Michigan's four-season resorts cater to golfers, skiers
Golfers hitting shots on the uphill Cedar River Village driving range at Shanty Creek Resorts probably can't fathom what happens to this place when the snow flies.
The hill transforms into an ultra-cool tubing park in the winter. Family members can race to the bottom riding the six runs carved through the snow. A towrope zips the tubes and their riders back to the top with ease for another go-round. It's the perfect outdoor adventure while the resort's four courses are in hibernation.
Many Michigan golf resorts double as ski resorts filled with winter sports activities. Or, as skiers would argue, they're ski resorts disguised as golf destinations. Whatever side of the argument you land, here are some great places to hang out in any season, green or white.
Crystal Mountain Resort & Spa
Crystal Mountain Resort & Spa, located in Thompsonville near Traverse City, rates as the No. 1 ski resort in the Midwest by one publication. On the opposite end of the spectrum, the resort's 36 holes are vastly under-appreciated. The Mountain Ridge Course hosts the Michigan Women's Open annually, and the Betsie Valley Course has seen numerous improvements in recent years. Skiing at Crystal dates to 1955 when it was named the Bucks Hills ski area. The resort's 45 runs, featuring 375 feet of vertical drop, provide endless fun. A new chairlift near Camp Totem, the learning area, increases the ski options on the newly expanded Loki and Thor runs and services the nine adjoining slopes. The Crystal Clipper is the fastest lift in the Midwest.
Boyne USA Resorts
One dollar. That's what Boyne USA Resorts founder Everett Kircher spent in 1947 on the land that is now Boyne Mountain Resort in Boyne Falls. Kircher eventually developed both Boyne Mountain and Boyne Highlands Resort in Harbor Springs into wonderful golf/ski destinations. Kircher was a ski industry pioneer, installing the world's first triple chair at Boyne Highlands and the world's first four-person chair at Boyne Mountain, both in 1964. And in 1992, Boyne Mountain unveiled America's first six-seat, high-speed chairlift. Boyne stays ahead of the curve today. New groomers and snow guns, a fleet of cutting-edge rental skis and terrain park enhancements are on tap at Boyne Mountain this season, and expanded racing programs have come to Boyne Highlands.
Kircher also set the up-north golf boom into motion. Kircher's nine-hole, par-3 course in front of Boyne Mountain's main lodge grew into a golf empire consisting of four courses at Boyne Highlands and two at Boyne Mountain. The Heather Course, crafted by Robert Trent Jones, Sr. in 1970, was the first of many great "name" designs built in northern Michigan.
Shanty Creek Resorts
Shanty Creek Resorts' two mountains, the Summit and Schuss, deliver 53 well-groomed runs and 450 feet of vertical drop in Bellaire. The Summit slopes aren't as steep as those at Schuss, and there's an indoor pool and hot tub to relax in. The Lakeview Hotel & Conference Center is fresh off a $10 million renovation. The timber-laden Grand Lobby and the Lakeview Restaurant & Lounge overlook Lake Bellaire. Schuss Mountain features one amenity, a Magic Carpet, missing at Summit. Ivan's at Schuss, a tavern-style restaurant by day, becomes a hopping bar at night. Snowboarders can ride through four terrain parks and a half-pipe. Cross-country skiers can revel in 31 kilometers of trails. Of Shanty Creek's four courses, Tom Weiskopf's Cedar River and Arnold Palmer's The Legend are nationally recognized.
The Homestead Resort
The ski lifts of the old Sugar Loaf Mountain Resort sitting in the middle of the Manitou Passage Golf Club don't run anymore. Manitou Passage was shuttered for a while, too, before The Homestead Resort in Glen Arbor rescued the former Kings Challenge Course. Skiers looking for powder in the Leelanau Peninsula can find 13 low-key slopes and luxury accommodations at this charming retreat on the shores of Lake Michigan. Cross-country skiing and skating are also available.
Pine Mountain Golf & Ski Resort
Although they have always been neighbors, the Pine Mountain ski lodge and hill didn't merge operations with the five-star TimberStone at Pine Mountain until 2010. The synergy has helped both. As good as TimberStone is, Pine Mountain will always be known for its legendary ski jump. Every February, jumpers from around the world show up attempting to set a U.S. record, floating farther than 459 feet in the air, in front of crowds up to 20,000 people. Five lifts on the mountain cater to 27 runs and two terrain parks. Pine Mountain Golf & Ski Resort is the only U.P. golf resort where children 12-and-under ski free with a paying adult. Famers Sports Bar 7 Grill inside the lodge is home to the sports Hall of Fame for Yooper natives.
Winter activities do more than keep the lights on at Treetops Resort, a noted Gaylord golf destination with five courses. The same mindboggling demon drops that make Rick Smith's Threetops, Tradition and Signature Courses, Tom Fazio's Premier Course and Robert Trent Jones, Sr.'s Masterpiece Course so good also deliver 23 different runs for skiers and snowboarders. Snowmobiling, extreme tubing and cross-country skiing are also options.
The Otsego Club & Resort
One time per season, a family is allowed to "test drive" the runs and the famous 'O Park' at The Otsego Club & Resort, a private ski club in Gaylord. Snowboarders flock to the rails, jibs and jumps of the 'O Park,' the only place east of the Mississippi with a 22-foot monster pipe. Several foreign Olympic teams have trained here in the past. The pursuits of summer are found on The Classic and The Tribute, a more highly regarded design by the team of Gary Koch and Rick Robbins.
Editor's note: Several other ski areas without lodging are home to golf courses: The Jackal Golf Club at Mt. Brighton Ski Resort, Snow Snake in Harrison, Apple Mountain in Freeland and Pine Knob in Clarkston.
December 13, 2011