The breeze off Lake Michigan is steady, and from the elevated 10th tee at Arcadia Bluffs, with massive sand dunes and menacing tall fescue waving, you could close your eyes and think this is Scotland or Ireland.
There’s a sliver of green fairway snaking down toward the lake. That’s your target. The adventurous strike a draw taking on an aiming pole that goes over a tall dune to safe green grass.
Welcome to Northern Michigan where there are more quality, world-class golf courses than you shake a nine iron at. It’s a road trip adventure that’s no big deal for a Texan on a seven-day exploration.
While Arcadia Bluffs is the top-ranked public course in Michigan it is not a perfect bump-and-run grounder above places like Bay Harbor Golf Club and the must-stay Inn at Bay Harbor, which is an admirable clone of San Diego’s Hotel Del Coronado.
It’s not that greater than the incredible 10 courses in the Boyne portfolio or most talked about new Michigan layout – the USA’s first reversible 18-hole course designed by Tom Doak at Forest Dunes named The Loop. You might like Tom Weiskopf’s Forest Dunes Golf Club even better.
And I still haven’t mentioned the Upper Peninsula – an adventure over the world-famous Mackinac Bridge to Sweetgrass Golf Club at Island Resort and Casino and Marquette Golf Club’s amazing scenery of Greywalls.
Northern Michigan has become a golf destination few avid golfers would ever take off their must-play list.
Here’s a capsule look:
Arcadia Bluffs Golf Club, Arcadia, Mich.
Since I haven’t played Lahinch or Ballybunion my first impression was that Arcadia Bluffs reminded me of Trump Scotland, but with a better view of water — Lake Michigan.
The 7,300-yard Warren Henderson-Rick Smith design (1999) has 3,000 feet of lake frontage, 265 acres, non-ending views, 40 sod-walled bunkers, wide fairways and greens so rolling you will have some three putts.
Lodging started with a second floor to the clubhouse, named The Lodge, where I spent the night. Since then Arcadia has added The Cottages and The Bluffs Lodge. The Dining Room, The Lakeview Room and The Sunroom serve excellent food and unparalled views of the lake.
The new South Course will have a soft opening next fall and is an ode to Chicago Golf Club with square greens and linear bunkers with deep bottoms. Dana Fry is the lead architect.
Inn at Bay Harbor, Bay Harbor, Mich.
Boyne’s flagship is Bay Harbor Golf Club with three diverse nines – Links, Quarry and Preserve. These nines, designed by Arthur Hills, are scenic, fun, challenging and sport photo ops throughout.
“There’s a very short list of resort’s that have 10 courses with such variety and long summer days with temperatures from 72 to 82 and low humidity,” said Ken Griffin, general manager.
At the Inn at Bay Harbor you frequently hear “Pebble Beach of the Midwest” and “best sunset on Lake Michigan”.
Other Boyne golf options include Crooked Tree Golf Club, and Boyne Highlands’ The Alpine and The Monument. Also think about these top courses when you are in the area: Belvedere Golf Club and Dunmaglas Golf Course.
Boyne Highlands, Harbor Springs, Mich.
Just a short drive away is Boyne Highlands, also a ski resort, with a variety of 1,500 room and condos, you will arrive at the 50-year-old classic Heather Course designed by Robert Trent Jones Sr., but that’s not all. A few minutes away tee it up at the Donald Ross Memorial Course and a Arthur Hills’ classic The Moor.
There was such a buzz when I got out of my car I thought there must be a massive tournament day, but one of the greeters said, “Nope this is just a normal day”.
My road trip over Mackinac Bridge to more impressive golf on Michigan’s Upper Peninsula
Sweetgrass Golf Club and Island Resort & Casino, Harris, Mich.
Tony Mancilla looks over Sweetgrass Golf Club like a proud general manager. “We have the budget of a private club, but we are smart when we spend money,” he said.
Smart also is building Sage Run Golf Club, a few miles away from Sweetgrass, which is flat and linksy. Sage Run will climb forested hills and have lots of elevation fun.
“When we first built the Sweetgrass course, we wanted to have golf as an amenity for our resort guests,” said Mancilla. “But over the years we have had more and more golfers coming to the resort and have evolved into a top golf destination. Adding a second golf course was a natural move for us and something that our golfing guests were demanding.
“Paul Albanese is an architect who lets the land dictate what the course will be, and at Sage Run the land is 180 degrees in contrast to the land where Sweetgrass was created,” Mancilla said.
When Sage Run opens in June 2018 it will be the fourth new Michigan golf course to open in the last four years – Forest Dunes’ The Loop and Stoatin Brae Golf Club in Augusta are on the list and Arcadia Bluffs’ South Course is the other.
Marquette Golf Club’s Greywalls, Marquette, Mich.
Greywalls was a favorite because of the rugged gray granite walls and an opening perched first tee box with a view of Lake Superior. This Mike DeVries design is by far from an easy journey, but it was loads of fun. Greens are tricky and there are some blind drives but I’d love to play it frequently.
Marquette Golf Club is also home to the Heritage Course, designed by William Langford and David Gill. This parkland course opened in 1926, and both courses are an easy drive from Island Resort & Casino.
Final road trip stop is Forest Dunes, Roscommon, Mich.
Owner Lew Thompson wasn’t wowed by the first couple of plans Tom Doak rolled out in front of him for a second golf course at Forest Dunes. But when Doak placed one plan over the other and suggested the first reversible 18-hole golf course in the USA Thompson was sold. Two golf courses for the price of one.
The Loop was born. It plays hard and fast on fescue and you better learn to bump it along the ground early in your round or you will be walking to the back of the greens all day.
The Black is played clockwise one day, and The Red is played counterclockwise the next day. With the truly unique yardage book it’s not hard to figure out where you are going and its a fun mandatory walk (push carts and caddies available).
Forest Dunes Golf Club designed by Tom Weiskopf was my favorite though. It is green, lush and forested with the Huron National Forest bordering. Water features, bunkers and trees must be avoided, but it is a blast. The 19th hole, an extra par 3, looks toward the excellent clubhouse and stay-and-play options are available and comfortable along with fine dining options.
An hour’s drive back to Traverse City’s Cherry Capital Airport and you are on your way home – dreaming all the way of your next adventure in Michigan, which is a total winner for a golf vacation.
Don’t dare leave it off your bucket list.