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Tullymore Golf Club in Stanwood, Michigan: The best golf course in America you've never heard of

Brandon TuckerBy Brandon Tucker,
Managing Editor
Tullymore Golf Club
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Tullymore Golf Club has quickly gained recognition as one of America's best public courses. (Brandon Tucker/TravelGolf)

STANWOOD, Mich. -- Look at Golf Digest's Top 20 public golf courses and you'll see all the household names: Pebble Beach, Whistling Straits, the Ocean Course at Kiawah Island, to name a few. But just past them, at 14th, just ahead of Harbor Town in Hilton Head, lies one gem you probably haven't seen much press on: Tullymore Golf Club, in the central portion of Michigan.

Beyond the accolades, which have been received from just about every national publication, Tullymore is a golf course even some Michiganders might not even know is in their back yard. Its location is further north of central Michigan's major hubs like Grand Rapids and Mt. Pleasant -- but well south of Gaylord and Traverse City.

You're not going to stumble onto Tullymore Golf Club by accident, but those who do keep coming back.

The course is red-hot architect Jim Engh's first design in Michigan (he's since built the private True North in Harbor Springs as well). Engh is most known for his Rocky Mountain designs featuring dramatic elevation and panoramic views (including The Club at Black Rock and Fossil Trace Golf Club).

But Tullymore Golf Club is considered by many as his best design to date, and it doesn't rely on either elevation or view. It's mostly flat, set on 800 acres of densely wooded wetlands.

But the way the land has been manipulated is a work of art and has been described as an "Art Deco" style of golf design, featuring symmetrical mounding and greens and fairways that zigzag through the heavy trees and swamp. What strikes your eye first is the unusual bunkering here: long, snaking bunkers that look like they've been on Weight Watchers a bit too long. They're almost disturbingly skinny.

Tullymore Golf Club's routing is also unique in that it features three each of par-5s and par-3s. The par-3s are knee-knocking, like the fourth hole, which plays 207 yards almost entirely over wetlands to a small green heavily guarded all around.

There's the even longer par-3 12th hole -- nicknamed "Dell on Steroids" for its partial blind shot to a shallow bowled green. The difference between this hole and the original "Dell" at Lahinch in Ireland is everything but on a much larger scale. Of course, the original "Dell" hole plays under 160 yards, while Tullymore Golf Club's requires 220-255 yards from the back tee boxes. It's long enough to demand driver for most players, but the shot isn't as hard as it seems to the trained eye, due to the very large green.

"You can hit a driver over the left side of the bank, and it won't go over," Tullymore Director of Golf Kevin O'Brien says. "The slope is steep enough it will roll right back to the center."

On the five par-5s, you're encouraged to be aggressive, as each offers wide landing zones for drives and greens begging to be reached in two shots.

The par-5 18th is everything you could ask for in a finishing hole. It doglegs left around water and lets you cut off as much distance as you can for a shot at the green -- guarded by water and some tall trees on either side. It's a hole that is fair enough.

Tullymore Golf Club: The verdict

Tullymore Golf Club's strong national ranking by numerous publications is justified by its beautiful, wooded marshland setting and fantastic Engh-designed course. It has a one-of-a-kind look to it and is a joy to play. It doesn't rely on the sharp elevation changes of northern Michigan, or the coastal scenery of Arcadia Bluffs or Whistling Straits across Lake Michigan.

It's all about the golf at Tullymore. In fact, despite its opening in 2001, it doesn't even have a permanent clubhouse yet (though that's in the works). Don't think the golf course followed the same route. Engh called Tullymore one of his best "grow-ins ever".

It's wonderfully fun to play: penal and demanding (a 148 slope from the championship tees is one of Michigan's highest). But it's very fair, with plenty of opportunities for red numbers for midhandicappers. You can hit driver on every par-4 and -5, but Tullymore Golf Club is also a thinker's course around the greens; you'll be dying to get another crack at it the second you walk off the 18th green.

The Inn at St. Ives: Where to stay near Tullymore

Tullymore Golf Club is the sister course of the original St. Ives golf course, which opened in 1996. Right next door is the Inn at St. Ives, a small but overachieving new hotel that features modern amenities and friendly staff.

For dinner, head over to the St. Ives clubhouse, where the St. Ives Grill features some of the best clubhouse fare you'll find anywhere, featuring a wide variety of creative and colorful dishes that are miles beyond what you'd normally find at a golf course or even a country club for that matter.

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Tullymore Golf Club - hole 12Tullymore G.C. - bunkers

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.

Reader Comments / Reviews Leave a comment
  • time share

    karen wrote on: Dec 8, 2007

    aFter going to St Ives to check out a time share I would never go back and futher more I would suggest the same to my friends, and family...The way they have set it up was a waste of time plus it was created to take advantage of people ...


      • RE: time share

        Karen Nouhan wrote on: Mar 19, 2008

        Not to be confused with the wonderful resort & golf Community at Tullymore.


  • St. Ives and Tullymore

    Danny Rhoades wrote on: Oct 19, 2007

    I used to travel to the area yearly, in the fall, and greatly enjoyed the experiences I had at both courses. They have great twilight rates(compared to regular rates), and have a lot of different teeing options to make each course playable for any level of player. I don't make it up that way any more, but will never forget some of the memories taken away from these amazing golf courses.


  • St. Ives and Tullymore

    Mel Kozek wrote on: Aug 12, 2007

    I've played both these courses and completely agree with your article. Just another two gems in Michigan that not many people know about.


      • RE: St. Ives and Tullymore

        eric wrote on: May 23, 2008

        YEAH that was a blash i really enjoyed specailly the view its all about variety .