Garland's rustic lodge and challenging courses offer a true 'Up North' golf experience

By Cynthia Boal Janssens, Contributor

LEWISTON, Mich. -- "Are the eagles back yet?"

Each spring this is often one of the first questions that returning golfers ask in the pro shop at Garland Resort.

The eagles, a nesting pair that often has at least one immature in the nest, are a fixture here and almost always visible to players.

The word for this year is that yes, they are back, and settled in a high tree between No.11 on the Monarch course and No. 10 of Reflections. All is well in the Garland world.

Wildlife is such a critical component of the Garland experience that it is little wonder that everyone knows and cares about the eagles. It is typical, that if you are out on one of the first tee times of the day, that whitetail deer will still be grazing the courses. And, of course, wild turkeys are liable to putter by anytime.

It is all part of the rustic Garland experience. Actually, the word "rustic" is a bit of a misnomer. Garland is referred to as rustic because the main structure is a stately lodge built of massive pine logs, but that is where the rusticity ends. Garland is the only AAA four-diamond resort in the northeastern part of the state. It is truly a gem in the wilderness and while it isn't always easy to find, once people arrive they are usually hooked and return often.

Garland is all the more special because it is family owned and operated. Ron Otto, son of the founder, is the current owner and his son-in-law. Barry Owen, is the general manager. It's not uncommon to see various family members pitching in when needed.

And although Garland does run a winter program, golf is what the resort is about. It all began in 1951 when Herman Otto, a German-born American businessman, built a nine-hole golf course and log clubhouse to entertain his family, friends and employees of his Detroit-based company, Garland Manufacturing. The golf course was aptly called Herman's Nine.

In the early 1960s, Garland opened to the public and a second nine holes opened in 1973. Third and fourth nine-hole layouts opened in 1978 and 1980, all designed by Ron Otto. Today the total is four 18-hole courses. The most recent addition, Fountains, opened in 1999.

In 1985, a gas explosion and fire destroyed the main clubhouse and the Otto family decided to upgrade the resort into a four-season facility and a place for corporate retreats. Thus, today the log clubhouse -- the largest log building east of the Mississippi River -- is the centerpiece of a resort complex that is ever-growing.

While there are a number of rooms in the main building, some with fireplaces and all decorated in upscale color schemes, there are also a cottages and villas on the grounds that are the favorite choice of families, groups of friends or couples looking for romantic retreats.

The elegant Herman's dining room is a favorite for both visitors and locals alike. It is filled with exquisite wood carvings and taxidermy that literally bring the outdoors in. You have a choice of menus: One offers fine dining (often featuring wild game) and the other offers more casual grill selections..

But while the resort is luxurious and the food can be excellent, golf is the main reason that people come here. And sometimes they come in droves. On one weekend in mid-May of this year, more than 2,600 rounds were played on the four courses: Reflections, Swampfire, Monarch and Fountains.

Delores Martone, who lives on nearby Big Bear Lake in the summer and Florida in the winter, says she has been played at Garland "Since there were only nine holes. I began in around 1968, I guess." She cites Garland as one of the reasons she and her husband Jim decided to retire this area from Rochester, Mich.

When asked which course is her favorite, she replies: "Each is different so it's hard to pick." So we asked her to describe the courses, and we added our observations:

Reflections (6,407 yards from the tips, 127/70.8): "This course is aptly named as there is a lot of water and good views. A lot of players don't fully appreciate it because it is more rustic. But it's nice because it has some of the original holes on it, like No. 5."

Generally, Reflections is considered the most forgiving course and is often a favorite for warming up and with female players for which it is rated a modest 117/66.8. It offers the rather unique combination of six par-3 holes, six par-4s and six par-5s. The course is rather tight and the woods definitely come into play.

Swampfire (6,854 yards, 138/73.9): "This is definitely the water course. People in Florida don't believe it when we tell them there is water on 16 holes and we just play through it. It is always in good shape and is scenic."

This course can be a handful for anyone. As one veteran players puts it: "If you dub your shot, you are in the water. Simple as that."

Monarch (7,188 yards, 140/75.6): "This course is longer than Swampfire and that's what makes it fun. It is more of your standard, tournament layout."

This is the course for the big hitters. One of Michigan's longest golf courses, it is considered by many as Garland's ruling layout, primarily because of its length and the number of holes where water comes into play. You will encounter streams, ponds, and lakes on 14 holes. And there is no easing into your round as the first hole carries the No. 1 handicap, for men and women.

Fountains (6,760 yards, 130/73.0): "This is the new, challenging course and you've got to manage your shots. The greens are different on this course, much faster and with more contours which makes it really neat to play."

Fountains features water on nine of the holes and, per its name, there are fountains throughout the layout. It also has the 6-6-6 hole configuration with the finishing hole of each nine being a par-3. On the drive between the first and second holes you will cross one of the longest single-span log bridges in the world (which goes across a road, not water).

Garland has been receiving a lot of play in recent seasons since it introduced a number of packages including unlimited golf. Many men players will play 36 holes and, if daylight allows, head out for another nine.

Many women also play at Garland, although it can be a stern test of their game. In general, the attitude is that if you can play well here you can play anywhere. Except for Reflections, the course ratings from the forward tees are stiff.Swampfire is 121/68.4, Monarch is 123/69.5 and Fountains is 128/74.1. It is kind of fun to work your way through the courses, trying a bit more difficult one each time.

Garland hosts a large number of corporate retreats and golf outings, as well, and has an aggressive real estate program, evidenced by the attractive cottages and homes on some of the holes. It has a 5,000-feet paved airstrip that will accommodate small private planes.

Garland is a member of the Gaylord Golf Mecca and many players who come up to play at Treetops and the Otsego Club soon make their way out highway M-32 to test their mettle at Garland. And if there is not challenge enough at Garland (and there is plenty), golfers can easily drive over to Black Lake in Onaway or Elk Ridge in Atlanta to vary their rounds.

How to get there

From Grand Rapids: Take US-131 North to Cadillac, then turn right (East) onto M-55. Follow M-55 to US-27 (30 miles). Take US-27 North to I-75 North. Follow I-75 North to exit 254, Grayling. After exiting, turn right at the first light onto M-72 East. Follow M-72 to Luzerne (23 miles). Turn left (North) at the blinking caution light onto Red Oak Rd (also known as County Rd. 489), and continue North 14 miles and the Garland entrance is on the right side.

From Detroit: Take I-75 North to exit 202, Alger. Bear right on M-33 North to Mio (36 miles). Turn left in Mio at the traffic signal onto M-72 West. Follow M-72 to Luzerne (8 miles). Turn right at the blinking caution light onto Red Oak Rd (also known as County Rd 489). Follow Red Oak Rd. (14 miles). The Garland entrance is on the right side.

From Lansing: Follow M-27 North to I-75 North. Follow I-75 North to exit 254, Grayling. After exiting, turn right at the first light onto M-72 East. Follow M-72 to Luzerne (23 miles). Turn left (North) at the blinking caution light onto Red Oak Rd. (also known as County Road 489), continue North 14 miles and the Garland entrance is on the right side.

Note: Avoid coming through Gaylord, if possible, because road construction is closing a large part of M-32 east this summer.

Cynthia Boal JanssensCynthia Boal Janssens, Contributor

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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