Northern Michigan is a can't-miss golf destination

By Brandon Tucker,
Senior Writer

With more than 200 golf courses and top golf resorts like Grand Traverse and Treetops tucked into the rustic countryside, northern Michigan is one of the United States' top summertime golf getaways. Wolverine State native Brandon Tucker offers a primer on the region.

For golfers, it doesn't get much better than watching a well-struck drive sail through cool blue sky and slowly descend into the middle of a beautiful and naturally framed fairway 100 feet or more below.

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If northern Michigan golf has a signature, it's the elevated tee shot. Just about every course here has one, and some have several.

This is ski country in winter, and the golf courses wind around the same steep grades. A low-handicap golf-design purist might scoff at a track like the Rick Smith Signature at Treetops with its dozen-odd elevated tee boxes, but few regular duffers can resist letting one rip.

The sheer quantity of golf in northern Michigan is astounding. You'll pass a course every few miles, no matter how remote the country road.

But quality and value are what really set the area apart. More than a dozen courses regularly make national rankings, but the relatively remote location (several hours by car from Detroit and Chicago) keeps prices down. Most public courses are well under $100, even on a summer weekend, and none top $200.

Northern Michigan golf A-list

The most acclaimed track these days is Arcadia Bluffs. Sod bunkering and tall heather give this Rick Smith design a traditional, rugged look, and more than 1,000 yards play along Lake Michigan.

Also jostling for top position is Bay Harbor, a 27-hole Arthur Hills design near upscale Petosky. Several holes overlook the lake, while others play inland around an old rock quarry.

Treetops resort has northern Michigan's best collection of courses, including Tom Fazio and Robert Trent Jones Sr. stunners. Along with his Signature, resort co-owner Smith contributed the walker-friendly Tradition and par-3 Threetops. Add in the teaching academy and Himalayas putting green and many golfers spend their whole vacation here.

Forest Dunes got off to somewhat of a rocky start in 1998, but following an ownership change the course is running smoothly, and the Tom Weiskopf design has won wide acclaim.

Jack Nicklaus' The Bear at the ritzy Grand Traverse Resort just outside Traverse City was one of northern Michigan's first modern upscale courses when it debuted in the 1980s. The Michigan Open venue has been ranked one of America's 50 toughest courses by Golf Digest.

Garland ResortGrand Traverse's Wolverine course, a more player-friendly Gary Player design, was recently added to the Michigan Open rotation. Spruce Run is the resort's third option.

Tom Doak, now a resident of Traverse City, has several northern Michigan designs. His Black Forest is a challenging alternative to the many friendlier resort-style golf courses in Gaylord.

The Garland Resort is a quintessential northern Michigan golf retreat. There isn't much around it, but Garland is designed so that you won't have to leave, with four courses featuring owner Ron Otto's unusual design touches (a fifth is due to open in summer 2008) and outstanding service.

More top northern Michigan golf

King's ChallengeAn Arnold Palmer signature course, King's Challenge west of Traverse City is on the short side, but its rustic, hilly setting is second to none. North of town, the A-Ga-Ming resort has a fresh look, with the new Sundance course complimenting the older Torch.

One of the area's best values is Black Bear in Vanderbilt. With frequent seasonal specials, you can usually get on for less than $50.

Rees Jones' Black Lake in Onaway is a retreat for the United Auto Workers union, but the public is welcome to this challenging and scenic course.

If you're not staying at one of the above-named resorts, Otsego Club, Boyne, Lakewood Shores and Shanty Creek all make good hubs for experiencing northern golf. Up-and-coming Midwest architect Mike Devries' Greywalls in Michigan's upper peninsula is out of the way but spectacularly beautiful.

But then, you're never far from beautiful golf in northern Michigan.

May 18, 2007

Any opinions expressed above are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of the management. The information in this story was accurate at the time of publication. All contact information, directions and prices should be confirmed directly with the golf course or resort before making reservations and/or travel plans.

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