Head to Bay Harbor for the best -- in golf, and at the Inn

By Cynthia Boal Janssens, Contributor

PETOSKEY, Mich. -- In a state filled with wonderful golf resorts and courses of every imagination and design, it is always difficult to call any one "the best."

But sometimes it is required.

So I declare that The Inn at Bay Harbor and the 27 holes of exquisite golf that Arthur Hills delicately carved on the site of a former limestone quarry and cement plant, offer the best golf travel experience in Michigan. Or, at the very least, it's the best luxury golf experience in our fair state.

Yes, I know the Grand Traverse Resort has a wonderful complex, spa and 48 holes of nifty golf. I know that Arcadia Bluffs is perhaps the toughest and most dramatic play. And I know that there are lots of other golf treasures in this lovely state.

But the folks at Boyne USA had it right when they entered into an agreement with the developers of Bay Harbor back in the early 1990s to construct the golf course and build a luxury inn on the site. Today if you stay at The Inn, you not only have access and reduced rates to Bay Harbor Golf Club, but to all of the other courses that Boyne operates in the vicinity: 162 holes in total.

Those of us who have watched the development of Bay Harbor, which stretches along five miles of shoreline, continue to be amazed. In 1880, Hiram Rose began his cement company and soon his lime works was operating 50 acres of limestone quarries and six kilns. The Petoskey Portland Cement Co. operated for over a century.

In 1983, the plant ceased operations and the facilities were emptied. And there the acreage sat, for ten long years, an eyesore on one of the prettiest bays of Lake Michigan. Many called it an "abandoned moonscape." But there were men with vision, who recognized the resort opportunities that Northwest Michigan continues to offer. In 1993, David V. Johnson began pulling together plans of a luxury development on the site and by the following June he had a master plan approved.

The cement plant towers were imploded on July 12, 1994 and since then progress has been steady as phase after phase of the development has taken shape. Most of the infrastructure is in place: The golf club, equestrian center, yacht club and marina, shopping center, restaurants, and The Inn at Bay Harbor are all in operation. An inland lake was built. Stunning homes.many costing in the millions of dollars.continue to be constructed, despite some hard economic times.

And while many decide to live here for a quality of life offered no where else in this region, the golf is what attracts many and keeps them coming back.

Since its opening in 1996, the 27 holes at Bay Harbor have continued to delight and amaze. Each nine is completely different and distinct. Boyne contracted with Art Hills to do the design, in collaboration with avid golfer Stephen Kircher, President of Eastern Operations for Boyne USA Resorts.

This was no easy course to build. Tons of lime ash were on the site and could not be removed for environmental reasons. So Hills mounded the ash and planted grass on it, producing many interesting features along the fairways.

The most famous and photographed of the courses is The Quarry. Little wonder as these nine holes weave along the edge of a huge shale quarry, complete with 40-foot gorges. There are stone cliffs, natural ponds even a waterfall. Some of these holes give new meaning to elevated tees. Few other sites in America are quite like it.

Almost as popular is The Links, designed and patterned after the true links courses of the British Isles. Links courses play along the water, remember? This particular nine The Links delivers unforgettable holes that wind along 150 foot bluffs overlooking one of the deepest blue freshwater vistas in the world, Little Traverse Bay. As you play toward the north, you get fabulous glimpses of the Bay Harbor Marina District, which almost makes you think you are overlooking a seaside village in Swansea.

The third nine is called The Preserve, and is more typical of Northern Michigan courses in that it is mostly played through the woods. But don't be mislead into thinking that means easy. There are a number of tight fairways and forced carries that will give fits to all but the most accurate shooters. The final hole does open up to a striking water view.

Eventually, when membership at the Bay Harbor Golf Club fills, these stunning holes will become private and your chances of playing them will certainly depend on whom you know. But, for now, they are open for public play and lucky are we. Just viewing the incredible homes that are tucked along these courses is worth the price.

Since opening, Bay Harbor Golf Club has had the reputation of being impossibly expensive, commanding an almost unheard-of-in-this-region $240 a round. Those fees have gentled a bit: For the public, the rate is now $199, or $99 after 5 p.m. (and in mid-summer, when it doesn't get dark until 10 p.m., you can fit in a round before dark), or $149 for guests of a Boyne resort. They drop even further in spring and fall and for those buying golf packages. This include Prolink GPS, but I think that caddies would be a nifty offering.

How tough are these courses? That is a tricky question. I finished my two recent rounds with incredibly good scores, so I looked a little closer. Ah, only about 4,000 yards from the forward tees -- far gentler than most courses, which play closer to 5,000. Almost worth the high cost just to get those scores.

My husband had similar good fortune from the middle tees (6,000 yards), so these holes are manageable. From the back sets of tees, I suspect the story is quite different: From the tips, the Quarry and Links play 6,780 yards and there are some huge carries and risk/reward decisions to make.

Complementing the superb golf experience are the luxury digs at The Inn at Bay Harbor, located about a mile away from the golf club. The main Inn building, which opened in 1998, is a brilliant white, and features spindled balconies and a scarlet red roof. It was designed to look like the inns that were common to this area at the turn of the century.

The Inn offers cushy accommodations in one-, two- and three-bedroom suites, all decorated in summery colors which really do make you think you are situated along the sea, somewhere.

Instead, you are located on an incredibly beautiful stretch of fresh water and The Inn takes full advantage. It has the requisite outdoor pool, but also has a sand beach. There are hammocks situated about the lawn, Adirondack chairs for catching a nap and a wide verandah where you can do lunch or an after-round drink.

The Inn also offers accommodations in the adjacent cottage colony and at the Cottages at Crooked Tree Golf Course, located just across the main road.

The Spa at The Inn offers a full range of services. During my recent stay, I went the pamper route, of course, and indulged in both a facial and a massage. I am sure this shaves at least a few strokes off my game and you cannot convince me differently. Menfolk might enjoy the "Man Alive" package which features a hot towel facial, Swedish massage, foot massage and a choice of exfoliation (skin-cleansing) or hydrotherapy (water bath). There is also a sports massage offered and, if you bring your spouse, consider the Massage Lesson for Partners.

There are two restaurants at The Inn. Sagamore's offers fine dining in a casual atmosphere (jacket nice but not required, no tie needed) and the South American Grill offers lighter fare. Dining is also available at both the Yacht Club and Golf Club. Or, you can enjoy a fine meal at Latitude's in the Marina shopping district. For breakfast, don't miss the Original Pancake House (the only other one is in Grosse Pointe, outside of Detroit).

All in all, Arthur Hills and Stephen Kircher did themselves proud in this unique golf design. That, and the fact that Boyne USA offers its full range of amenities to all Inn guests, makes this the top choice for any golfer who wants luxury and lots of choice.

Just the facts

Bay Harbor is located between the traditional resort towns of Petoskey and Charlevoix on U.S. 31.

The Inn at Bay Harbor
3600 Village Harbor Dr.
Bay Harbor, MI 49770-8577
(800) GO-BOYNE (462-6963), (231) 439-4000
innatbayharbor.com
Boyne USA offers a wide range of golf packages with accommodations at The Inn of Bay Harbor and at Boyne Mountain and Boyne Highlands. There is normally a surcharge on the package to play the Bay Harbor courses. There are also accommodations at the Bay Harbor Resort & Marina. (231-439-2400, bayharbor.com).

Cynthia Boal Janssens is a former newspaper writer and editor turned freelance writer. She is the former travel editor and Sunday magazine editor of The Detroit News. In addition, she has worked for newspapers in California, Georgia, New York and Pennsylvania. She is a graduate of Ohio University.


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