From Golf Digest Architecture Editor emeritus Ron Whitten:
As it exists today, I consider Orchard Lake Country Club to be a classic 1926 Hugh Alison design. But in the beginning, it was anything but that.
For one thing, back in the 1920s, landscape architect Lynn Lavis, a Syracuse graduate associated with the British design firm of H.S. Colt and C.H. Alison, and golf course contractor William Connellan (who also had a hand in designing several courses in Michigan), had a devil of a time building the course. When they staked out the layout according to Alison's plan, the 10th and 18th fairways were under 18 inches of water that had seeped over from an adjacent tamarack swamp.
They pumped and pumped and installed thousands of feet of tile drains to reclaim some dry land. Then another issue was encountered with the swamp in which the 17th green was to be built. Alison had planned the hole to be a par-5 with an island green, but after dumping tons upon tons of soil into the swamp to form a green pad, the proposed green sank into the morass. So the 17th hole became a par 4, and I'm not certain Alison knew about that in advance.
On paper, the routing looks rigid, with mostly parallel holes running east or west on both nines and only one cluster of holes on the back nine playing north or south. But on the ground, the layout works wonderfully well because of the rumpled topography of the property, with holes sliding up and over slopes in a diagonal fashion.
In the 1950s, Indiana architect Bill Diddel rebuilt a third of the greens, and in the 1980s Arthur Hills redesigned some holes. It wasn't until the early 2000s that an architect showed much interest in what Alison had originally intended for Orchard Lake. Keith Foster (a former Hills associate) consulted for a decade, recommending removal of lots and lots of trees that had been planted over half a century. That process exposed some gorgeous landforms, both natural glacial hills and most likely a few that were created by Lavis and Connellan. Vast patches of tall native grasses now replace the old forests, and add to the timeless look of the course.
Foster also expanded the parameters of many greens, using old aerial photographs to determine what corner pin placements had been lost over the decades. And since Foster felt Alison had a rather mundane bunker style—big kidney-bean shapes of sand—he rebuilt them all in a different style and added new ones, recessing them into hillsides below the levels of fairways and greens to create a distinctive look to the course.
He also prescribed extensive drainage that has helped dry out the course, which is adjacent to the namesake Orchard Lake but doesn't intersect it on any hole. The result is that its bentgrass fairways and greens play tight and firm, the ideal surface for golf.
Foster's work started in 2002 and was completed in 2012. It wasn't exactly a restoration; it was more a renovation that has re-energized Orchard Lake while paying tribute to Alison's original concepts.
Best in State: Ranked 15th, 2019-'20. Ranked 16th, 2021-'22. Ranked 17th, 2017-'18 and 2023-'24.
Current ranking: 17th.