Point O' Woods

Outside Benton Harbor sits a course that has hosted many great golfers over the last 50 years during the annual Western Amateur. Point ‘O Woods was opened in 1958 and hosted their first Western Am in 1963 and every year from 1971-2008. Designed by Robert Trent Jones Sr., Point ‘O Woods is typical of Jones’ championship style of architecture at the time. Other courses he designed during this period include Bellerive in St. Louis, Hazeltine in Minnesota and Congressional in Maryland. The trademark “runway” style tees can be found on many holes providing distance flexibility for tee placement. The greens are what impress most visitors to the Point. Most surfaces are quite large and offer a surprising amount of internal movement and undulation. The original course was a brute, approximately 7000 yards with deep, menacing bunkers and those large flowing greens. I first played the Point in 1995. Even with equipment of the day, the course played very long, demanding precision off the tee and high, soft landing approach shots with long irons. As time and technology marched on, the course didn’t provide the challenge to the world’s best amateurs it once had. In 1971, the medalist score was 284 and the qualifying score was 298. In 2009, the medalist score was 268 and the qualifying score reached 280!! Point ‘O Woods did have one of the most famous and photographed par 3 holes in all Michigan, the 200 yard ninth. The hole suffered from a small championship tee covered by tree canopy but the view to the green was dramatic. In 2005, long time Jones associate Roger Rulewich was retained by the club to make changes including issues with the ninth teeing ground. Unfortunately, the necessary changes have eliminated some of the dramatic view and carry the hole previously possessed. Point ‘O Woods also suffers from Jones’ architectural style falling out of favor. Rulewich’s changes to the greens and reshaping and deepening of bunkers have not helped the club gain the notoriety they once enjoyed. Still, there’s tremendous golf to be found. A player must be able to successfully work the ball both directions and control tee shot accuracy. Tree removal over the last 20 years has helped with playability, but some corridors are uncomfortably narrow. Off the mark approach shots may find greens but proper placement into the greens is required to score well. On most holes, birdies and pars are hard earned. For the skill demanded from the average player, a round at Point ‘O Woods is more survival than enjoyment.