Michigan's Treetops/Sylvan Resort is Truly a Masterpiece

By Jason Scott Deegan, Senior Staff Writer

GAYLORD, Mich. -- Robert Trent Jones Sr. is considered an artist when it comes to designing golf courses. He has designed 44 courses that are generally considered among the top 100 courses in the country, and more than 450 courses over his illustrious career.

So when he names a course the "Masterpiece," as he did with the signature course at the Treetops/Sylvan Resort in Michigan, it most certainly is a special tract of land. Like any other famous work of art, Jones Sr. crafted every detail of this course to create a "Masterpiece" of grass, sand and trees.

When Jones Sr. completed his work and the course opened in 1987, even he was impressed. He is quoted as saying: "Treetops is truly a masterpiece and will be among the top courses in the world."

This par-71, 7,060-yard layout continues to be critically acclaimed after Golf Digest deemed it the runner-up as the nation's best new resort course in 1987. The same publication ranked it the 27th-best resort course in the nation in 1992, the 46th best U.S. public course in 1996 and No. 19 on the list of Michigan's best courses in 1997. Playing the Masterpiece re-affirms its revered status.

The Masterpiece is nasty enough to host a major championship with its length, course rating (75.5) and slope (144) from the black tees, and kind enough from the whites, with a length of 5,817 yards and a slope of 126, to provide some slack for the bogey golfer.

The rolling terrain cuts its way through the Pigeon River Valley with a natural mix of trees that are synonymous with northern Michigan -- a majestic combination of oaks, maples, beeches, pines, white spruces and hemlocks.

Jones Sr. incorporated water hazards into the design of five holes, four on the front nine, and splattered 63 bunkers around the course, most of them near the large, undulating greens.

The course only plays from four sets of tees, but Jones Sr. built at least five tee boxes on nine of the holes, and two of them, No. 6 and No. 8, have seven different tee boxes that can change the angle of attack. The only criticism of the layout would be its untraditional setup -- both nines start off with a par-5 and the finishing hole is also a par-5.

The first hole isn't strenuously long at 465 yards from the blue tees, but be sure you get a good warm-up on the range to ensure a good drive, which must carry about 180 yards over a valley to the fairway. The approach shot is a beauty. A pond short and left guards one of the longest, skinniest greens you'll ever see -- it's 46 yards long.

Listen to the scorecard's advice on the second hole, a 181-yard par-3, and take an extra club. A short shot or one that slices right will disappear into a steep hill where nature's longest grasses grow out of control. The third hole, a 376-yard par-4, appears easy enough from the tee, but it holds hidden danger. The fairway has several huge ridges that can send your ball caroming into the trees. The next hole, No. 4, plays a lot like No. 2. Five bunkers will trap any poor tee shots on this 167-yard, par-3.

After a long, par-5, sits the hole you'll be talking about for years to come. The view from the elevated tee boxes at the sixth hole inspired Jones Sr. to coin the name Treetops for its breathtaking view of the surrounding landscape. Resort officials liked the nickname so much they soon followed suit, giving Treetops its name.
This par-3, which plunges nearly 120 feet from tee to green, plays anywhere from 130 to 180 yards depending upon which of the seven elevated tee boxes are in play that day. From this height, the wind is a major factor in your club decision.

The final three holes on the front nine -- all par-4s -- feature water hazards. No. 7's toughest shot is the approach to an elevated green. No. 8 doglegs right, opening up to a peninsula green. Don't flirt with the edges of the putting surface because several spots will funnel the ball into a watery grave. The No. 9 tee box is an island, but only a short carry over the water is needed.

The front side is as scenic as the backside is tough. No. 10 and 11 run parallel to each other and are fairly wide open, but the hilly fairways can create frustrating downhill or sidehill lies, especially No. 10. This hole runs directly uphill about 100 feet from tee to green. At 605 yards from the black tees, it is one of the longest holes you'll ever play.

After No. 12, a grinding 425-yard par-4, there's a picturesque, post-card hole. To safely manage this par-3, hit a 175-yard flier over a pond and two front bunkers.

A blind tee shot makes No. 14 another dangerous hole. The fairway plummets into a ravine at about the 150-yard mark, so long hitters better be wary. Stay left to ensure a simple pitch to the green 50 feet below. No. 15 and 16 finally provide some relief and legitimate shots at a birdie.

No. 15 provides more wondrous scenery and plays shorter than 343 yards, thanks to the 75-foot drop from tee to fairway. No. 16 is the course's shortest hole at 146 yards and there are only two side bunkers to worry about. The finishing holes -- a 367-yard par-4 that doglegs right and a straight-forward 516-yard par-5 -- aren't noteworthy after experiencing a day's worth of panoramic views, but they aren't easy golf holes, either.

Just a visit to Treetops, which is about a four-hour drive up I-75 from metro Detroit, with minimal time on the golf course is a vacation in itself. This four-star resort includes 254 deluxe rooms, suites, condos and resort homes; two restaurants; a sports bar; nearly 20,000 square feet of meeting and banquet facilities; two heated indoor and outdoor pools; spas and saunas and a fitness center.

It is open year-round with tennis and sand volleyball courts to enjoy in the summer time and downhill and cross country skiing in winter.

Golf packages can cost as little as $112 for a one night's stay and one round of golf or $436 for two nights' stay with a round of golf at each course and breakfast and dinner each day. Without a package, it costs $80 to play the Masterpiece as a walk-on or $66 for a resort guest in high season.

The Rick Smith golf academy is also a major attraction for serious golfers. For more information on prices or tee times, call (517) 732-6711 or 800-444-6711, or visit Treetops' extensive web site at www.treetops.com.

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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