For Professional Golfer Elizabeth Nagel, Golf Has Always Put the “Greater” in Greater Lansing, Michigan
I’ve left divot patterns on every driving range, searched to find all of the good chipping greens, and know the breaks of every practice putting green in the Greater Lansing area. I could tell you the scorecard designs, how good their pencil is, and who has the best snacks on their beverage cart. I’ve proudly built a career on being a public course kinda girl in an area that provides plenty of gems, some hidden and some a little more “top 100” status. So when my friends from Midwest Golfing Magazine asked me if I’d like to write about my hometown golf scene I thought who better than me to give you a little tour around town? My name is Liz Nagel, and I’ve been walking the fairways around Lansing since…well, since I could walk. As I was looking over the list of courses to include in this article, I truly felt like I was taking a walk through my own golf scrapbook. Come along with me as we tour some of the Lansing area staples that I not only grew up playing in junior golf, but that helped me build a career at Michigan State and my own pathway onto the LPGA Tour.
I’ve played on the LPGA and golfed all over the world from Australia to Ireland to Hawaii to Michigan’s very own Mackinac Island. After every trip, I always come back to Michigan’s plush bent grass, evening summertime nines, and crisp fall mornings. There’s something I can’t quite describe about the magic of golf in Michigan, but I know it’s not like anywhere else. To have such a variety of courses is something I think you can only find in a golfing state such as Michigan. We appreciate all variations of the game and as soon as those fifty-degree days hit it’s “go time,” and we want our golfing fix anywhere and everywhere we can get it. Michigan is truly golf’s best kept secret, but luckily there are enough great courses to go around; so grab your driver and let’s go, we’re next on the tee!
I’ll never forget my first junior tournaments - the four Lansing city courses were the perfect place to hand an 8-year-old kid a scorecard and a lunch ticket for a hot dog after the round. My dad dropped me off, wished me luck, and that’s where it all began. Groesbeck Golf Course is the only one of the four that’s still open and going strong. It’s added a little flare and had a few updates since, but it has a cult following as it’s one of the most playable and fun courses we have in Lansing. With a great price point, it’s the best bang for your buck - and I can still remember those hot dogs!
As I got further into the Michigan Junior golf scene, the staples like Grand Ledge Country Club and The Emerald became frequent stops. When my dad picked me up from the Mizuno Junior Tour event at The Emerald I remember reporting that I hit every fairway but had about six three-putts. After that, my dad would take me the short drive back up to The Emerald to practice putting on their greens. I couldn’t help it! They were the fastest I had ever putted on and still remain some of the best greens in the area. A true hidden gem and great track in St. Johns that has also produced a few of our area’s junior golfing gems - not a coincidence!
As I progressed to high school golf and grew into the next level of tournaments, the docket of courses started to reflect that. El Dorado Golf Course was one that I remember presented some tree challenges I hadn’t seen before, but was also a place I made more birdies and shot my personal best at the time. The red, white, and blue nines at El Dorado GC are each a little different and provide nuanced challenges for both the emerging high school player and the average weekend golfer. Since high school, I’ve been back to play with the Wednesday Men’s group, and I have yet to take home a buck from those guys! It’s a great balance of holes, and a fun place to challenge your game but also learn how to put a few birdies on the card.
It wasn’t until high school when I had my first big introduction to the heart of Lansing golf, Forest Akers. I had spent countless hours on the driving range growing up, but the High School State Championships were back-to-back there my sophomore and junior years. It was at Forest Akers where my future college coach would watch me for the first time, and where I won my first, and second, MHSAA State Championship titles. Little did I know how much time I would end up spending there in a couple years - but we’ll get to that in a minute.
If Akers West is known as MSU’s tougher tournament course, the East side is its fun, easygoing counterpart. Both are so playable for all ages and skill levels. The upgrades that they’ve done to the practice facilities have made them the best in the area, and as the home of our highly ranked Men’s and Women’s golf teams, that speaks for itself! If you’re one of those golf nuts who wants to hit balls with a shot tracer in 30-degree winter weather, there’s a spot on the covered driving range just for you.
Joining Coach Stacy Slobodnik-Stoll and our Spartan Golf Team was the next step in my golf journey; one of the best choices I’ve ever made, and also one of the easiest! Growing up in Lansing I was already a Spartan, and I was ready to make it official. The rich history of Spartan Women’s Golf is a testament to the quality of golf courses and facilities at their disposal around the area. And Coach never misses an opportunity to tell you how proud she is to have a highly ranked team from a Northern state. We’re tough mudders from The Mitten and we wouldn’t have it any other way.
During my years at Michigan State, I carded more rounds in Lansing than I ever had before - all thanks to our team’s dreaded - and extensive - qualifying process. But in that process I did have some up close and personal time with my game and with some of our area’s best golf: Timber Ridge, College Fields, Hawk Hollow, Eagle Eye, and of course, Forest Akers. Here are a few of my takeaways from my many walks around these great tracks.
You can’t talk about Lansing-area hidden gems without mentioning Timber Ridge. Just a short jaunt down our main vein Saginaw, you feel like you drove the few hours to get Up North. Tall pines, elevation changes, tree-lined fairways, and a few very strategically placed water hazards made Timber Ridge one of the higher scoring qualifying stops for our very strong team.
On the flip side, College Fields yielded some of our team’s lowest scoring qualifying days. One of my personal favorites, and one of the courses in the area I truly felt like I could have a birdie look on every hole. When you grab a scorecard, the yardage may look a little on the shorter end of the scale, but don’t underestimate the narrow fairways with that long grass lurking, it’ll sneak up on you! College Fields weaves through a great neighborhood and would be a nice place to take your family to play an afternoon 9 and sink a few putts together.
If greater Lansing golf courses had a celebrity it would be Eagle Eye, but if it had an MVP it would be its sister course, Hawk Hollow. Eagle Eye’s “Top 100” list status, Scottish links feel, and iconic TPC Sawgrass-replica hole speak for themselves. If you’re from out of town, Eagle Eye is probably the Lansing track you’ve heard of the most and for good reason! But I’m here to share the area’s best kept secret: the third nine at Hawk Hollow. They number the holes accordingly, so it’s officially #19-27, but referred to by the locals as “Jurassic Park.” A rightful name due to having a water hazard on every hole, each ready to jump out and bite you. This third nine is where I have done some of my best playing prep as I’ve gotten further into my professional career on the LPGA. Hawk Hollow has holes that require certain shots and pose objective situations that I would commonly find myself in on tour. There isn’t a better challenge in the area than playing the Jurassic Park nine from the tips or Eagle Eye on a windy day. I would definitely include these two Lansing pillars in your tee time lineup, and make sure to add an extra 1/2 club on the TPC Sawgrass Replica 17th hole!
I mentioned earlier that growing up I was never really a country club kid, and as I’ve written my way through this piece I’ve realized how proud I am to have built a career on the public driving ranges and unique layouts of these fun and tricky local courses. If I want to practice for Scotland, I go to Eagle Eye. (Don’t sleep on their side putting green, it’s the best!) If I need to bend some shots around tall pines for the Pacific Northwest events, I’ll go to Timber Ridge. If I need to put myself under pressure, I venture over to Jurassic Park. If I need to practice on the pine straw for tournaments in the south, Forest Akers has plenty! East Lansing is my home, and I’m proud to say these courses helped make me into the golfer I am today.
East Lansing might be where I return home between my loops on the road, but if this isn’t your home, The Graduate Hotel would be a great place to call home for a few days when you come into town. The Graduate is our new, stylish and Spartan history adorned hotel in East Lansing just bordering campus. With a great vibe, complete with a mural of Lansing’s own Magic Johnson behind the front desk, it’s the reason you’ve been looking for to plan a visit. Pop over to Barrio for the *best* tacos or try a pizza at Jolly Pumpkin just down the street. Check out The Rock rooftop bar, named after our campus landmark, for a cool craft cocktail; or the Poindexter Coffee Bar, if you’re more of a coffee gal like myself. Make a few tee times at these great courses I’ve highlighted around town, and definitely see a football or basketball game while you’re here. There is no better place than East Lansing and Michigan State’s campus in the fall. I may be biased, but come walk along the Red Cedar River between our vine covered buildings and gorgeous Michigan Fall colors. Complete with a coffee in your hand and your clubs in the trunk of your car for later – you can’t beat it! Hope to see you here soon!
This article was first published in the summer issue of Midwest Golfing Magazine.