Beauty and the beast: Fazio Premier Course at Treetops Resort in Gaylord offers challenge

By Kiel Christianson, Senior Writer

GAYLORD, Mich. -- Renowned course architect Tom Fazio's first course in Michigan, the Tom Fazio Premier at Treetops Resort, is a uniquely challenging gem in the north woods. Featuring numerous elevation changes and treacherous greens, the Premier places a premium on accurate iron play and solid short-game skills.

Treetops Resort - Fazio Premier Course - 8th
Tom Fazio Premier course at Treetops Resort places a premium on accurate iron play and solid short-game skills.
Treetops Resort - Fazio Premier Course - 8thFazio Premier golf course - Treetops Resort - 7th
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Fazio Premier at Treetops Resort

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The Premier Course is the only Tom Fazio-designed golf course in Michigan. The course sprawls across rolling terrain dotted with trees. Fazio designed a layout that appeals to a variety of different skill levels since it is both challenging and forgiving.

18 Holes | Resort golf course | Par: 72 | 6832 yards | ... details »

Picking a favorite from among the four outstanding, 18-hole courses at Treetops is practically impossible, because each has its own personality. Fazio's course is a beauty from the tee but a real beast around the greens. You can get away with some wildness off many of the tees, but if you avoid three-jacking any greens, you can be proud of your game.

Opened in 1992, the Premier represents a contrarian view to recent design trends: The yardage is relatively benign (6,832 from the tips, but most folks will play from the 6,302 blues or 5,886 whites), and the fairways are, for the most part, wide enough to land aircraft on (the wicked undulations might give pilots fits, though). The longest par 5 is only 546 yards (494 from the blues), the longest par 3 only 214 yards (183 from the blues), and there is one of the best collections of short par 4s anywhere in the country.

So what makes the Premier special enough to rate 4-1/2 stars from Golf Digest? The answer lies in the breathtaking routing and the amazing, if often thoroughly frustrating, greens. Starting off with the first hole, you'll find a massive bentgrass fairway resembling one of the resort's ski slopes running downhill to the green. And while the greens (also bentgrass) of the first few holes are tame, you'll soon discover that a long day of chipping, sand shots and nasty putts await all but the most skilled short-game players.

The greens are very fast and very true, but the almost-excessive tiering and contouring on some make for circus-like putts if you happen to land on the wrong tier. Add in enough sand to bed a herd of camels and a handful of dauntingly elevated greens, and club selection turns into a brain-busting linear equation into which you need to figure yardage, elevation, wind, slope, pin placement, lie and the relative penalties associated with going long, short, left and right. Does anyone else's brain hurt?

This is one of a very few upscale Michigan golf courses where long tee shots are far less than half the battle.

Take, for example, the 313-yard, par-4 fifth, which measures just 281 from the blues. This is a classic sucker hole: drivable but requiring an absolutely perfect tee shot. Evil bunkering guards all sides of the two-tiered green. The hill tight on the right and the slope hard on the left assure that long but wide drives will not result in birdies -- and maybe not even pars. To top it all off, the smaller back tier of the green lies a good six or seven feet below the front tier. So if you end up on the wrong tier, you'll be lucky to three-putt.

Nos. 7-9 all feature elevation changes that wreak havoc with club selection. The green of No. 7 is 35 feet above the fairway, requiring 1-1/2 to 2 clubs more than you think you need. No. 8 is a par 3 of 183 yards (167 from the blues) with an 80-foot, Threetops-like elevation drop from tee to green. And No. 9, a 406-yard nightmare for slicers (serious woods right), requires a longish approach 25-feet up to the putting surface. The bunkers here are absolutely miserable, so whatever you do, avoid them. My advice if you don't: Chip out backwards down the slope and try again. (This is the voice of a 10 speaking.)

The scorecard calls the 362-yard 15th "one of the best short par 4s in the world." The fairway meanders downhill and to the right around trees and fairway bunkers. Bunkers also guard the far side of the fairway, if you happen to juice your long iron or ill advisedly pull a wood. The green is, in the words of one of the rangers, "funny." It's got three tiers and requires a bump-and-run to get it down to the third, back tier.

The 18th is very memorable; as long as you don't stray too close to the left side of the fairway, slip down the 60-foot slope, hit your head, and get amnesia. Seriously, keep yourself and your ball as far away from the left side of this sweeping dogleg-left as possible. The fairway is -- Surprise! -- enormous, with an extra bail-out area to the right that will catch all but the most chronic slices.

At 471 from the tips (458 from the blues), this par 4 plays more like a par 5, especially into the wind. But again, keep your approach right as well, or a half-dozen nasty bunkers cut into the steep downslope left of the green will make you wish you had fallen off the side of the hill. Whatever your score here, take a moment after putting out and look back off the green over the Pigeon River Valley. This is why they call it Treetops, folks.

As you would expect at Treetops, the conditions at the Fazio Premier are impeccable. And of course, all of the amenities of the resort are available for resort guests, and the pro-shop and practice facilities are open to guest and non-guest alike.

Quibbles are hard to come by. Golfers at Treetops know their etiquette, and inevitably allow faster players to play through. The rates are steep for your average Joe, but this is to be expected at one of the hottest golf destinations in the world.

Kiel ChristiansonKiel Christianson, Senior Writer

Kiel Christianson has lived, worked, traveled and golfed extensively on three continents. As senior writer and equipment editor for, he has reviewed courses, resorts, and golf academies from California to Ireland, including his home course, Lake of the Woods G.C. in Mahomet, Ill. Read his golf blog here and follow him on Twitter @GolfWriterKiel.

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