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Otsego Club's Tribute Course a dramatic addition to northern Michigan golf

Brandon TuckerBy Brandon Tucker,
Managing Editor
Otsego Club - Tribute golf course - hole 3
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No. 3 on the Tribute Course at Otsego Club: one of the most fun drives in northern Michigan! (Brandon Tucker/TravelGolf)

One of Northern Michigan's oldest golf resorts has gotten a new lease on life with the addition of the Tribute Course, a dramatic, roller-coaster 18 holes of golf that returns the Otsego Club to Michigan golf's first rank.

GAYLORD, Mich. -- One of northern Michigan's first resorts, the complex now known as the Otsego Club, has long been a favorite getaway for harried urbanites from Detroit and Chicago.

Opened in 1939 as Hidden Valley Resort a mile from downtown Gaylord, the club perches atop a slope, offering skiing, 20-mile views down the Sturgeon Valley and one of Michigan's most acclaimed restaurants, Pontresina.

There's also been golf here since 1955, but Otsego's Classic Course is indeed the product of a different era, a time before courses were built up mountainsides to provide the most dramatic shots and scenery.

The Classic plays through 14 holes of gently rolling terrain to a good but not spectacular final four. In the 21st century, it isn't the kind of golf course people drive several hours to play.

Enter the Tribute. Built in 2002 by architect Rick Robbins and PGA Tour pro Gary Koch, the new track has returned Otsego to the first rank of northern Michigan golf resorts.

Otsego's Tribute Course is big, bold and built on property completely unlike that of the Classic, which plays just off Gaylord's main drag. (It's about a 10-minute cart ride just to get from the clubhouse to Tribute's first tee.) Few of the 18 holes laid out on 1,100 acres of mountainous, densely wooded terrain are parallel, and a handful of them are jaw-dropping.

The first two holes, both par 4s, are solid but not much more. It's No. 3 that first smacks you in the eyes, with one of Michigan's steepest downhill tee shots.

The third plays 400 yards, but it's so steep you wonder if it's safe driving with the group ahead on the green. Hundreds of divots within a few yards of one another testify to how many shots get corralled in the small collection area about 60 yards in front of the green, but if you make it past this your ball could roll all the way to the fringe.

On the par-5 fourth the green nestles well below the fairway, making for another stark downhill shot, this time on the approach.

There are plenty of good holes that don't rely on steep elevation to get your attention. Nos. 5-8 play along the Sturgeon River bed. The ninth is a demanding 240-yard par-3, and the 11th is the Tribute's finest par-5, requiring a long carry off the tee then playing through a wooded chute to a perched green.

But few holes play entirely flat, and several traverse from elevated tees to elevated greens. The 18th tees off over a ravine to fairway below then rises back up the hill to the high ground where the course begins.

Otsego Tribute Course: The verdict

The Tribute is a roller-coaster of a course, as striking as any of the modern resort runs around Gaylord, and it's brought the Otsego Club back into northern Michigan's stay-and-play picture. The downhill third is not only the club's signature but one of the finest holes in the region.

Given that the course had four summers under its belt at the time of this review, the greens were surprisingly firm and immature. Hopefully, with another winter come and gone that will change by this summer. And, like most Gaylord-area courses, it's still a great value.

With nearly a mile from clubhouse to No. 1 and long, steep paths between many holes, carts are a must.

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Otsego Club - Tribute golf course

Brandon Tucker is the Managing Editor for Golf Advisor. To date, his golf travels have taken him to over two dozen countries and over 500 golf courses worldwide. While he's played some of the most prestigious courses in the world, Tucker's favorite way to play the game is on a great muni in under three hours. Follow Brandon on Twitter at @BrandonTucker and on Instagram at BrandonTuckerGC.

Any opinions expressed above are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of the management.

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