The Arthur Hills Michigan Golf Trail creates its own path

By Jason Scott Deegan, Senior Staff Writer

PLYMOUTH, Mich. - Let's get one thing straight right away to clear up any confusion.

The new Arthur Hills Michigan Golf Trail is not trying to be another copycat version of the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail. Since the outlandish success of the RJT in Alabama, trails have sprung up throughout the country - the Bear Trace in Tennessee, the Magnolia in Mississippi and the Audubon in Louisiana to name a few.

When Quentin Lutz, the vice president of global vice president of marketing and media relations for Arthur Hills/Steve Forrest and Associates in Toledo, Ohio, announced the concept for Michigan's 12-course trail last fall, he didn't have grand visions of golfers driving throughout the state, playing only Hills courses.

There are too many great layouts in the state to expect such loyalists to one architect. Given the fact that two of the courses, HawksHead Links in South Haven and Red Hawk in East Tawas, are on virtual islands far apart from any other trail destination, it just doesn't make sense logically.

All Lutz was trying to do was his job -- get the Hills name in a golfer's subconscious one more time.

"The goal was to create an awareness for these courses, to get people to think about Michigan and the trail as a golf destination," Lutz said.

There aren't any immediate plans for package deals between courses, Lutz said, but that doesn't mean the trail can't succeed. There are too many top courses on the trail, like the nationally ranked Bay Harbor Golf Club, for the concept to be ignored as some marketing sham. With a little time and some cooperation between the courses to create packages, the Hills trail could really become a top draw.

Unfortunately, three of Hills better designs haven't joined yet, the 27-hole Shepherd's Hollow Golf Club in Clarkston, Pine Trace in Rochester Hills and The Legacy in Ottawa Lake. Lutz said there's hope to recruit them in the future.

"Arthur Hills is not only associated with quality golf, but he's known for his strategic and traditional design," Lutz said. "The general public has an appreciate for Hills courses because they are a higher level of course. They are kept up well and considered to be a great golfing experience. That's what this trail will highlight."

Here's a look at the trail, which can easily be segmented into four sections for travelers:

Metro Detroit

Metro Detroit provides the biggest concentration of courses. Seven are within an hour of one another (in addition to the three that haven't signed on as official trail members). There isn't the stunning golf experience or the on-site lodging that the other three trail segments offer, but there's still good golf to be had.

The most scenic is the newest, the 6,837-yard Lyon Oaks Golf Club in Wixom, which opened in 2002. Lyon Oaks demands target golf with numerous carries over wetlands, especially on approach shots. The back nine calls for "island hopping," as Hills' architect Steve DeForrest describes it, where players must hit to designated fairway areas over, and around, ball-eating hazards.

The devilishly difficult Fieldstone Golf Club, a 7,002-yard layout in Auburn Hills, has been a qualifying site for the Buick Open, Michigan's only PGA Tour event, for several years. The former 27-hole facility, which Hills reinvented, opens a new clubhouse this summer.

The 6,783-yard Golden Fox at Fox Hills Golf & Banquet Center is the crown jewel of the 63-hole facility in Plymouth. Fox Hills also has amenities found only in northern Michigan, like a brand new golf school, run by the award-winning staff from Crystal Mountain Resort.

The Pheasant Run Golf Club in Canton opened 18 holes in 1995 and added nine holes in 2000. Showing off a creativity few can match, the Hills staff found two new holes in a wooded area on the original back nine and rerouted the entire course during the nine-hole addition to make it flow better.

The 6,049-yard Taylor Meadows and the 7,028-yard Lakes of Taylor are the most convenient stops, just minutes from one another off of Interstate-94, but they're also the least heralded. The 6,932-yard Stonebridge Golf Club can stake a claim as the best public course in Ann Arbor.

The West Coast

About three hours from Detroit, the two trail courses on Michigan's west coast are both Lake Michigan gems with lodging on-site.

The Thoroughbred Golf Club has garnered many accolades since opening on July 4, 1993. It roams through 400 acres of forest on the Double JJ Ranch & Golf Resort in Rothbury, the largest dude ranch east of the Mississippi River. The resort has unique lodging - with secluded areas for adults only and families only to cater to the individual needs of both.

The HawksHead Links is perhaps the most underrated masterpiece in Michigan. The 6,984-yard HawksHead, located in South Haven, a fun tourist town on the shores of Lake Michigan, rolls in and around rugged sandy dunes. Wispy fescue grasses and the whipping winds of Lake Michigan provide the course's defenses. The charm of the nine-room Inn at HawksHead, a magnificently restored Old English Tudor Mansion, and its fine dining complement the course.

Northern Michigan

The spoils of resort country come with the 27-hole Bay Harbor Golf Club and the Hills' course at Boyne Highlands Resort.

The Links and Quarry nines at Bay Harbor are often referred to as the Pebble Beach of the Midwest for the surreal coastline views of the Little Traverse Bay. The course is just minutes from the posh Inn at Bay Harbor. The Inn, which opened in 1998, offers 136 different accommodations, including 80 suites, with amenities like balconies on the water and fireplaces. The Spa and lake-side dining are probably its biggest attractions. The Inn was flagged in December, 2003, as a Renaissance Resort, a full-service division of Marriott International, Inc. that boasts 125 properties worldwide.

The 7,312-yard Hills course at Boyne Highlands opened in 2000. You'll remember the tee shot on the 570-yard No. 13 for years as your ball floats into the sky off an elevated tee. Boyne Highlands, with its brick-paved walkways and ivy-covered walls, has a country charm and elegant personality.

The Island Course

It's too bad the 6,589-yard, par-71 Red Hawk Golf Club is so remote from the rest of the trail - some three hours from either metro Detroit or the Bay Harbor/Boyne twosome - because many players swear it will be the best pure test of golf on your journey. Red Hawk, located on the east side of the state in East Tawas, wins awards annually for its commitment to service.

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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