Postcards from Northern Michigan: Chasing Daylight

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A recent MGM trip led to playing a reversible course and playing hickory-shafted clubs. And read about the feat of two holes-in-one on the same day in this issue’s Editor’s Choice Awards.

Can the best of golf in Northern Michigan be tackled in a single trip in under a week? That was the mentality Midwest Golfing Magazine’s Glen Turk and I and GolfMichigan.com’s Brian Weis took to a recent trip just before the end of summer. Here is where our dizzying journey – with two arriving by Lake Michigan ferry and one by driving over the mighty Mackinac Bridge – led us.

Tom Doak’s Own Rubik’s Cube – the Loop

Public golf at the top in Michigan is as strong as it comes. A tee time is worth its weight in gold at Arcadia Bluffs which sits high above Lake Michigan and features sod-wall bunkers. Bay Harbor can feel like Pebble Beach and has three beautifully distinct nines – the Links, the Quarry, and the Preserve. And the original course at Forest Dunes has always been lauded for its conditioning and combination of woodlands and sandy areas. But this year, Forest Dunes went way more unconventional.

The introduction of a second (and third) course, the Loop, designed by Michigan native Tom Doak and his team, has taken golf enthusiasts by storm. The Loop has 18 greens but 36 ways to play in to them because the layout can be played clockwise and counter-clockwise. Therefore, it consists of two courses in one – the Red Course and the Black Course. The style and feel is much different – think Pinehurst – than the original course though it lies only across the street.

Doak has long wanted to put this idea in motion and Forest Dunes owner Lew Thompson, who calls himself the Director of Happiness, gave him a shot. There are no defined tee boxes, just wooden pegs in flat areas. The fairways (made of fescue) are wide and links-like with only the native scrub areas shaping them. Keeping the ball on the ground and using the slopes is always a good play. And watch out for fairway bunkers when walking the course because some cannot be fully seen walking in the opposite direction. It was necessary for Doak to design them this way to make each routing look natural.

The Loop is walking only with available caddies, which are highly suggested. Yardages to certain spots on the course, if not the flagstick, are at a premium. Even from the middle tees (just over 6,000 yards at par 70 in both directions) the course is challenging. The mainly domed green complexes stand out for the prospects of getting down in two shots when three, or even four, will be more likely the case. The greens are played from different angles, too, not just from the front and back sides as a straight-forward reversible order might suggest.

The Loop concept again separates Forest Dunes. The management team has made upgrades in lodging and dining, too, making its remote location in Roscommon a multiple-night stop on any golf trip to Michigan.

Where the Past Meets the Present

This is a big anniversary year for Michigan golf. Bay Harbor just celebrated its 20th. The Heather Course at Boyne Highlands, a pioneer of sorts for Michigan golf, turned 50. Belvedere Golf Club in Charlevoix will have to wait nine years to reach 100 but it certainly feels a century old. That makes it a perfect spot to sport knickers and wield hickory-shafted clubs for those so inclined.

Brian and Glen take out their “alternate” set of clubs to play Belvedere and actually fare pretty well with their replicas. But on this day, they will have to settle for second place in the hickory-shafted division. Why? Earlier in the day, Belvedere teaching pro Marty Joy played 100 holes with “hickories” to raise money for junior golf. His low 18 from the white tees was a remarkable one-under par 71. Afterward, he takes a much-need break in the charming, cottage-style golf shop which oozes history on every wall.

A day later, at Boyne Highlands, a Scottish theme applies down the corridors and at least one dining spot. Boyne Golf operates 10 courses and four are on the Highlands property including the Moor, Donald Ross Memorial, and the Arthur Hills. There might not be a better representation for Michigan golf than the Hills Course with its spectacular backdrops. A few holes are surrounded by uncountable, mainly bare pines that reach into the sky providing a Coliseum-like setting.

Boyne Highlands is also home to a state-of-the-art fitting center for golfers who want to get serious about their clubs and swings. It is one of only a handful of facilities in the country that has the GEARS system, which tracks full swing and body movements through the use of sensors. Think Tiger Woods acting for EA Sports video games.

Technology can certainly help the golf experience. Get fit for clubs, hit them better, play better and feel better. Feeling better is what the Grand Traverse Resort and Spa is really all about. Staying there makes the view of rain squalls from a seventh-floor hotel room seem tolerable for an upcoming round of golf.

The Tower at Grand Traverse is the property’s icon reaching 17 stories and seen from many vantage points on three courses. The Bear, designed by Jack Nicklaus, with its irregularly-shaped greens and multiple cross hazards, is the best known. But the Wolverine, a Gary Player-signature course, hardly has to take a back seat. It culminates to a great back nine including a stretch from holes 13-15 among a vast cherry orchard.

Grand Traverse proves to be full service with its own shopping mall on the lobby level of the Tower, indoor tennis courts, and ample meeting space among its many guest amenities. It hosts many weddings, conventions and parties, too. And it has one of the best spots to see a sunset.

Close Outs

With exhaustion already setting in after a few days but sore lower backs at the manageable stage, our view from the 16th floor Aerie Restaurant at Grand Traverse is part good timing and part Mother Nature. With just a sliver of sky remaining on the horizon, the sun sets just between the thick deck of clouds and Grand Traverse Bay. Two days later, the setting might be even better from the back porch at the Inn at Bay Harbor where the waves crash against the shoreline and storms move across Lake Michigan just after the sun goes down. But for golfers, nothing can top a low sun beaming its rays through the aforementioned pines surrounding No. 10 at the Arthur Hills course at Boyne. It is pure theater golf with spotlights. Again, right time, right place.

The MGM tour visits 10 courses over six days (11 if you count the Loop as two!). In the end, our quest for the best of Michigan golf cannot be conquered in less than a week. It might be time to start planning the next trip. I wonder what golf during the fall months is like in Michigan?

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Matt Tevsh is a contributor to Midwest Golfing Magazine. He also is a contributor to The Packer Report.

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