There are two basic ways to design a golf course: find it or build it.
The former method gives us incredible vistas along coastlines, in mountain regions and on rugged or rolling terrain where elevation changes can mark natural routings and green sites. The latter method, when successful, means the course architect has to create something from nothing that, when finished, looks like it belongs.
All of us are familiar with course designs that move a lot of dirt to create nothing more than an eyesore. To be considered a success, a manufactured course has to mature into one that looks like it was there all along and the designer just “discovered” it. The PGA Championship is being contested at the visually stunning Whistling Straits this year, which is marked by massive dunes, hundreds of bunkers and massive rolling greens. It’s almost impossible to believe that before Pete Dye worked his magic on the property, it was nothing more than a piece of flat farmland that hugged the shores of Lake Michigan.
Which brings us to Cardinal Redcrest. It’s definitely in the “build it” category. The property is adjacent to the Cardinal East course and runs north to the edge of a forest that separates it from the Holland Marsh. Initially, it was flat scrub land dotted with small ponds and wetlands.
Designer Kevin Holmes has crafted a course routing that utilizes the water elements to maximum advantage. The small ponds have been combined into a few much larger water hazards that feature four or five holes each along their shores. The wetlands have been left untouched and require forced carries off the tee and into several greens. There are a few patches of forest that provide natural boundaries to frame and separate holes.
There still isn’t much elevation to Redcrest. Not a lot of dirt was moved or added. Some tee blocks are slightly raised and mounding around the greens provides visual references and contouring to the putting surfaces. Opened in 2009, the course has matured nicely and now the overall effect is a serene vista that looks perfectly natural.
The course measures 6,800 yards from the tips, which may sound short by today’s standards, but the course is ably defended with water on fourteen holes. The greens are guarded by subtle mounds that deflect mishit shots into deep bunkers flashed into the sides. The putting surfaces contain enough humps and rolls to make it challenging without being silly.
Redcrest exhibits its teeth on the par 3’s. Three of the four are over 200 yards in length while the other is 179. No gifts here. To get at the back pin on the second hole requires a carry over water to a hole location tucked way out on a peninsula green. Of course there’s a dry route to the front of the green for the faint-hearted.
The twelfth is just a brute. It’s 226 yards from the tips and plays directly west into the prevailing wind. The long raised green is framed by deep bunkers. Par here is always a good score.
There are just three par 5’s at Redcrest but only one offers a real birdie opportunity. That would be No. 6. It’s 529 on the card but plays shorter as a slight dogleg. You’re tempted to use driver off the tee but the wetlands in front require a long carry to a narrow fairway with a pond down the entire right side and wetlands along the left. If your tee shot finds short grass, you can have a go at the green, well bunkered as usual, but it’s a large receptive surface. Alternatively, there’s lots of room to lay up and use your wedge to secure a short birdie putt.
The seventh too is a par 5 but at 562 yards is a grind just to make par. It’s bombs away off the tee but your second shot has to be positioned to leave the proper angle for an approach to the narrow raised green along a tree-lined corridor. The green itself doesn’t provide any relief with its false front and nasty rolls. Big numbers are often recorded here.
The tenth hole is Redcrest’s signature hole. It’s a true three-shotter and only the longest hitters could entertain thoughts of getting home in two. The course skirts a large pond immediately in front of the clubhouse with the fairway making two right turns to arrive at a green directly across the pond from the tee about 400 yards away. Some have tried to hit it across the water but the only sane way to get there is by land.
The tee shot needs to hug the right side of the fairway to allow a second shot across wetlands to the opposite fairway. Success on both shots will leave nothing more than a wedge to the large green. However, a tee ball pulled left means a lay-up short of the wetlands and an approach of some 200 yards or more over water and bunkers.
The tenth is a nasty piece of work and delivers plenty of doubles and triples. It’s also the hole most players want to talk about and the most memorable.
The par 4 holes at Redcrest are a delightful mix – some quite short and several long and very demanding. No. 16 is particularly challenging – long, flanked by water, naturally – with a peninsula green that looks flat but is anything but. It starts a tough finishing stretch that can make or break your game.
Seventeen is one of those long par threes.
The final hole is rated the third toughest on the card with water and wetlands, 442 yards and the only two-tiered green on the course. A great finish!
All in all, it’s a fun course to play and quite easy to walk. The course has matured into a beautiful panorama and Kevin Holmes should be very proud of his work.
As noted, Redcrest is part of the Cardinal Golf facility, but it has its own clubhouse, an exquisite wood and stone structure that is slightly raised above the surrounding course providing great views across the water and greens beyond. The patio faces west and at sunset is an idyllic place to enjoy an adult beverage and contemplate your game. (By the way, the food is exceptional.)
Notes: Redcrest is located near Highway 9 and 400 with its own entrance off Keele Street. Green fees are $69-79 weekdays and $69-89 on weekends and holidays. Power carts are extra. For more information click HERE.