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Simply Golden: Swan Lake Golf Resort and the U.S. Golf Academy

By Kiel Christianson, Equipment Editor and Senior Writer

PLYMOUTH, Ind. -- A 30-year career in golf can do funny things to a person. When he began as a PGA professional golf instructor, Mike Hulse probably never dreamed he would end up on a poultry farm.

But sometimes, putting all of your eggs in one basket really does pay off...BIG.

Mike Hulse is Director of Golf Operations at Swan Lake Resort and United States Golf Academy. The resort - which occupies the sprawling acreage that once housed the successful Swanson family poultry operation - stands as a bit of a monument to the value of vision and entrepreneurship. And the United States Golf Academy has earned high praise as one of the most complete, affordable instructional centers in the Midwest.

Despite its rather out of the way location (south of South Bend, only 20 minutes from Amish country), Swan Lake Resort is just two hours from population centers like Chicago and Indianapolis, and about three from Detroit and Toledo. As such, golfers from these golf-happy and crowded cities flock to Swan Lake's 36-holes of bargain golf, intensive personalized instruction, and luxury resort accommodations.

Facilities and Accommodations

Swan Lake's new owners, Richard Klingler and Phil Lewallen, fully appreciate Swan Lake's potential. Since purchasing the resort from the Swanson family (who converted their poultry farm into a golf resort in the 1960s), they have pumped millions of dollars into the facilities. Golfers in 2002 will find a brand new, massive 7,000-sq. ft. clubhouse. The wrap-around deck in the back sports Adirondack chairs and the fully-stocked pro shop offers top-of-the-line merchandise for every taste. In short, this clubhouse is the equal of any of the world-famous Northern Michigan golf resorts.

The Swan Lake Inn and Conference Center can also stand up to facilities at any of the more well-known golf destinations. The Inn features spacious rooms, hot tubs, outdoor pool overlooking the West Course, sauna, weight room, restaurant, and massage therapy. And construction has begun on lighted tennis courts and an indoor pool complex.

The 33,000- sq. ft. Conference Center is also new in 2002. Immaculately appointed, this new facility can host and feed over 1,000 people at a time. From weddings to conferences, the plush surroundings include high-tech AV equipment and internet connectivity, along with a new lounge and restaurant. Decks and gazebos accent the outside of the Conference Center, all with views of the two 18-hole courses.

United States Golf Academy

According to Mike Hulse, Director of Golf Operations, the conference facilities dovetail naturally with the Golf Academy. Companies host clients and in-house retreats at the Academy, taking advantage of the top-flight, personalized instruction offered by Hulse and his 12 full-time instructors.

The Academy, which can accommodate 96 students at a time (4-to-1 student-teacher ratio), is housed in what once was a lowly pole barn. It is still really a pole barn, but it has been revamped inside and out to appeal to even the most discriminating golf student: video swing analysis, indoor and outdoor hitting bays, short game and putting areas, and 4-person conference rooms to watch and analyze video tape.

"The overall philosophy of our instruction," explains Hulse, "is ‘standards and preferences.' If there's anything I've learned in 30 years of teaching, it's that you don't want to stick people into one swing mold. We begin with a ‘standard' swing, but move on pretty quickly to players' individual preferences."

The Academy's recent acquisition of two JC Video swing analysis systems has greatly improved analysis and feedback. Students get to take home with them videos of their swings, complete with frame-by-frame narration by their instructor. "We work hard to make people understand how good players make their games work," says Hulse.

Students are treated well outside of the Academy walls, as well. The Resort offers all students (along with stay-and-play guests) separate dining facilities, private receptions, and personal attention. Hulse stopped to greet Academy students by name every few minutes as we toured the facilities.

Golf Courses: East Course

Oddly enough, if there is any weak aspect of the Swan Lake Resort, it is the actual golf courses themselves. Originally begun in 1966 as a par-3 course, the layout has gone through some changes. In 1985, an extensive renovation took place, which resulted in the present-day 6,950-yard East Course and the 6,942-yard West Course, along with a five-hole executive course.

Despite a general lack of "Wow!" holes, both East and West offer some classic tests to one's game, especially if you play from the tips on the East, which measure over 600 yards longer than the whites (6,950 yards vs. 6,343 yards). Most importantly, however, both courses offer Academy students the perfect opportunity to practice the aspects of their games that they came to the resort to work on.

The East Course sets up extremely difficult from the blue tees, more so than the 72.8 rating suggests. According to Benjamin Berger, Head Golf Pro, accuracy off the tee is key here. "You can get away with some poor iron shots on the East," Berger advises, "as long as they are not too far wide. And putting is not crucial on the East either. It's more challenging on the West Course."

By today's standards, course architect Al Humphrey's layout is a bit cramped, and the greens are rather small and uninspiring. In fact, you won't find any sand until the 15th hole. However, according to Mike Hulse, the five-year plan for the property includes a redesign of the green complexes, along with a set of tees between the blues and the whites.

Nevertheless, some tight fairways and the water in play on fourteen holes make the East a formidable track. The tee shot on the par-5, 514-yard 4th, for example, is downright sadistic: From the tips, players need to thread a perfect tee ball between the trunks and under the overhanging limbs of two large trees. The eye of this arboreal needle is no more than 20 yards wide by 20 feet high.

The 372-yard 16th is the standout hole on the East; it looks as if it has been lifted straight off a classic parkland course in Ireland. This dogleg left wraps around a deep creek bed, and players need to take their tee ball on a fairly aggressive line (usually with a fairway wood) over the creek and the mounding that lies on the far side of the gully. The right side of the fairway is steeply mounded, and this hillside curves in front of the green, forcing a completely uphill second to the elevated, well-bunkered green, which is hidden from view.

It is here where one comes to fully appreciate the optional GPS system that players can get in their carts for $5 extra. Without it, you have no clue as to how far the green is from the center of the fairway.

West Course

The West Course is as long as the East - longer from the whites at 6,507 yards - but as Benjamin Berger says, "You can get away with wayward tee shots on the West." And there is less water, thankfully.

The greens on the West roll at the same leisurely 7-8.5 on the Stimpmeter as the East, but they are larger and have a good bit more undulation. Some holes, notably Nos. 2 and 15, threaten you with water in front of the greens. Others give players a good chance to practice their bump-and-run games.

Nos. 17 (396 yards, par 4) and 18 (524 yards, par 5) are perhaps two of the best, at least in terms of enjoyment. The 17th is a gentle dogleg right whose fairway and green run along the outside pool and deck of the resort. A nice view for the sunbathers and for the golfers.

No. 18 is a solid closer: It's longish but reachable, with water dotting both sides of the fairway at different yardages. The new Conference Center is to the left of the fairway, and conference attendees can watch and chuckle as us wannabes try to hold the triangular, hump-backed green with our approaches. If the pin is cut in the front, which is the most drastically sloped, there will indeed be chuckling aplenty.

The Experience

Swan Lake Golf Resort and United States Golf Academy are ideal for corporate retreats, client perks, or simply family getaways. It is a bit out of the way, sure, but when you're working on your game, who needs distractions? Mike Hulse and his colleagues will go out of their way to accommodate groups of nearly any size, and the rates cannot be beaten for what you get in the Academy and Stay and Play packages.

This really is the goose, er, swan, that laid the golden egg - and a basket full of golden eggs, is, well, golden.

Kiel ChristiansonKiel Christianson, Equipment Editor and Senior Writer

Kiel Christianson has lived, worked, traveled and golfed extensively on three continents. As senior writer and equipment editor for WorldGolf.com, he has reviewed courses, resorts, and golf academies from California to Ireland, including his home course, Lake of the Woods G.C. in Mahomet, Illinois. Read his golf blog here.


 
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Dates: May 18, 2018 - September 20, 2018
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