The College Buddy Trip

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Phil wins the PGA Championship and Tiger wins the WGC-NEC Invitational. All is right in the world of professional golf.
 
But, who among us doesnt need a few days to be selfish about our own game? For me, it happens every year, and the 'bug' hasnt left since I joined The Golf Channel in 1995.
 
Im out in Aloha, Ore., this week for the JELD-WEN Tradition, but I came in fresh off a buddy trip to the great state of Michigan. I played 166 holes between Thursday afternoon and sundown Monday. Thats right, 166 holes in a marathon-long weekend that found us weather-challenged to say the least during a late-fall-like snap that locals said 'came out of the blue.'
 
As a little background, I round up three of my college fraternity brothers each year and venture off for a reunion on the greens (somewhere between June and September), with the simple goal of playing as much golf as possible in a four-day stretch.
 
One man from Dallas-Fort Worth, Texas; one from Houston, Texas; one from Eau Claire, Wis.; and me ' the trip organizer ' from Orlando, Fla. Among the group there is a 2 handicap, a 4 handicap, a 6 handicap and a 12 handicap -- all 'serviceable' to accomplish the goal of moving along at the proper pace and not spend the majority of the time searching for golf balls.
 
Michigan was a new venue for us this year. In nine past trips weve headed west each time to either Palm Springs, Calif., or Las Vegas, Nev., where weather has never done more than rain out nine holes. And that happened only once.
 
In the California desert, weve hit all of the courses at famed PGA West, and found success at other gems like Rancho La Quinta CC, Desert Willow, Mission Hills CC, Shadow Ridge, Indian Ridge, Tamarisk CC, Desert Falls, Indian Wells CC, Landmark Golf Club, and the Citrus, Mountain and Dunes Courses at La Quinta Resort. Simply put, you cant beat the weather. And when the temperature soars into the 100s in August, not too many folks have the desire to keep up with our breakneck pace.
 
Vegas, Baby? We start each time with Rio Secco Golf Club and have worked our way around courses like Dragon Ridge, TPC at the Canyons, Anthem CC, Revere at Anthem CC, Paiute Resort, Wildhorse, Badlands, and a real cool spot called Primm Valley just across the border in California.
 
Why Michigan? Youd be silly to miss it. The Great Lakes State ranks as the eighth-best golf destination in the United States and 12th best in the world, according to Golf Digest. And Ive got some local knowledge to help back up the claim.
 
Before working at The Golf Channel, I spent four terrific years in the Kalamazoo-Grand Rapids, Mich., area working as a local sportscaster. To play golf in Michigan is a treat to say the least. Some of the best golf courses you will ever play are found on the western half of the state and heading north means heading toward some spectacular spots.
 
Phil Mickelsons instructor Rick Smith has been on my case for years to drag my men up to Michigan. So this year, I took TGCs Troubleshooter up on the request and rallied the troops.
 
We flew to Traverse City (nice new airport by the way) on Thursday with just enough time to meet, greet and get to Belvedere Golf Club for 18 holes -- a practice round of sorts on a terrific golf course with rolling hills and views you dont find in the desert.
 
We played for a score to set the handicaps wed play off of the next day. (Each round sets the handicap we play off of in the next round; low total net score at the end of the week gets his name engraved on the traveling trophy.)
 
Immediately after play we made the drive to Boyne Highlands where we set up camp at one of the Donald Ross cottages. Spectacular. For the first time in our 10 years of doing this trip, we were able to hang out in one house and not in separate hotel rooms.
 
Our Friday got off to a late start because of some rain that put a hold on tee times until the noon hour. We still got in our mandatory 36 that day with a round at the Arthur Hills course and then the Donald Ross. Amidst some tougher-than-normal conditions everyone posted rounds in the 70s or 80s. Superb venues and a big dose of hospitality.
 
Saturday was the toughest to deal with. Bay Harbor Golf Club is among the best youll find in any state. Bay Harbor boasts a Links 9, a Quarry 9 and a Preserve 9 to give every player a different look and a different challenge. The state we found it in was 'wet.' Never really got the round started before weather rolled in off the big lake. After waiting and hoping for three hours, we decided to head for our next spot in hopes of staying ahead of the weather.
 
So we drove to another gem ' Cedar River Golf Club at Shanty Creek. Unfortunately, Tom Weiskopfs first design in Michigan was a bit waterlogged as well -- closed, not only to us, but also to the PGA Professionals competing in their sectional.
 
Off we headed to Treetops Resort. Rick Smiths home, and home to The Golf Channels Big Break I a few years back. Wow. No rain and what a welcome mat. Director of Golf Scott Head knew we were on the way and made sure we wouldnt go to bed Saturday night without at least 18 holes. We played the Fazio Course where the excitement of just playing resulted in a few rounds in the 70s.
 
Sunday was another battle. But we toughed it out amidst unseasonable temperatures in the 60s and 50s, with high winds and some rain to the tune of 45 holes. The Fazio course to start off the morning, followed by a nine-hole round on the now famous 'Threetops' (par-3 course ' and home to the Par-3 Challenge) and then another 18 holes on the brutally challenging Jones course. Through it all, we battled and did what we do best ... which is, get in some golf.
 
A little local knowledge from Treetops Assistant Travis Coker didnt hurt. And by the way, that par-3 course is worth the drive alone! Elevation drops and greens running 12 ' good luck breaking par. None of us did.
 
Monday was the last day, and we made the most of it. The rain gear and wind shirts came off and we found out that Rick Smith is more than just a great instructor. Hes got a real sense of design. We teed off on the Rick Smith Tradition which was exactly that ' traditional. Fair, challenging and scenic. Two of our four broke 75 and one of the rounds was a 71.
 
The afternoon was spectacular. The Rick Smith Signature course was worth putting a stamp on -- great rolling fairways with room to land it, elevation changes and quick greens. Somebody saved the best for last with a round of 75.
 
We finished it off with a final round of nine holes at Threetops with our buddy Kevin Frisch, a former golf professional for Smith at Treetops who now works for Resort and Golf Marketing. Frisch, by the way, showed us up with a 1-under 26, claiming he had a bad back.
 
A week in Michigan was nothing like a week in the desert. But both leave you wanting more. And while this week in Michigan left us mired in an unseasonably freakish bit of bad luck with the weather that started 30 minutes after landing in Traverse City, we realized that the trip is about both the game ... and the guys. One-hundred-and-66 holes over four-and-a-half days ' not a record for us ' but a success story about sticking to our mission despite any weather
 
For us, its not about fancy breakfasts or late-night filet dinners. Instead, its about the quick breakfast bar, the club sandwich between 18s and the nachos and pizza at night. We pride ourselves on great conversations about the family and the old school days. Were not late party guys ... just guys around 40 quick to get to sleep and ready to get up and get back to the course. .
 
Next years venue for these four college buddies? Who knows. Maybe back west. But a week in Michigan without playing Bay Harbor sure seemed a little incomplete. Maybe buying the logo ball before we officially played the course was the jinks. But weve got our rain check, and we certainly left some things unpurchased in the pro shops at Boyne Highlands and Treetops. So maybe well say 'Yes to Michigan' as the 11th edition of this great get-together rolls around.
 
Im sure you can relate. At least I hope you can. Im sure you have stories to tell. At least I hope you do.
 
Email your thoughts to Kraig Kann