All season, TravelGolf.com is highlighting a key college football matchup and looking at the golf around the home team's campus. This Saturday Michigan State hosts Notre Dame. Here are some of the top golf courses in East Lansing, including Forest Akers, Timber Ridge and Eagle Eye.
EAST LANSING, Mich. - If Michigan State takes a first-quarter lead over Notre Dame Saturday, will there be a riot on campus?
In this town, there's probably about a 50-percent chance.
After all, Michigan State's not as well known for being a groundbreaking agricultural school, its renowned modern day turfgrass program or even its basketball coach, Tom Izzo, as much as it's recognized as Riot U these days. There was a riot after the Spartans lost to Duke in the 1999 Final Four. There was the riot after Michigan State lost to Texas in a 2003 regional final NCAA Tournament game. There was the riot after a loss to North Carolina in the 2005 Final Four. There was the CNN special riot last April in which participants (and reports peg the crowd at close to 4,000) set dumpsters on fire and chanted, "We want tear gas! We want tear gas!" (The local police happily complied).
"There have been a few incidents," Michigan State fan Alex Jekel said. "But that riot stuff is really overblown."
So is Notre Dame's reputation of being a big winner in football. To such a degree that Forbes magazine just rated Notre Dame the most valuable college football team for 2008 despite the fact that the Irish are coming off a 3-9 season in which they couldn't even beat Navy. But you don't hear any of Notre Dame's fanatical subway alumni (translation: someone with no ties whatsoever to the university who roots for the Touchdown Jesus gang because he's not creative enough to think of something better to do) complaining about this perception mistake - especially not after this past Saturday's win over Michigan.
Instead, the Irish lackeys embrace the idea that "their" school still matters the most in college football - even if ex-Notre Dame coach Lou Holtz couldn't even make up a reason to be scared of these Irish in his cupcake-opponent-talking-up prime.
It probably doesn't help that current Irish coach Charlie Weis' biggest response to the disastrous 2007 season appears to have been eating a member of the pep band. Good news, though: Notre Dame locked up this offensive genius with a 10-year contract after one year in which the Irish looked good in scaring USC (they still lost, but it was darn entertaining).
Of course, 2-1 Michigan State's biggest claim to recent football fame (besides those YouTube clips of ex-coach John L. Smith hitting himself) is being the one program that Nick Saban bolted out on early without anyone noticing.
There's a good chance you'll need something to distract you from this college football matchup. Luckily, there is some unexpectedly good golf in the greater East Lansing region. Though you need to be warned that this doesn't guarantee that you won't run into Notre Dame honk Regis Philbin in a Leprechaun costume.
Michigan State is blessed with two of the best college golf courses in the country (you need something to make up for all those 6-5 football seasons in the George Perles coaching era). Right on Michigan State's campus (which is larger and more spread out than many military bases), Forest Akers West has benefited from renowned golf course architect Arthur Hills being an MSU alumni. Hills redesigned West in a 1992 job that included 18 new greens.
Forest Akers East isn't quite as good as its sister course, but it's still an open, fun course without any houses spoiling the cow views (yes, you actually see cows in the distance on a few holes - and hulking silos). Better yet, it's unbelievably green for greens fees that are almost ridiculously low. They max out at $24 on weekends for Forest Akers East, $19 if the college kids in the pro shop think you are a grad student.
Prices like these make the Akers courses quickly jam up on football weekends, though, so you'll want a second option. Something that Notre Dame quarterback Jimmy Clausen still has trouble grasping the concept of.
Timber Ridge Golf Course can be more than your safety valve, though. This course takes you higher in central Michigan golf - literally. No, the gang from "Pineapple Express" isn't hanging out on the first tee. This is East Lansing, not Berkley, Calif.
Instead, it's an 80-foot drop from the first tee to the fairway, and that's just the start of a round that will make you wonder several times if you're really still only 10 minutes from Michigan State's bustling campus.
Eagle Eye Golf Club is also within 10 minutes of Spartan Stadium, but it goes completely the other way from Timber Ridge, bringing a largely flat and wide-open look that gives you little chance to lose balls in the trees - or to get around the devious, somewhat-too-expensive golf course unscathed.
East Lansing is a college town in every sense, and its bars tend to reflect that drink-to-drink sensibility. Fancy doesn't live here. The Riv (www.theriv.net) is one of the grungy classics, the type of place where the beer is cheap and the tacos are cheaper. Rick's (www.ricksamericancafe.com) and The Landshark (101 E. Grand River; tel. 517-351-8973) are so close to each other that you could stumble out of one and into the other.
You also might not be able to tell the difference between the dueling meat market scenes - expect plenty of drunk college guys and girls who think they're Will Ferrell hilarious. If you're looking for something a little more sophisticated - and if you're in your Notre Dame cardigan sweater still talking about "Rudy," you probably should be - Harper's (131 Albert Ave.; tel. 517-333-4040) is a good alternative. This is East Lansing's only brewpub, and it blows away the much more crowded chain Buffalo Wild Wings (BW3s to anyone who's been there even once) in beer quality.
One of the great pluses of downtown East Lansing is that everything is so close together that you really don't need a plan. Just walk from joint to joint. At least until somebody starts chanting for tear gas.
Or brings up how hard it is for Notre Dame to win with its grueling academic standards.
September 15, 2008