Michigan Township Hears “Artful” Plan for Reviving Hilltop GC

The new master plan proposed for the financially struggling course in Plymouth Township, Mich. would revamp its present 18-hole layout into a 9-hole, reversible course and add amenities including a dog park, environmental arts center, sculpture trail and four all-purpose athletic fields. “As unique and innovative as this is, it may not just turn heads in our community, but in the golf world and the art world,” said course designer Paul Albanese. “I’ve always been intrigued by the idea of integrating art within a golf course.”

The golf course design firm of Albanese & Lutzke discussed a plan at a recent meeting of the Plymouth Township (Mich.) Board of Trustees meeting that would revamp the financially struggling Hilltop Golf Course and reduce its present 18-hole layout to nine, while adding several amenities to the site, including a dog park, environmental arts center, sculpture trail and four all-purpose athletic fields, Hometown Life reported.

Albanese & Lutzke co-owner Paul Albanese also revealed that the course could be designed so that golfers could play one nine-hole layout one day and a totally different layout the next, Hometown Life reported.

The course lost approximately $150,000 during 2017, spurring the township board to seek money-saving changes, Hometown Life reported. But the cost of such an exhaustive overhaul will not be discussed until the Board gives the course architects the green light to move forward with the project.

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The initial property design followed a thorough feedback-gathering procedure that included community-involved surveys and the formation of a volunteer golf course committee that consisted of a range of residents—from those with ties to the golf industry to weekend duffers, Hometown Life reported.

“As unique and innovative as this is, it may not just turn heads in our community, but in the golf world and the art world,” said Albanese, whose resume includes golf course developments in Edinburgh, Scotland, Beijing, China, and a current project in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.

“Although I’m a golf architect, the plan itself is going to display more than a golf bent, if you will; it’s going to show a community recreational bent and some other unique ideas,” Albanese added.

Albanese explained to the Board that the project is still a work in progress, with the ultimate focus geared toward establishing a golf course master plan, Hometown Life reported.

“We’re still in the exploratory phase,” he said. “Our belief is that the process [of working toward a master plan] should be open and transparent and to allow input from the community as to what they want.”

Leaning heavily on his experience of observing golf course functionality in the birthplace of golf, Albanese said the initial Hilltop proposal is spiced up with some European flavor.

“The golf landscape in Scotland is one that the entire community can embrace, not just golfers,” he said. “Take St. Andrews. It’s a British Open course, but if you visit there just about any time of the year, you’ll see community members walking their dogs around the course, not far from the revered greens and bunkers. It’s an amazing sight to see.”

While dogs wouldn’t be allowed on the fairways of the revised Hilltop, Hometown Life reported. a dog park is included just northwest of the course’s perimeter.

The community surveys also reflected a need for all-purpose athletic fields, so four of those—two with natural-grass surfaces and two with artificial turf—were added to the plan.

“I’ve always been intrigued by the idea of integrating art within a golf course,” Albanase said. “Low and behold, a neighbor of mine, Lisa Howard, who is part of the Plymouth Arts Council, approached me and said she was interested in helping integrate some form of art in this project.”

An environmental arts center and a sculpture trail were thus entered into the design.

A transformation from 18 to nine holes would not only increase space for additional amenities, but will decrease the groundskeeping costs by half, Albanese added.

Albanese projected that 75 percent of the existing greens and fairways could be utilized if the plan moves forward, Hometown Life reported.

“If the nine holes were professionally designed and maintained so that they were at an executive-type level and appeal, it’s conceivable that we could charge the same green fees—or close to it—that are charged now for 18 holes,” he added.

Trustee Bob Doroshewitz raised the possibility of liability to the township if visitors to the interior amenities on the proposed plan were struck by an errant tee shot, Hometown Life reported.

“Some architects would shy away from this plan, but we feel that with the right amount of professional design and judgment—as well as the caveat that visitors will assume risk, just like when people attend a baseball game—we can make it work,” Albanese said.

While the trustees seemed to lean toward approval of the initial plan, some soured at the thought of an outdoor swimming pool on the property, Hometown Life reported.

“Municipal swimming pools are incredibly expensive to maintain and, with the liability issue and all that, if it was up to me, I’d probably rule out a pool,” Supervisor Kurt Heise said.

Billy Casper Golf, which currently manages and maintains the site, is one of two golf course management firms in the running to manage the site once its current contract expires in the spring, Hometown Life reported.

“However, the RFPs [requests for proposal] we put out had the firms bid on 18-hole courses with a restaurant,” Heise noted. “If we change it to a nine-hole course with the added amenities, they may change their minds and decide to pull out.

“I am intrigued by the nine-hole concept, because that is something people have been talking about for a while,” Heise added. “Make Hilltop more enjoyable [and] competitive—more of an executive course. I’ve heard that often, as well. I just don’t know if the two entities involved feel the nine-hole concept would be profitable.”

When asked how long the course might have to be closed during the renovation, Albanese delivered a surprising response, Hometown Life reported.

“We’ve remodeled an entire 18-hole golf course and kept it open the entire time,” he said. “Crazy things can be done if you’re dead set on keeping the course open.”

The township board agreed to seek more citizen input before moving forward with the plan, Hometown Life reported.