crest the hill. The gorgeous Lion’s Mouth bunker and squared off boomerang shaped green await, and tricky internal contours make putting a challenge even once you are on the surface. This hole reminded me a lot of playing at Yale—the natural contours and use of templates is phenomenal at transporting you to the golden age style of golf design.
One of the toughest holes on the course in my opinion, 15 is a long Par 4 that plays back slightly downhill towards the clubhouse. There are some bunkers to avoid in the popular landing zone down the right side of the hole. The approach from this area plays into the rectangular green, which slopes front to back and right to left. The deep bunker on the left of the green should be noted.
Back-to-back tough Par 4’s as we head towards the finishing stretch, 16 plays back away from the clubhouse area and parallel to 15. Watch out for balls flying from the 15th tee into that landing zone down the right side of this hole. Favouring the left side of the fairway is ideal here as it opens the green up slightly. This large green can play tricks on your mind, the putts I had tended to not break as much as they seem.
Biarrtiz, on a Par 5!
17 is the final Par 5 on the course. It is not super long, but the shoot down the middle of the fairway appears quite narrow from the tee with the overhanging large trees down either side. Getting past these trees leave plenty of options on the approach. The approach is beautifully framed by a pair of eyebrow bunkers that front a Biarritz swale before the large square green. The golfer must decide whether they should lay up before the eyebrows and fairway section of the Biarritz or take on the challenge and go for the green. I went for it both times and had two great chances at eagle. You can ride the wave through the swale of the Biarritz on the approach and safely navigate the green with two putts for birdie. Awesome hole!
From 17, a long walk back to the tee for the final drive of the day awaits with another uphill blind tee shot. As you crest the fairway and approach the green, you will notice it is built into the side of a small hill. The left-to-right nature of the hill and the false front to the green can propel balls in different directions. The bunkers below the right side of the green and the short grass area on the high right side of the green can leave challenging up and downs. A fine closing hole.
Meadowbrook is a fascinating look at modern redesign, combining multiple design aspects from historical Willie Park Jr holes at Huntercombe and combining them with original designs from Andy Staples to merge into one vision. Not sure if it would ever be a Top 100 golf course in the US, but it has certainly provided the membership with a fun and intriguing golf course.
The green complexes at the 3rd, 6th, 7th, 9th, 11th, 14th, and 17th are simply incredible. And the greens at the 4th, 5th, and 13th should be honourably mentioned as well. The work by Andy Staples and his team to bring to life such diabolical, yet manageable greens is what makes Meadowbrook such a fun place to play golf. Overall, Meadowbrook is an exceptional golf course and one which should be studied by many clubs around the world as to how to excel at a modern renovation. While it isn’t Crystal Downs or Oakland Hills, Meadowbrook deserves to be known as one of Michigan’s best.