Cheap price doesn't mean cheap golf at Marsh Ridge Golf Course in Gaylord

By Jason Scott Deegan, Senior Staff Writer

GAYLORD, Mich. -- Marsh Ridge Golf Course seems to defy all logic when you consider what makes a golf course great.

Marsh Ridge Golf Course
Marsh Ridge Golf Course provides affordable, fun golf in northern Michigan.
Marsh Ridge Golf CourseMarsh Ridge Golf Course - 18th hole
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The Ridge Course sprawls across rolling hills and acres of carefully preserved marshlands. The towering trees and dramatic elevation changes distinguish the golf course as one of the area's best and most scenic.

18 Holes | Resort golf course | Par: 72 | 6231 yards | ... details »

First off, don't even look at the scorecard at Marsh Ridge, which is the only course at Marsh Ridge Golf and Nordic Ski Resort. With the tips at a measly 6,141 yards, you might think it is a glorified par-3.

Then you'll notice the cost to play 18 holes. The low price, $61 on weekends during the summer, might force you to jump to a similar conclusion - there must not be much to the place. But you couldn't be more wrong.

Yes, there is affordable, fun golf in northern Michigan after all. Marsh Ridge sits in the heart of Gaylord's Golf Mecca, a marketing group of 22 courses within 45 minutes of one another. The cost of most rounds of golf at surrounding courses will be pushing triple digits in the summer sun's glare, making Marsh Ridge a bargain worthy of any bargain basement shopper.

There are more expensive resort courses with longer layouts and big-name course designers -- Gaylord's Treetops Resort comes to mind -- but Marsh Ridge can stand toe-to-toe with any of them. What the course lacks in length, it more than makes up for in personality.

A huge ridge that runs through the property (hence the name) provides a dramatic backdrop to some incredible downhill (and uphill) tee and approach shots. No two holes are the same.

Course designer Mike Husby had just 110 acres of terrain to create the par-71 course, but he used every inch effectively. Marsh Ridge, which opened in July 1992 after two years of construction, boasts more than 35 acres of untouched wetlands and forest, creating a natural setting and plenty of hazards. There are four bridges totaling more than 1,560 feet and elevation changes as much as 65 feet. Water comes into play on 10 holes, with natural ponds on holes No. 2, No. 7, No. 12 and No. 18. Seventy-two bunkers add more treachery. Sprinkled throughout the course are more than 60,000 annuals that are planted every spring.

"This is a beautiful layout," said Ryan Kinnie, of Lapeer. "It is peaceful and relaxing out here. It's difficult, too. If you hit the ball straight, the course is very playable. It's really enjoyable. I like the terrain -- the hills, the water shots."

Long hitters might not feel challenged on several par-4 holes -- such as No. 1 (301 yards), No. 12 (334 yards) and No. 16 (353 yards) -- and one par 5, the 458-yard 18th, but every other hole is a legitimate test for any player.

Although the fairways are wide and generous, averaging a width of about 120 feet, Marsh Ridge is still target golf at its finest. There are some monster carries over wetlands off the tees and delicate approach shots to smallish greens.

The golf course's five par-3s are all special. The 136-yard second hole plunges some 60 feet to the green, which is barely visible from the tee because of the drop. A sand trap sits left with a pond on the right. No. 8, a 167-yard hole, is all carry over wetland. The 172-yard 10th might be the best hole on the course. Golfers walk up a flight of stairs to the tees set well above the hole. Surrounded by flowers, the tee plays all downhill over wetlands, with a pond on the left and a bunker right. No. 13, another 168-yard carry over marsh, and No. 17, a 134-yard uphill climb to a blind green, round out the par-3s.

Other holes worth mentioning are the 370-yard fifth, with a tee some 60 feet above the fairway. No. 6 provides the payback, playing a brutal 415 yards uphill. The tee shot is intimidating with a hill forming a sort of wall in front of the tee. No. 7 is a marvel at 423 yards. Players must carry a pond with a 200-yard tee shot while avoiding five bunkers. The second shot again drops to the depths of the property, with the green at least 60 feet below the fairway.

On the less stunning back nine, the closing hole, a 458-yard par 5, plays similar to No. 6, with a huge hill in front of the tee, forcing players to hit a high tee ball to an elevated fairway. A pond short of the narrow, elevated green will force players to layup or hit a great shot.

The lighted driving range or the Himalayas practice green are also welcome amenities for players. But golf is just a small part of the resort's services.

Marsh Ridge orchestrates a mystery weekend, where actors weave a web of murder and deceit, challenging the guests to solve who committed the crime and why. The mystery unfolds over several days, giving guests time to relax around the pool or hot tub. Come wintertime, snowmobilers and cross country skiers flock to Marsh Ridge to take advantage of the hills and trails in the outlying areas.

The resort offers 59 rooms, ranging from standard Jacuzzi rooms with fridge and microwave, to townhouses, theme suites and a four-bedroom lodge. The Visby and Fjord Townhouses each sleep eight with two baths and a full kitchen. The Stockholm building is the activities center, with tanning and fitness machines and a sauna and hot tub inside. It also can host up to 40 people for a banquet. The Scandinavian Lodge sleeps 12 with four bedrooms, two baths, a kitchen and a living room. The Continental Theme Room Building offers eight private rooms to stay in with themes including the South Pacific, Oriental, Malibu and more.

On the highest point of the property, the Nordic Conference Center provides guests a great view of the golf course. Its banquet hall is the resort's biggest, seating 150 people. Three separate lodges offer the other sleeping options.

Jac's Place is the resort's restaurant/lounge with a full menu of choices. Another local favorite, Schlang's Bavarian Inn, is right down the road.

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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