“How One Of America’S Coolest Putting Greens Came To Life In The Most Unlikely Of Places”
If you build it, they will putt.
The village of Three Oaks, Mich. (pop. 1,622), is a sleepy destination in the southwest corner of the state, two miles from the Indiana border. Its terrain is largely flat and fringed with cornfields.
Rollicking linksland it is not.
But in the heart of Three Oaks, in the shadow of a renovated factory building, lies a rumpled plot of ground that could pass for a rugged patch of Scotland.
In fact, the home of golf was its inspiration.
It’s a 30,000-square-foot putting green, patterned on the Himalayas putting course at St. Andrews. It is believed to be the largest public-access putting green in the U.S. unaffiliated with a course. It is called Welter’s Folly, and though there’s nothing the slightest bit absurd about it, its namesake, Bill Welter, readily concedes that he’s a fool for golf.
Welter grew up in Indiana, where he learned the game at a young age before going on to play it at Missouri State. A four-year letterman, he could get it around nicely, but not so nicely that he harbored any Tour ambitions. What he dreamed of was golf and a guaranteed paycheck, in that order. And so, after graduation in 2000, he landed a U.K. work visa and lit out for St. Andrews.
It was there, while washing dishes at the Old Course Hotel by night and playing the Old Course itself by day, that Welter befriended an Aussie named Greg Ramsay, a fellow pilgrim with golf dreams of his own: Ramsay’s goal was to get involved in course development, something he wound up accomplishing a few years later when a coastal site he’d identified in his native Tasmania was transformed into Barnbougle Dunes.
“Greg was an inspiration to me from the beginning,” Welter says. “I like to think I followed in his footsteps, at least in my own small way.”
In 2001, Welter returned to Indiana, where he took a job at the small community bank that his family owned. When his family sold the bank, Welter went looking for something else to do.
What he did, in partnership with his father, was buy an abandoned factory in Three Oaks. The factory had a rich history; it was once used to make corsets and buggy whips.
Not anymore. Today, it produces whiskey and other spirits.
In 2011, Welter turned the old building into Journeyman Distillery.
One night, over drams of whiskey, Welter and Haltom got to talking. Over whiskey, a lot of things seem possible.
Whiskey was something Welter had fallen for in Scotland. But golf remained his first love, and the distillery had some extra acreage on it, and … you can probably see where this is headed.
As it happened, Welter had another golf-obsessed buddy, a friend from high school named Craig Haltom who’d gone on to a career as a course architect, shaper and construction manager. If you’ve been to Sand Valley, the Bandon Dunes of Wisconsin, you might recall that the hangout at the turn is called Craig’s Porch. As in, Craig Haltom, who discovered the land where Sand Valley sits.
One night, over drams of whiskey, Welter and Haltom got to talking. Over whiskey, a lot of things seem possible. Welter and Haltom asked themselves a question: Why not build a putting green at Journeyman, a community draw and distillery addition that would be made available to kids for free?
And so they did.
Welter’s Folly was completed in 2107. Its name is a cap-tip to the hotelier George Crump, whose dream project, Pine Valley, was referred to in its early goings as “Crump’s Folly.”
Like Pine Valley, Welter’s Folly turned out just fine.
Though it is smaller than the Himalayas, its contours mirror those of the famed St. Andrews venue. It is wild and buckled and tons of fun.
“It’s my own modest contribution to the remote golf trend,” Welter says.
Where Barnbougle Dunes and Sand Valley attract golf fiends from around the globe, the lure of Welter’s Folly is largely local, a magnet for Three Oaks residents of all ages. Shots for the adults. Putts for the kids and anyone who wants them.
For children 12 and under, Welter’s Folly remains free. For $9, grownups can use the green all day.
On most any given evening when the weather’s good, Welter’s Folly is the site of friendly putt-offs. This fall, it will stage a more serious contest: the Best Putter in the World Competition, a name that, unlike Welter’s Folly, might be slightly grandiose.
“If we were offering a million-dollar first prize, we’d probably get people from all over,” Welter says. “But I’m thinking we’re going to over quite a bit less.”