With top flight golf resorts and over 800 public golf courses in Michigan, self-proclaimed as “America’s Summer Golf Capital”, deciding where to play in the state can be a daunting challenge. Having heard of the outstanding courses and the scenic beauty of Northern Michigan, I decided Northern Michigan would be where I would play in Michigan during my 2012 50-week, 50-state golf tour of the US. I was delighted with my decision.
Major golf magazines all rate golf in Northern Michigan high on their lists of best places to play, not only in the US, but in the world. Golfweek has ranked Northern Michigan as #12 among the best places to play golf in the world. After playing both traditional and links style courses designed by Arnold Palmer, Arthur Hills, Tom Weiskopf, Rick Smith, Tom Fazio and Robert Trent Jones, Sr., I can understand why.
Set in both flat and hilly terrains, in lush forests and scenic lakeside settings, their courses offer challenging but fair golfing opportunities for both scratch golfers and high handicappers.
The first course I played was Kingsley Club, a private course just 15 minutes from the popular vacation destination of Traverse City. It’s unusual in that it has the feeling of a links course yet it is located in and through a lovely forest setting. It is one of only three highly regarded courses in America that feature Fescue grass fairways similar to courses in Scotland and Ireland.
In 2006, Owner/Publisher Jack Purcell of Links Magazine described the Kingsley Club, which opened in 2001, as “the closest thing I’ve experienced in America to an inland Scottish or Irish course”. Having played courses in Scotland and Ireland, I fully agree.
Whether you play from the regular tees at 6300 yards or the tips at just over 6900 yards, the Par 71 course is extremely challenging because of its unique landforms, its firm fast fairways and greens, and the wind that often blows briskly. Because of these considerations, it is a course that allows for various options with every shot.
“Below the hole” is imperative when playing Kingsley Club as the bent grass greens are slick and fast with severe slopes and undulations. Ranked 23rd in Golfweek’s March 2012 list of Top 100 Courses, it can be played by non-members through arrangements made by your club pro.
The second course I played was Cedar River Golf Club, one of four courses at the Shanty Creek Resort in Bellaire. Shanty Creek, which is a four season resort with 72 holes of golf, 53 downhill ski slopes and 30 kilometers of cross country trails, is located on 4500 acres just 30 miles northeast of Traverse City. It boasts three distinct villages, award winning dining, live entertainment and a full service conference/banquet center.
The Tom Weiskopf designed course I played boasts rolling hills, peaceful waters, stunning views and five sets of tees that stretch the course from 5300 yards to just under 7000 yards. Named one of America’s Top 100 Resort Courses by Golf Week and one of Golf Magazine’s “Top Ten in the U. S. You Can Play, it was in immaculate condition. Playing through the forest on a course with no parallel fairways, dramatic elevation changes and well-designed holes around lakes was a real treat.
The third course I played was Bay Harbor Golf Club in Petoskey, one of 11 courses in Northern Michigan in the Boyne Group of Resorts and Courses. It is located just a few miles from the Inn at Bay Harbor, a Renaissance Golf Resort with 134 luxurious hotel rooms and suites.
An Arthur Hills design, it has three distinctly different championship length nines: Links which looks and plays like an Irish seaside course along a mile of rocky Lake Michigan coastline; Preserve, an inland nine with hardwoods, lush grasses, wildflowers and wetlands; and Quarry, played in, around and through an abandoned shale quarry with 40-foot gorges, steep cliffs, natural ponds, a gentle waterfall and scenic views of Lake Michigan. While playing the Links and Quarry nines I had trouble concentrating on my golf game because of the gorgeous views of Lake Michigan.
In its inaugural season in 1998, Bay Harbor was ranked 8th on Golf Digest’s list of “Best Courses You Can Play”. It continues to receive accolades because of outstanding course conditions, superb scenic vistas and challenging holes.
The fourth and fifth courses I played were located at the Treetops Resort and Spa located in Gaylord, approximately 60 miles from Traverse City. The year-round resort has 81 holes of spectacular championship golf on five distinct courses, including “Masterpiece” by Robert Trent Jones, Sr., “Premier” by Tom Fazio and three courses by resort owner and noted golf course architect Rick Smith.
For a number of years, Smith’s nine-hole Par 3 Threetops, consistently ranked the #1 Par 3 course in America, was the site of ESPN’s Par 3 Shootout. Fans of the show might remember that Lee Trevino won $1,000,000 in 2001 by making a hole-in-one on Threetops seventh hole. With holes ranging from 140 to 219 yards, its severely sloped elevated greens made Threetops a fun and exciting course.
The “Premier” course, Fazio’s only course in Michigan, had the familiar traits of a Fazio course…tee shots to sloping fairways and fairway shots to numerous large elevated, undulating and fast greens. Playing from 5039 yards to 6832 yards with no parallel fairways, it is not only quite scenic but also an excellent test of golf for players of all ability. My favorite hole was the Par 3 11th hole, the only hole on the course where water came into play.
My final day in Michigan, I drove an hour south of Treetops to play Forest Dunes Golf Club in Roscommon. Forest Dunes is a 7,104 yard par 72 gem designed by Tom Weiskopf that has drawn comparisons to two of America’s top courses, Pine Valley and Augusta National.
The course, which is surrounded by 400,000 acres of the Huron National Forest, has a very natural setting. Its name comes about easily as the front nine, “The Forest Nine”, is tree-lined and the back nine, “The Dunes Nine” is more links style with native wasteland, wild grasses and over 18 acres of natural dunes.
Two rather unique aspects of Forest Dunes are the 3,084 yard tees perfect for juniors and the “Bye Hole”, a 19th hole at the end of regulation which has a bunker in the middle of the green. Not to be confused with 19th holes where matches are relived and adult beverages are consumed, Forest Dunes’ 19th hole gives golfers an extra hole to decide even matches.
All the resorts and golf courses mentioned in this article offer room and golf packages, wonderful facilities including excellent restaurant opportunities and of course…spectacular golf. When considering a golf vacation, put Northern Michigan high on your list. The resorts, the courses and the scenic beauty of the area are outstanding.
For information on Northern Michigan golf, visit www.golfnorthernmichigan.com.
Story by Chuck “The Traveling Guy” Miller