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Belvedere Golf Club Moves up to No. 6 on Golfweek’s Best in State

Belvedere Golf Club Moves up to No. 6 on Golfweek’s Best in State

William Watson design continues to garner national recognition for historic Northern Michigan course.

One of the Midwest’s most revered and classic golf courses, Belvedere Golf Club in Charlevoix, MI, has moved up to No. 6 on Golfweek’s “Best in State” list. The course has been a fixture on the list for years but has been moving up consistently in recent years as raters continue to discover the classic 1925 William Watson creation that has been undergoing a caring restoration since 2016.

Belvedere Golf Club joins top courses like Arcadia Bluffs (Bluffs and South), Greywalls, and Forest Dunes (Loop and Weiskopf) as the top public courses to play in Michigan, according to the Golfweek ranking.

Golfweek’s course-ratings panel continually evaluates courses and rates them based on 10 criteria. They also file a single, overall rating on each course. Those overall ratings on each course are averaged together to produce a final rating for each course. Each course is then ranked against other courses in its state to produce the final rankings.

“Since doing our major renovation to the greens back in 2016, along with other ongoing restoration work since, the golf course raters and architecture enthusiasts are now searching us out,” said Marty Joy, Belvedere Head Golf Professional. “We have expanded the greens and fairways farther out and moved bunkers around to match original locations and discovered old bunkers and brought them back to life. The green complexes are now what Willie Watson intended them to be. The style is simple and intentionally not stylized.”

In 2016, officials discovered Watson’s original 1925 plans during a local building demolition. The plans revealed how the green complexes used to be much larger with more slope around the edges. Club officials took immediate action.
Course architect Bruce Hepner of Hepner Golf Design, who had been working with Tom Doak’s Renaissance Golf on subtle renovations of Belvedere for the past decade, used the long-lost blueprints as a basis to restore the greens to their original size and shaping. And while they essentially shrunk over time, much more was revealed during the restoration process.

“The drawings validated what was in the field,” says Hepner. “You could see the outlines or the actual shaping of the greens – the plateaus were out that far. You could also see that the greens had shrunk that much. When I first started working there 20 years ago making modifications to the course, they were like small little circles inside these big rectangular greens. We did the green restorations in two phases – starting by mowing the surrounds, and early on expanding the greens as much as we could. Then once we saw those drawings, it validated that the greens went out that far on those field pads. So that gave us the guide.”

Hepner says the changes greatly affect scoring and strategy, calling it good old-school golf – the ground dictates where the ball is going to roll. Watson used the swales and architectural features so that if you wanted to run the ball in a certain spot, you would have to run it through a swale. It’s very Scottish links-like. “Each hole he used the swale in a different direction, or distance from the approach, or to the side of a green, or the ball will fall off,” he says. “When we mowed all the short grass around the greens, that's really when they came alive because the ball rolls off the putting surface down into a swale. If it's not in the rough, it's in the short grass and then it just keeps rolling and those cool swales and shaping around the greens come into play on the recovery shot. It's just brilliant. I've taken so many architectural friends there to study those greens because they’re that good.”