By Beth Milligan | Sept. 9, 2022
High Pointe Golf Club – the legendary former golf course in Williamsburg that was famed architect Tom Doak’s first project and one of Golf Magazine’s 100 greatest courses in the country – is poised to make a comeback. A development team has a purchase agreement for land south of MI Local Hops on M-72 – property containing part of the former course – and plans to rebuild High Pointe in consultation with Doak with the goal of opening the new 18-hole course in 2024.
The High Pointe project will appear on the Acme Township planning commission agenda Monday for approval of a special use permit (SUP). According to the application, High Pointe Holdings, LLC – led by Florida-based golfer Rod Trump (no relation to the presidential family) – “intends to reestablish the golf course and bring it to a new level of greatness as a private, membership-based, economically-sustainable travel destination.” Trump has a purchase agreement for “all the property lying south of the hop farm (in Acme Township) and a segment of land extending to Moore Road into Whitewater Township,” according to the application.
The hop farm will remain in place next door, with Trump planning to build a new 18-hole course on the southern site using some of the remaining holes – notably holes 10-15, which were once hailed as some of the top holes in the country – plus several new holes. Trump tells The Ticker he fell in love with the area after spending eight weeks in Traverse City last year, returning this summer to golf in a local tournament. After discovering the story of High Pointe – which helped launched Tom Doak’s career and was a bucket-list destination for golfers from 1989 to 2008 before it closed and was bought by local investors for a hops farm project – Trump reached out to Doak to see if he was interested in resurrecting the course.
“He was interested, and it was a big regret of his that he didn’t revive it when it first went down,” says Trump. “It was his first golf course, but he’s since gone on to worldwide acclaim. He’s the greatest golf course designer of our lifetime, and probably one of the greatest of all time. I worked with him and the landowners to get the land under contract to bring it back.”
Doak is an active consultant on the project and has already completed the routing for the new course, according to Trump. “It’s truly spectacular,” says Trump. “Anybody who thought it was good before and has good memories from it is going to be impressed. I would anticipate people from all around the country coming here.” The application to Acme Township reiterates that point, stating: “We anticipate that most of our members will be national members, residing outside of northwest lower Michigan, who will fly into Traverse City and be shuttled to the club in one of our Sprinter vans. As such, we expect little to no impact on traffic.”
Even with an emphasis on a national and international draw, Trump says he’s spoken to local golfers who are also excited about the course’s comeback and anticipates there will be area-based members in the club as well. He says the project will also benefit the local community by boosting the property’s tax base, driving tourism, and creating jobs. According to the project application, High Pointe “will be designed to be environmentally friendly. The club will operate from May until late October and will employ 60 to 80 employees at seasonal peak and 12 to 15 employees year-round.”
The golf course will cross two jurisdictions, with a new maintenance building and 12 of the 18 holes planned to be wholly or partially in Acme Township. Whitewater Township, meanwhile, will house the remaining holes and be the location of the new High Pointe clubhouse – including a restaurant and bar for members – as well as a training facility, driving range, cabins, and parking for guests and employees. The property will have access from both Bates Road in Acme Township and Moore Road in Whitewater Township. A Grand Traverse County Road Commission email states the department is “in favor of the proposed development and entrances.”
Trump and his team must still clear other approval hurdles, however, including jurisdictional sign-off from both townships. A staff memo to Acme Township planning commissioners in Monday’s meeting packet flagged several areas requiring more detail or additional review, including landscaping and lighting plans, plans for each hole showing their grading and paths, GT Metro Fire Department approval, and – particularly given the presence of wetlands in the vicinity – more information on fertilizer storage and stormwater maintenance. For that reason, staff are recommending that planning commissioners table the application Monday and wait until those outstanding details are provided before moving ahead with voting on the SUP.
The application acknowledges that “reliance on fertilizers is imperative” for the golf course and that “new wells will be drilled for the continued…operation of the hops farm and golf course.” It continues: “Watering a golf course is essential. Fortunately, the water supply system that was put in place for the original golf course remains intact and has been used by the hops farm. This includes several wells and a water withdrawal system located in the irrigation pond. A diver has confirmed that the infrastructure in the pond (is) adequate and will continue to be used.”
Trump, who is working with local project consultant Scott Jozwiak on permit coordination, says he wants to be a “good citizen” and work collaboratively with township leaders to resolve any outstanding issues and obtain project approvals. Construction work could potentially start this fall, with the goal of opening the course in 2024. “That might be aggressive, but if you don’t set a goal, you’ll never get to it,” says Trump. “One-third of the course is already built. Granted, it’s grown over with bushes, but in essence we only have to build two-thirds of the golf course. That gives us a significant jump start.”
Doak speaks of his passion for the High Pointe golf course on his website, noting that for his first project he was “lucky to stumble onto a wonderful piece of land for golf.” He continues that while he didn’t then know what his signature design style would be, he wanted to diverge from the Jack Nicklaus-designed course The Bear just up M-72 and “vowed to err on the side of moving too little earth, instead of too much.” He embraced a minimalist design – using a modest 1980s budget of $1.4 million to complete the course – and limited the shaping to small areas while using natural contours for the fairways. That model was something “designers had done back in the Golden Age of golf architecture,” Doak writes. Perhaps foreshadowing his interest in revisiting the project, the architect concludes: “High Pointe was the start of something big, and something different.”
Pictured: Left and top right, the former High Pointe course (images from DoakGolf.com); bottom right, aerial conceptual rendering of new High Pointe layout provided to Acme Township