GRAND RAPIDS — Developers across West Michigan are seizing a prime opportunity to turn the region’s abundance of golf courses into badly needed housing.
Long considered a golf mecca, Michigan is third in the nation behind California and Florida for the number of golf courses, with 738 public courses as of the end of 2022, according to the National Golf Foundation. According to Pure Michigan, the state’s travel bureau, about 115 of those golf courses are on the west side of the state.
But due to a decline in interest in the sport, driven by generational shifts in leisure pursuits, the number of Michigan golf courses has fallen significantly since the state hit a peak of nearly 1,000 courses in 2000.
Golf’s regression may represent an opportunity for developers, as Kent County in particular looks to close a housing gap of nearly 35,000 units by 2027.
Grand Rapids Mayor Rosalynn Bliss said in a recent media briefing with Housing Next — a group working to close the housing gap — that the city will need the cooperation of the many Kent County suburbs that have golf courses available to redevelop, because the city has no land bank authority and very little available property left to develop.
“It’s (about) how do we get more creative,” she said.
Following are some of the biggest golf course property conversions underway in West Michigan:
Alpine Township, Kent County
Developer Mike Houseman, president of Wolverine North America, and three silent partners in fall 2019 acquired the property that formerly housed Alpine Avenue Golf Center, at 841 and 1007 Alpine Church St. NW, and several surrounding parcels in Alpine Township.
The driving range and miniature golf venue closed in 2015. Houseman said he planned to start redeveloping the property into housing right after acquiring it but was delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Since the initial acquisition, the partners also bought an adjacent orchard, a house to the north and the township’s former 1950s-era fire station at Alpine Avenue and Alpine Church Road to enlarge the development.
The current plan is for 119-unit age-restricted senior apartments that will be owned and operated by Clover Group, 73 single-family units that will be built and sold by JTB Homes, 26 condos and 28 townhomes. There will also be 10 commercial parcels along Alpine Avenue.
Houseman estimates the construction budget will be about $79.2 million, including site infrastructure costs.
The Alpine Township Planning Commission at its December meeting approved Houseman’s request to rezone the site to mixed-used planned unit development. Later that month, the township board approved the preliminary site plan for the condos and the infrastructure plan for the commercial portion. Houseman said he will seek final site plan approval for the senior apartments within the next 30 days.
Demolition of the buildings on the site is complete, and Houseman said he hopes to start construction on the apartments by July.
“We’ve been grading as much as we can between weather events, and we hope to have the roads completed by the end of summer,” he said.
He projects the residential component of the project will take about five to six years, and the commercial component about three years.
“I’ve done other developments, but this is at a higher scale,” he said.
Meanwhile, also in Alpine Township, developers Dale Kraker and Howie Hehrer of JTB Homes and Interra Homes closed on the purchase of half of Gracewil Country Club at 2597 4 Mile Road NW from owner John Wilson last summer for an undisclosed sum. They are under contract to buy the remaining half of the golf course within the next year or two.
“They no longer wanted to continue operating, and it was ready for … housing development,” Hehrer said.
The 206-acre, 36-hole golf course was built in 1929 and will remain open for all of 2023 and on a year-by-year basis after that as the multiphase housing project progresses.
Pending approval of their latest site plan and rezoning request by the township on April 17, their aim is to convert the golf course into 538 units of housing, including 317 single-family lots, 70 villas for the general market and 151 units of senior housing.
If all goes well, Hehrer said site work is likely to start as soon as early next year, with construction beginning in earnest by 2025. They expect the project will take about 20 years to complete across several phases.
Cannon Township, Kent County
Thirteen miles east, just outside of Rockford, Kraker has another golf course redevelopment underway.
He acquired the former Silver Lake Country Club, at 7901 Greenbrier Dr NE in Cannon Township, for just less than $1 million in March 2020 after the former owner, Thom Rosely, closed it in 2019.
Kraker initially floated the idea of building 450 units of condos, apartments and senior living housing, but then Kent County approached him with a request to buy 137 acres of the 174.4-acre golf course for a planned county park.
His new plan is to build the Villages of Silver Lake — 48 single-family homes with two lots reserved for future use on the 37.4 acres of which he retained ownership.
Kraker said he pivoted to the single-family plan for the smaller acreage because there are already condos and single-family housing on the other side of the golf course by a different developer, Silver Lake Estates and Silver Lake Condominiums, and single-family seemed to match market demand.
The Cannon Township board voted in August to grant PUD rezoning approval. Kraker’s next step is to submit the engineering drawings to the township for approval.
The estimated project cost and timeline will “come later down the line,” he said, after he’s secured all necessary approvals.
Kraker said he expects the homes will be priced at $400,000 and above.
Courtland Township, Kent County
Developer Mark Wurn and his partners formed the Redstone Group in 2018 and acquired the 100-acre former Braeside Golf Club at 5460 11 Mile Rd in Courtland Township from a previous developer whose plans for housing there didn’t pan out. They then launched construction on a single-family community called Braeside Estates.
Since 2018, Wurn’s home construction business that he founded with partner Bill Roersma — Roersma & Wurn — has completed the first phase of the development and part of the second. An additional 100 acres adjacent to the golf course property came up for sale when their project was already underway, so they acquired it and added a third phase to the project. Phase one, which kicked off in 2018, included 26 lots. Phase two, which will include 24 lots and began construction in 2021, is about 30 percent done and scheduled to wrap in 2025.
Depending on the economic conditions of the next few years, Wurn said phase three, which will include 42-48 lots, could take an additional three-and-a-half years to complete.
The homes are priced anywhere from $500,000 to $800,000 apiece, he said.
Wurn said the project appealed to the partners because Roersma & Wurn’s housing communities have typically done well in the Rockford area.
“A golf course is typically quite beautiful, and they’re rolling (hills), and it provides for walkout basements. It was also something that could be engineered in such a way that people had a lot of breathing room — the lots are spacious,” he said. “… We just think it’s one of the very best projects available in Rockford, Mich., right now.”
Walker, Kent County
English Hills Country Club at 1200 4 Mile Rd NW in Walker closed in 2020. Developer Mark Avis, of Illinois-based Redhawk Multifamily LLC, in partnership with Scott Sorenson of Domo Development in Ada, closed on the purchase of the 142-acre golf course property for $4.4 million in February, according to city property tax records.
Together with an adjoining property at 1470 4 Mile Road NW, which they purchased from Kim Sorrelle as part of the same deal, Redhawk plans to build English Hills, a 552-unit rental townhomes development that they first proposed in 2021. At the time, Avis estimated rents would range from $1,400 to $1,500 a month, but with rising construction costs he doesn’t have a current estimate.
Avis said he hopes to break ground on the project by the end of the year. He described it as one of “the best developments” he’s ever planned.
“It’s just a beautiful, beautiful piece of property, and we love the location, love Walker. We just thought we could create something really special,” he said.
Also in Walker, Anthony Rodriguez and Rick Cavenaugh of Barrington, Ill.-based Stoneleigh Cos., are building Savannah at Waterford Village at the former Lincoln Country Club at 3485 Lake Michigan Drive NW, which closed in 2021.
The project will include a clubhouse and 250 luxury one-, two- and three-bedroom apartments with rents ranging from $1,800 to $2,575. Construction on the multifamily component began in January and is expected to wrap in two years. Pre-leasing will begin the first week in July, with the first building open for occupancy at the end of September, Rodriguez said.
The clubhouse will include a fitness studio, resident lounge, business center, terrace, outdoor dining with barbecue grills, walking trails surrounding a pond, a wetlands area and dog park.
Stoneleigh also received zoning approval for five commercial lots and 68 lots of single-family housing on-site. Rodriguez said the lots are listed for sale, and if he “had to guess,” those home values will ultimately be priced somewhere between $350,000 and $450,000 once built.
Rodriguez said the 36-acre site was “highly attractive” for a mixed-use development because it’s a “walkable community.”
“The site has great access off Lake Michigan Drive NW, a major arterial road with convenience to downtown Grand Rapids (10 minutes),” he said in an email to Crain’s.
Wyoming, Kent County
Avis, with Redhawk Multifamily, also is planning to develop housing at The Pines Golf Course, which is still operational at 5050 Byron Center Ave. SW and 2180 52nd St. SW in Wyoming.
He said he is under contract to buy the 114-acre property, which includes multiple parcels, from Michael Boogaard by the end of the year.
“The owners approached me — it was not for sale, it was off the market — and they asked if I would consider developing if they wanted to sell it, and it is just (a) phenomenal location and a beautiful, beautiful property,” he said.
The plan consists of 7,500 square feet of retail, 22,000 square feet of office space and 604 units of market-rate housing split between condos, lofts and townhomes.
Avis said this project — which doesn't yet have a name — likely won’t break ground until the end of 2024 and will take three to five years to build out.
Other Michigan golf course projects
Kent County isn’t the only place golf courses are being tagged for redevelopment as housing.
In Oakland County, SE Metro Property Services submitted a proposal in June to convert Coyote Golf Club in Lyon Township into housing. However, according to Planning Department Coordinator Katherine Des Rochers, the developer recently withdrew the request, and township is in talks with another interested developer, though nothing has been formalized.
Also in Lyon Township, a conceptual plan to put 182 single-family homes on the 160-acre Cattails Golf Club site was presented to the township board in January, Hometown Life reported.
Fruitport Golf Club in Muskegon County closed in 2021, and developer Denny Cherette of the Cherette Group broke ground on a housing development there in January 2022. When completed, it will include 217 high-end apartments. Tenants began moving into the first completed buildings in January, according to the development’s Facebook page.
In Ottawa County, Shayne Malone of Malone Development in November received approval for an apartment complex at 367 Country Club Road, on the site of the Holland Country Club that closed in 2009. The most up-to-date version of the site plan, amended in February, includes 108 apartments.