PETOSKEY, MICHIGAN | Michigan may be staggering through its worst economic downturn ever, but first-class golf courses and dozens of top-shelf resorts continue to make the Wolverine state one of the nation’s foremost golf destinations.
In the boom years during the mid-1980s through the early 1990s, the state was America’s hotbed of golf course construction. More courses were built here than in any other state.
The legacy of those flush times is more than 800 public courses. Soft, sandy soil, hundreds of miles of Great Lakes shoreline, hundreds more inland lakes, deep, green-forested hills and rolling terrain provide a wonderful canvas for golf course architects, especially in the resort areas in northern Michigan.
Some of golf’s biggest names in course design – Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, Robert Trent Jones, Tom Doak, Tom Fazio, Tom Weiskopf, Arthur Hills and Jim Engh, among others – created a wonderful collection of top-flight public courses across the state.
Now in the reality of the Great Recession, resorts with national award-winning designer courses are offering overnight stay-and-play golf packages this season for as little as $78 a day. The variety of courses and resorts offered across the state has something for every one.
If you like your golf with spectacular views over water, Boyne Resort’s Bay Harbor Golf Club near Petoskey, or Arcadia Bluffs on Lake Michigan near Manistee, will match up well with any seaside course anywhere.
The 27-hole Bay Harbor club, designed by Hills, has three diverse nines along five miles of shoreline. Holes on the Links nine play along bluffs 150 feet above the million-dollar yachts and sailboats on Little Traverse Bay. The Quarry runs through areas with sheer rock walls and rocky gorges that reflect the site’s early history as a rock and sand quarry for an old cement operation. The Preserve is a more traditional northern Michigan course.
Teaching guru Rick Smith’s design of Arcadia Bluffs has panoramic views of the big lake from every hole. With the wind in your face coming off the water, the course is a handful, playing like a hardy British seaside links track.
Another course that takes advantage of lake views is Dunmaglas Golf Club on the outskirts of the resort town of Charlevoix. The recently renovated, 6,897-yard course meanders over nearly 1,000 acres of severely hilly terrain with memorable views of Lake Michigan and Lake Charlevoix in the distance.
Playing golf in northern Michigan also means you don’t have to travel to Bandon, Ore., or New Zealand or Scotland to sample a Doak design. Doak designed the Black Forest course at the 36-hole Wilderness Valley Golf Club near Gaylord.
Gaylord is also home to Smith’s Treetops Resort. Smith’s signature course and Fazio’s Premier are the best of the four Treetops courses. Both have eye-popping, 40-mile views.
One of Michigan’s most popular and iconic golf destinations, the 3,000-acre Garland Resort and its four courses, was family run for more than half a century until it was sold last summer to Illinois energy magnate Gerald Forsythe.
He is now spending millions on renovating the renamed Garland Lodge & Resort and restoring the 3,000-acre facility in Lewiston to the prominence it once enjoyed as the only Midwest resort with a four-diamond rating from AAA. Despite the money being spent, weekday golf overnight packages this summer begin at $78.
Less than an hour’s drive south of Garland, the Forest Dunes Golf Club near Grayling features a Weiskopf design that is one the most striking and acclaimed courses in Michigan. Some of the highlight holes are routed over and through sand dunes, vast tracts of waste sand and rolling land, all inside a national forest.
Michigan’s first Weiskopf course, Cedar River, is set in the middle village of the three villages that make up the Shanty Creek Resort in Bellaire. Shanty Creek is also a beneficiary of new ownership. Apex Oil, a St. Louis, Mo., company and its resort subsidiary, Trinidad Resort and Club, bought the property four years ago and recently spent $10 milion renovating the original hilltop Shanty Creek hotel and refurbishing the four golf courses.
The updated amenities now match the resort’s first-rate golf. Palmer’s 1986 design, The Legend, helped trigger the state’s early golf boom and remains one of northern Michigan’s most enduring golf attractions.
On the northern fringe of Harbor Springs, the True North Golf Club, designed by Engh, might be one of the best-conditioned courses in the country. Engh’s distinctive scalloped bunkers framing sparkling white sand are highlights for perfectly manicured fairways and greens that never seem to show
Engh’s first Michigan design, Tullymore Golf Club at the Resorts of Tullymore & St. Ives in Stanwood, is one of the state’s top-rated golf courses. The course was selected by Golf Digest as the best new upscale public course in the country when it opened in 2002. The sister St. Ives course was also a national award winner when it debuted in 1995. New owners have invested more than $50 million in the past three years in new amenities and upgrades of the twin-course resort.
A $7 million clubhouse and fine-dining restaurant are the centerpieces of this residential community north of Grand Rapids.
This summer, True North and the Hidden River Golf & Casting Club in Brutus are being offered in a unique package. At Hidden River, you can play one of the state’s most handsome courses, and then you can dip a fishing line into the Maple River.
A Charlevoix track that should be on everyone’s must play list is Belvedere Golf Club. This historic course was designed in 1925 by Scotsman William Watson and remains private, although it began accepting public play in the late 1990s. As a youth, Tom Watson spent his summers in the area and honed his game on the course. He said the 346-yard 16th is still one of the best short par-4 holes he has ever played.
Two of the more remarkable courses that have garnered national attention are the Kingsley Club in the village of Kingsley, south of Traverse City, and the Greywalls course at Marquette Golf Club in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Both were designed by Mike DeVries, a Doak protégée and former groundkeeper at Alister MacKenzie’s legendary Crystal Downs Golf Club on Lake Michigan. DeVries put the minimalist philosophy of MacKenzie and Doak on steroids in these two designs.
The Kingsley club is a wild, shaggy-bunkered, old-style links layout that plays up and down and around open rolling land. One look at this course and you expect players to use niblicks – and they do, in an annual tournament where plus-fours and similar attire are the order of the day.
The state of Michigan’s motto, “If you are seeking a pleasant peninsula, look around you,” can easily be applied to golf in northern Michigan. Everywhere you look, there is a challenge waiting around the next corner.
Boyne Twosome: Value And Quality
For those who want to sample northern Michigan golf in one upscale but affordable
all-inclusive package, Boyne Resorts Gr8Escape Golf Vacation might be just the ticket.
The Gr8 or “great eight” refers to the eight courses offered in either three- or five-day packages based in the Boyne Highlands Resort in Harbor Springs. Rates start at $855 for the five-day stay, and include unlimited golf with cart on eight courses; five nights lodging with breakfast and three-course dinners daily; a scramble tournament with prizes; and, two cocktail parties.
Boyne also throws in a $75 food and beverage coupon, and a $25 voucher for those who want to try their luck at the nearby Odawa Indian casino. During July and August, the Young Americans dinner theater can also be part of the package.
Bob and Gail Egan, of Los Angeles, have taken in Boyne’s golf vacation eight of the past 10 years. This year they are coming out for three different weeks of the Gr8.
“I’ve been playing golf since 1957, when I was 8. I’ve played all over the country, in Canada and Europe, and this package is the best value in golf,” Egan said on the phone from California. “You can’t get bored playing any of these courses, and you can’t beat the food and the weather.”
The Egans were so impressed they bought a vacation home at the Highlands off the resort’s real estate internet listing and saw the property for the first time when they came to take possession of it.
Boyne is Michigan’s golf leader with 81 holes spread around separate resorts 30 miles apart, at Boyne Falls and Harbor Springs, and the Crooked Tree and Bay Harbor Golf Clubs near Petoskey.
The Heather course, designed by Robert Trent Jones in the mid 1960s, is the most decorated of the Boyne courses. The Donald Ross Memorial is the most unique. It is a collection of 17 holes designed by the old master and one from his boyhood course, at Royal Dornoch in Scotland.
Three days of instruction at the Boyne Golf Academy or a round of golf at Bay Harbor are included options.
“We offer the latest in high-tech video instruction as well as going on the course with them, if they like,” said Brian O’Neill, director of the academy. “One of the big draws that keeps people coming back is the variety of courses they have at their fingertips.”
Crystal Clear In Its Mission
One of the big draws in Northern Michigan golf is Crystal Mountain Resort & Spa and its nationally rated golf school that attracts students ranging from beginners to PGA professionals.
Brad Dean, the resort’s director of golf, heads a teaching staff that has been recognized by Golf Magazine as one of the top 25 golf schools in America. Dean, a PGA professional and accomplished player, founded the school in 1994, and it has grown to offer more than 100 golf schools and clinics every year. In recent years, three graduates of Crystal’s junior elite program, including former Michigan State star Ryan Brehm, won the Michigan Amateur Championship before turning professional.
The academy offers the “ZenoLink” biomechanics training system, a regimen once available only to elite athletes. Using 3-D video technology, Dean and his instructors analyze a golfer’s biomechanics and movement and can tailor a training program customized for that player. Sessions range from half-days to 18 hours of instruction over three days and 54 holes of golf. Breakfast, dinner and lodging are included.
Brehm, who plays on the Hooters Tour, credits the ZenoLink training at Crystal Mountain for his 350-plus yard tee shots. LPGA players Morgan Pressel and Candie Kung have also incorporated ZenoLink into their training.
The resort is in Thompsonville, 20 miles south of Traverse City. It is a 40-minute drive from the 70,000-acre Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore park and its towering 460-foot sand dunes on Lake Michigan. With its proximity to the dunes, a 30-acre art park and a water park, the resort is a big hit with families as well.
Through a program of controlled growth, Crystal Mountain has earned a reputation as one of the best-run and most-attractive family-owned facilities in the Midwest. The resort offers hotel, suites and condominium lodging. Guests can dine in the Celtic-inspired Thistle Pub & Grille. Crystal Mountain has been saluted as a leader among resorts in green energy and progressive environmental practices.
The two courses are Mountain Ridge, a challenging and scenic course that plays up and around ski hills. The older Betsie Valley track flows through meadows in a valley. A recent $1 million facelift has elevated this track to fully complement the Mountain Ridge layout.