Unaccompanied at Crystal Downs

Pulling back the curtain on your favorite architect's favorite golf course

Dr. Alister MacKenzie was struggling with the front nine at Crystal Downs and badly needed a drink. There was only problem: this was the height of Prohibition in America. So, as legend has it, he sent his talented junior design associate Perry Maxwell into town to fetch him a bootlegged bottle. When Maxwell returned, MacKenzie was eager to show him what he considered a perfect outward routing. There was another problem: MacKenzie had only drawn eight holes.

No one has verified the origins or authenticity of this folk tale, however, there is general consensus on the following: the almost-forgotten ninth hole, the eight that precede it and the nine that follow it are as close to perfect as golf gets. Yet, despite its design lineage, Crystal Downs existed in a shroud of mystery until the mid-1980s when Ben Crenshaw took a trip to Frankfort, Michigan and came back raving. Tom Doak felt the same and built a home near it. Former Doak associate Mike DeVries (Kingsley Club, Cape Wickham, Greywalls) grew up in a Crystal Downs family and started working in the pro shop at 14. In TGJ No. 22, he uses words like “remarkable” and “seamless” to describe the two very different sides of his grandfather’s home club.

Nevertheless, even with the critical acclaim, Crystal Downs has managed to fly under the radar despite routine appearances in global and domestic top 10’s. They don’t offer national memberships, only extending invitations to those that settle down and invest in their tiny northwestern Michigan community. The modest clubhouse that overlooks Crystal Lakes appears to be just as MacKenzie and Maxwell left it. But should you ever receive an invite, sources say you’ll be opened with welcome arms—no side-eyes, pocket-watching or club politics. Just great golf and a deep appreciation that, of all places, your favorite architect’s favorite golf course happens to be here.

Crystal Downs is a thinking person’s golf course.

Fred Muller, Crystal downs head pro (1977-2018)

It’s really not like any other golf course that I can think of.

Tom Doak, Golf Course Architect

Crystal Downs created in Dr. MacKenzie an instant impression of near perfection.

Walkley Ewing, Original Land Owner