GAYLORD, Mich. – Sure, Motown is struggling. And, yes, the state’s unemployment rate is hovering near 14 percent. The winters are cold and the summers are short.
But, don’t write off Michigan just yet. Fruit crops are plentiful, spring is the thing, vacation spots are around every corner, and golf – the reason we’re here today – is as abundant and memorable as it is beautiful and bountiful.
Top 10 Courses in Michigan
You may run into trouble when selecting the northern-Michigan Gaylord area as a destination for a golf weekend. Not the brand of trouble that includes bunkers, water hazards, and out-of-bounds, but the kind that makes it difficult to narrow your course choices to a number that you can fit into one weekend. The golf is simply too good, and there is simply too much of it.
Par: 70 Yardage: 6,653
Rating: 72.8 Slope: 140
What to do after golf
OK, so you’ve narrowed down the resort to Treetops. Now it’s time to choose a course, right? Not necessarily. It’s customary to pick just one course as a site's best, but the layouts at Treetops are so varied and memorable that you should try to play all five. All the tracks are worth the price of admission. If forced to name the best of the bunch, the Signature Course might get the nod. The most unique is the par-3 Threetops Course.
The five courses — Robert Trent Jones Srs.’ Masterpiece (1987), Tom Fazio’s Premier (1992), and Rick Smith’s nine-hole, par-3 Threetops (1992), Signature (1993) and Tradition (1996) — offer eighty-one holes that defy visitors to find a weak link.
Video: Why Michigan is golf's summer capital
Threetops was Smith’s first foray into course design, and what at first was considered a “practice run” for future projects is now a real talker in the golf industry. When the course opened, skeptical golfers paid $15 per round and were offered a money-back guarantee. Now, rounds go for $50, and the demand for tee times is fierce. The made-for-television Par-3 Shootout is held every year at Threetops, and has included such royal figures of the game as Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, Lee Trevino, and Phil Mickelson.
Michigan’s Golf Mecca
Northern Michigan – or “Up North” to those who grew up in Michigan – has become renowned for far more than the Mackinac Bridge, Boyne Mountain skiing, and legendary stately pines that reach to the sky. Golf is now a firmly entrenched part of the landscape, so much so that the region is known as “Michigan’s Golf Mecca.”
|Forest Dunes G.C.|
Par: 72 Yardage: 7,104
Rating: 74.8 Slope: 142
Gaylord’s Treetops Resort is still a great place to play, but Forest Dunes has created a worthy stop in Roscommon. It’s a semi-private facility now, but it will be accessible for at least a few seasons to the public at large. So you vacationing players still have time to enjoy the course.
For now, Forest Dunes mixes members with Joe Public, and it seems to be working well. Just as the course features a tale of two players, it also offers a story of two layout styles in one. Several holes present contrasting design styles, giving players the chance to experience distinct experiences as they play the Tom Weiskopf design.
Half the holes play through the thick, upper Michigan woods of pine, bracken, and wildflowers surrounding Huron National Forest; and the others feature more open spaces with sand, brush, and dunes of glacial sand. It is a vexing, yet intriguing contrast.
Forest Dunes unobtrusively blends golf with nature, and has been recognized as one of the game’s top stewards of the environment. The club has been named an Audubon International Certified Golf Signature Sanctuary. The forces behind Forest Dune understand the responsibility of guarding this pristine Great Lakes land.
Weiskopf has recognized the worthy combination of a tough challenge that’s easy on the eyes. He calls Forest Dunes one of “the top three [courses] with which I have been involved in the United States.”
Players can be assured of fairness at Forest Dunes. Weiskopf insists that the fairways be at least 35 yards wide, and he made sure enough trees were cleared to give players an open shot to the greens. It’s not an easy course, but it’s a playable, enjoyable track.
The features at Forest Dunes range from the conventional to the unusual, from the serene to the exhilarating. The par-4 10th hole, named “Decision,” includes a split fairway divided by mounds and sand. The 11th features a 10,000-square-foot, crescent-shaped green.
The course saves its best for two holes near the end of your round. The par-3, 231-yard 16th demands a 200-yard carry over dunes they call “Hell’s Acres.” The 17th is a cozy, 302-yard par 4 that requires several decisions on the short trek to the green.
The course even offers a 19th hole – a 117-yarder with a postage-stamp green. Almost all who play the course take advantage of the extra hole. After playing Forest Dunes, many say 18 just wasn’t enough.
If you fly into Detroit Metropolitan Airport, there is a way to avoid the four-hour trek to the northern regions of Michigan’s lower peninsula. Try an ultra-quick drive to suburban Taylor, and top-drawer golf waits.
|Lakes of Taylor|
Par: 72 Yardage: 7,028
Rating: 73.4 Slope: 136
Masses of natural woodlands and acres of protected wetlands within the surrounds of aged and stately trees provide a cocoon of peace that silences the hubbub of the city. Lakes of Taylor is municipally owned course, but don’t let that scare you off. It’s definitely worth a stop (this 40-year Detroit metro-area resident puts his reputation on the line). The only reminder that it’s a muni is the mind-boggling bargain at $30 a round, including cart.
“When we design a course, we pay a lot of attention to who’s going to play the course and how they’re going to play it,” said Arthur Hills, who designed Lakes of Taylor. “While we like to make it challenging for the championship golfer, we recognize that most golf courses are not planning to have a national championship on them.”
Hills’ words should not be misunderstood. He was speaking about the forward tees. From the tips, there are forced carries of swampy areas and brush-filled danger on more than a dozen holes. This is where Lakes of Taylor makes its name and humbles many skilled players — no matter their hometown or handicap.
“If a championship is the goal,” he said of the course played from the back tees, “this is where we’d start.”
Here are a few reasons:
There are quite a few doglegs, sculpted by mature trees and water hazards, with bunkers strategically placed. If found, the landing areas are fair, with flat lies and solid looks and sound angles toward the pins.
Accuracy off the tee offers open spots from which to approach, but errant drives prove pertinently penal. Roughs are one cut in from the brush, but still, approaching from the rough is almost certain to add one stroke per hole. Cutting doglegs on par 5s is not advisable, unless confidence and good fortune are consistent companions.
And, get with the locals before your round. Inside info on the course is a stroke-saving must, and you can verify if the Taylor players are justified in their appreciative comments.
But, as previous descriptions of the Great Lakes State’s golf indicates, there are courses far from the metropolitan center that also justify the pride of Michigan golfers. Staying near the airport works, as does packing the trunk of a rental car and heading Up North.
And keep your eyes peeled.
You’ll spot plenty of superb places to play along the way.
For tee times in Michigan click here.
Jeff Barr is a Dearborn, Michigan, native and a longtime golf and travel writer who has penned three books on golf and travel. His most-recent book, “1001 Golf Holes You Must Play Before You Die” (Sellers Publishing) is available at book stores and at www.rsvp.com. Barr’s book, “Golf’s Best-Kept Secret’s (Sellers Publishing), is due out in Fall 2009.