Lakewood Shores Resort: A Touch of Scotland in Michigan

By Jason Scott Deegan, Senior Staff Writer

OSCODA, Mich. - Many courses across the country market themselves as "Scottish links-style courses," but The Gailes course at Lakewood Shores Resort might be the only one that can really back up that claim with its playing conditions.

Course officials and golfers who have attempted to tackle the 6,954-yard, par-72 layout swear that The Gailes is the closest thing to playing a seaside links in Scotland without actually buying the plane ticket and flying across the Atlantic Ocean to the land where golf was born.

General Manager Craig Peters said when the resort started planning to build a second full-length course on the property - the Serradella is the other - management realized they needed to create something different to bring golfers to the Sunrise Side of the state, where there aren't a ton of high-quality courses.

"The whole concept was born out of watching the British Open, which a lot of people watch religiously, but they aren't able to get there to golf," Peters said. "We are not blessed with the wonderful topography that the west side of the state is, so we had to find a different look."

The resort has been well rewarded for its efforts. The Gailes was voted the No. 1 new resort course in the U.S. in 1993 by Golf Digest, the first Michigan course to garner such a prestigious honor. The same magazine rated the course No. 7 on its 2000 list of the state's top courses, ranking it the second-best public course in Michigan, behind only the famed Bay Harbor. Golf Magazine considers it one of the best public courses in the country, rating it No. 42 on its list of "The Top 100 You Can Play."

"This is an awesome golf course," said Ray Phelps, who played it earlier this summer. "It is a true links golf course. It is fair, but it is tough. The fairways and greens are in great shape."

Phelps' playing partner, Jim LaBrecque, couldn't agree more. "It is nice to play a links course because you don't get many opportunities to play a course like this," LaBrecque said. "This is how golf got started. The heather (grass) is impossible to play out of."

Making the Gailes' story all the more amazing is a rookie designer, Kevin Aldridge, son of resort owner, Stan Aldridge, created it. He and his father walked many of Scotland's best courses to get a better understanding of links golf. Peters said the course, which opened in July of 1992, transformed into a combination of the best features of Western Gailes, Carnoustie, and Royal Troon.

What makes a "true" links course? Links courses look much more rugged than the newer, upscale designs, like the land has been shaped by nature and the wind, not a bulldozer. Traditional links courses features jagged mounding, covered with fescue grasses; deep sod-faced bunkers; meandering burns; double greens and grassy hollows -- all of which have a home at The Gailes.

With the course's location 1/8th of a mile from Lake Huron, the wind also wreaks havoc on the layout, making it play like you're on a wind-swept seaside plain. The grasses never stop flittering in the breeze.

Although the fairways are never truly flat, rippling, and bending every which way, there is very little elevation change. Trees are nearly non-existent on the course. Gently flowing streams meander through certain fairways.

The Gailes' design also introduces a variety of options to attack the greens that American golfers aren't used to hitting, almost like Pinehurst No. 2. Many greens are elevated and their collars are mowed down considerably. Bump and run shots and putting, instead of chipping, from just off the green are the shots of choice here.

With wide, generous fairways, these approach shots have earned The Gailes a reputation as a rugged challenge. Hitting a good shot to the double greens of No. 2/17 and No. 11/14 is tough to do if a foursome is putting on the other half. The approach to the sixth green can also be harrowing because the back tee on No. 7 is directly connected with this green. This awkward looking setup is a tribute to the game's oldest roots. Back when golf first originated, the next teeing area would often be one club length from the previous hole.

The par-3 fourth, which plays 209 yards from the back tees over six bunkers, is unforgiving if you miss the green. The fairway of No. 8, a 586-yard par 5, is sprinkled with danger - 18 pot bunkers. Many of these nasty pits are hidden from view until the ball finds them. Their huge lips might make it impossible to advance the ball forward.

No. 9, a 298-yard par-4, might relinquish a birdie or a double bogey, just don't get stuck in the Wurtsmith Bunker, a cavernous sand pit behind the green. The 348-yard 10th hole demands strategic shot-making. Both the fairway and green are blocked by huge heather-infested hills.

According to Peters, Lakeshore opened in the 1970s as a private club and suffered several bankruptcies before Stan Aldridge bought it in 1989 and brought it back to life. Lakewood Shores hopes to open a third course by Memorial Day weekend of 2001, a 7,100-yard layout designed by Kevin Aldridge that mimics New Jersey's Pine Valley, the consensus No. 1 golf course in the world, with its large, sandy waste areas.

"Just like The Gailes, we wanted to build something different that can draw people here," Peters said. "If we built another tradition course, it would be like just another walk in the woods. We won't build it as tough as Pine Valley, but it will have that look. We are excited that we will have three distinct looks. From the golfer's perspective, that's pretty attractive."

Lakewood is also adding anywhere from 16 to 32 more rooms this fall to join the 64 rooms already available. The rooms range from the traditional hotel room to 1 and 2 bedroom suites, some with jacuzzis. Homesites are also available.

Food and entertainment aren't hard to find, either. The main dining room serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner. The 19th hole Scotland Cove serves soup, sandwiches, and quick snacks for the turn. The lounge offers a relaxed atmosphere to kick back after a round, and the banquet room is available for larger groups, meetings, or special events.

After eating or golfing, guests can play on the public beaches of Lake Huron or a private one on nearby Cedar Lake, which is ideal for swimming, jet skiing, canoeing, or fishing. Paddle-boat rides down the Au Sable River can be a treat.

Families and junior golfers might enjoy the Wee Links, an 18-hole pitch-and-putt that opened in 1994. Every hole on this executive course is under 100 yards long. For more information on the resort, call the resort at 1-800-882-2493 or 517-739-2073.

Jason Scott DeeganJason Scott Deegan, Senior Staff Writer

Jason Scott Deegan has reviewed more than 700 courses and golf destinations for some of the industry's biggest publications. His work has been honored by the Golf Writer's Association of America and the Michigan Press Association. Follow him on Twitter at @WorldGolfer.

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