Summertime golf in Michigan is some of the nation’s finest. The variety, conditioning, topography and uncrowded tee sheets make it a Shangri-La for anyone who likes to chase a dimpled ball with stick in hand.
There is great golf throughout the length and breadth of the state, but there is a particularly notable concentration of fine courses around Traverse City and Gaylord.
St. Ive’s Resort is a 36-hole complex in the center of the state, about an hour north of Grand Rapids, two hours north of Detroit, halfway to the main resort areas further north, near Traverse City and Gaylord. St. Ive’s is a Jerry Matthews design, about six miles from sister course Tullymore, a Jim Engh-designed beauty. Part of the appeal of the facility is the fact that it’s that much closer to the urban areas of Detroit and Chicago. The round trip travel time is reduced by as much as four or five hours.
St. Ive’s has the more dramatic topography, with tee shots descending to crowned fairways and approach shots that climb back to the original elevation. The on-course views include Lake Mecosta, Blue Lake and Round Lake. Tullymore features Engh’s whimsical bunker patterns, funky greens, several drive-and-pitch par 4s, and a tremendous amount of bordering wetlands—nearly half of the 800-acre property. Both courses feature impeccable conditioning that rival any top-tier private club.
Treetops Resort, all 81 holes, is owned by well-known golf instructor Rick Smith. Masterpiece, located several miles from the other courses, is a Robert Trent Jones design that opened in 1987. It features dramatic elevation changes with far-reaching views for up to thirty miles. The Premier, created by Tom Fazio, is more user-friendly, with vast, bowl-shaped fairways to corral errant shots. Tradition, a Rick Smith design, is the newest addition to the resort. It is built on gently rolling land that is partially wooded and it boasts some of the best greens in Michigan. It has the classic look of a course that was built many years ago. Signature, also by Smith, features plenty of natural vegetation and a variety of hardwoods and pines to create a picturesque setting for some of the most demanding holes at Treetops. Finally, Threetops has been called the finest par-3 course in the world, and offers thrilling elevation changes ranging from 90 to 170 feet.
Boyne Mountain Resort’s vast golf holdings begin about twenty miles west of Treetops. The Heather Course at Boyne Highlands is the original course at Boyne, a mid-60s, Robert Trent Jones design. It’s a pastoral, wooded routing, with some natural amphitheaters, several times the host venue for the Michigan Amateur.
Another of the more notable offerings at Boyne is The Ross Course, a conversation-starter with 18 separate “tribute” holes that have been designed to mimic, at least in spirit, some of the great designer’s most enduring creations. Some of these Donald Ross replicas work better than others, but there’s at least a hint, a nuance, of his best-loved or most famous creations such as Pinehurst #2, Plainfield, Salem, Scioto, Oakland Hills and Wannamoisett, among others, imbued in the gently rolling terrain. The Arthur Hills is the newest course at Boyne, with large greens, fairways, and notable elevation changes.
The Bay Harbor Golf Club offers 27 holes, the prime eighteen a combination of an exhilarating links-like ramble, high upon the stately bluffs above the waters overlooking Lake Michigan and Little Traverse Bay. But the Quarry nine is totally different, winding through and around an immense shale quarry, complete with forty-foot gorges surrounded by stone cliffs, natural ponds and gentle waterfall. It finishes with dramatic flair down to and along the shore of Lake Michigan.
True North is another stunner, a wooded gem not far from Boyne, just another beauty among the golf riches of the region, but airlifted and transplanted to one’s hometown it would immediately be conferred “must play” status. The rolling terrain and valleys at True North make it a course of exceptional quality. “The topography and sandy soils are reminiscent of the sites where golf was first played,” offers architect Jim Engh. “Add to that the dense Michigan forest, with fairways that are lined with towering strands of hardwoods and pines, more than a half-dozen ponds that mirror the essence of nearby Lake Michigan, and we had the opportunity to create something spectacular.”
The only possible knock on northern Michigan golf is the shortness of the season—an unavoidable fact of its latitude. But as for value, topography, conditioning, variety, friendliness and service, not to mention the paucity of play during certain times of the year, it’s one of the finest pure golf destinations on the continent.