Founded in 1993
In recent years, golf has gone from a leisurely sport to a multi-billion dollar industry as many areas, including northern Michigan, have witnessesed an inundation of courses all trying to one-up their competition.
But, contrary to form, carved out from the woods that border the coast of Lake Michigan in Arcadia, Chestnut Hills Golf Course has a story as rich as the neighboring farmland.
A photo album that sits inside the clubhouse provides a pictorial account of not just the building of a golf course, but also the growth of a family.
While glancing at the landscape behind the clubhouse, Jackson Carter, son of owner Doug Carter said, “This is pretty much home.”
Jackson, a junior at Michigan State University, is spending his summer much as he has for the last 15 years – tending to his home. He and his three sisters (twins Lindsay and Erynn, 26, and Morgan, 23) grew up doing everything from cutting grass to gluing 20-foot sections of pipe together for irrigation.
“The golf course has been a main focal point in my life,” he said. “It was definitely one of the greatest childhoods anyone could ask for.”
Doug Carter is far from the typical golf course owner. He has been married to his wife, Cathy, for 28 years, holds a doctorate degree in plant physiology and international development, and was a member of the Peace Corps before working for 12 years for the Foreign Service in eastern and southern Africa.
But, you won’t find him sitting in a plush office ordering his staff around. More than likely, he will either be out on the course making improvements or greasing his hands up while trying to fix equipment.
“I am where I want to be,” Doug said.
Oddly enough, he originally planned to use the land to grow chestnuts but found them to be slow-growing and not well adapted to the area. So, with his education, a strong background in golf, and his previous experience in building a course in Oregon, he went with what felt natural.
“At that time, there weren’t many golf courses around here,” Doug said. “I just did the demographics and it looked great, and it was great.”
With the help of his father, Dale, along with the rest of the family, Chestnut Hills opened in July of 1993.
“Nine holes, that’s all we could afford,” Doug said. “It was okay, but it wasn’t the 18-hole courses.”
So, Doug went back to the drawing board, gathered the troops, and built a back nine on the other side of the road. It’s been open since 2004, but the course is still trying to break its old image.
“We have a motto at Chestnut Hills — where golf is still just a game.”
Sitting back in the quaint clubhouse in a brown leather chair from Africa, the surroundings seem to confirm what they already know.
“The atmosphere and friendliness keep it going,” said Rich Nye. “The ownership of Doug and his family are such good people.”
Nye, who has become a fixture at the course since he moved to the area, helps out with course maintenance and plays three or four times a week.
“Ever since I retired, I’ve been involved around here,” Nye said. “I’ll probably be here to the day I die.”
Nye is an example of one of the many people who have found Chestnut Hills to their liking.
“We’ve got a great clientele – retirees – and we get some upscale golfers, and we’re getting more, but, we don’t forget our base and we want to stick with them.”
Along with taking care of their long-time customers, Chestnut Hills is trying to bridge the gap to the next generation.
While it’s unclear what time holds in store for Chestnut Hills, its past is clearly rooted in the history of those who built and care for it – and that’s not likely to change anytime soon.
“It’s a life-long game,” Doug said. “You pick it up once, and it’s with you forever.”
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