Meet Al Ruppert, restaurant proprietor, golf course builder and celebrated South Havenite


In the early 1990s, Ruppert, an avid golfer, unsuccessfully tried to buy a local golf course. “They didn’t want to sell, so I went to the county offices to look into land to buy so I could build my own course,” he said.

He found 480 acres for sale three miles north of South Haven, on the north branch of the Black River, and bought them for $3 million. “The original plan was to build one 18-hole course on one side of the river and another 18-hole-course on the other, but by the time I was going to build the second course, hard times had hit the golf industry, and there were going to be problems building a bridge over the river, so I decided one course was enough.”

Once, the land was heavily forested, but the trees had been cut down, milled and shipped to Chicago after the great fire of 1871. After the hard wood was cleared, apple and peach trees had been planted and later there was an asparagus farm there, too.

After Ruppert bought the land, he called Arthur Hills, one of the most famous golf course designers in the world, to see if he could interest him in the property. Hills told him he was going to be on his way to look at some land in Boyne City, where he would eventually build the course at the Boyne Highlands Resort, and would be able to visit Ruppert on the way.

Hills has designed more than 200 new golf courses, including such famous courses as Bonita Bay in Naples, Fla.; The Golf Club of Georgia in Alpharetta, Ga.; the Bighorn Golf Club in Palm Desert, Calif.; The Champions course at Keene Trace Golf Club in Lexington, Ky., Wolfdancer Golf Club in Lost Pines, Texas; and Palmetto Dunes in Hilton Head, S.C.

Other Michigan courses Hills has built include Red Hawk Golf Club in East Tawas; the 27-hole Bay Harbor Golf Club in Bay Harbor; Stonebridge Golf Club in Ann Arbor; Fox Hills in Plymouth; and the Pine Trace Golf Club in Rochester Hills.

Ruppert said they took a tour of the land and at the end, “Hills asked me, ‘Who else are you going to call?’ I told him I didn’t know. He said, ‘Don’t call anyone else. I’ll do it.'”

It turned out the land had once been the bed of an ancient lake, which lent itself to naturally sculpted sand dunes on the course. In 1996, Golf Digest named HawksHead as the best new golf course in the U.S.

The Inn at HawksHead offers fine dining, and reservations can be made at one of nine guest rooms in a restored English Tudor-style mansion that had been on the property.


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