Golf course finally complete 96 years after construction began

A Northern Michigan golf course has finally finished construction after breaking ground almost 100 years ago.

ANTRIM COUNTY, Mich., (WPBN/WGTU) --Nestled on the shores of Elk Lake, not much had changed at the Elk Rapids Golf Club in almost a century. That is until this past spring, when 96 years after construction started on the golf course it was finally finished. The community of Elk Rapids owes a surprising debt to the world of golf and to the 9-hole course at ERGC. Brian Taylor is the club’s historian. He explains, "In 1918 the town's principle employer, the Elk Rapids Iron Works went out of business, 1200 people were immediately unemployed." With that closure, the population of Elk Rapids dropped to 600 people. The village council decided they needed to do something to keep it on the map and keep it from turning into a ghost town. They decided to become a tourist spot and build a golf course.

There was an issue though. Brian says, "a 9-hole golf course in the 1920's would have an average construction cost of roughly $35,000, we had $9,000." Tight on cash, the village decided to spend the little money they had to buy a great piece of property and hire one of the most highly sought-after golf course designers in the world, Donald Ross. Brian says, "We had enough to basically lay out the course as he designed it, but we didn't have the money to include any of his special features, specifically his strategic bunkering, there was no money for it, it was simply left off."

The course opened in 1924 incomplete. The money had run dry to put all of Ross's ideas in place, like sand traps, but golfers didn't seem to notice or care. For the past 90 years, they just played the course as it was and the incomplete nature of it was kind of forgotten. That is until a discovery was in North Carolina of Ross's original plans for this course. Brian says, "it was the first in 85 years that the club had anything related to what the course was supposed to look like back when it was designed."

Gene Davis grew up playing this course...he now, as the superintendent and general manager, he is in charge of it. Gene says, "there were definitely a lot of things missing, a majority of that was the bunkering around the greens and in the fairways, so we are trying to complete that process."

This spring the Elk Rapids Golf Club got to work completing the course by adding all the things that Ross had originally planned. In a day when golf courses have all sorts of fancy features, the goal here wasn't to make the course modern. It was to make it like it should have been in 1924.

Gene says, "the construction crew would come in and prep the sights and then architect Bruce Hepner would come in and he would actually shape the bunker himself with an excavator and he would try to mimic the old-world style of horse and plow, the way they used to do it but with modern technology and equipment, a true artist to watch.”

Today the course is finally done. After 96 years Donald Ross's sand traps are finally a part of the course. It’s finally what he envisioned would not only entertain and challenge golfers, but could save the village of Elk Rapids.

Donald Ross built about 400 golf courses in his lifetime across the country. The Elk Rapids course is one of only about one hundred that still exist in the original Ross design.

To learn more about the Elk Rapids Golf Course click here.

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