Gaylord golf in full seasonal swing

By Cynthia Boal Janssens, Contributor

GAYLORD, Mich. -- Spring golf is roaring along in Northern Michigan, perhaps because there is such a pent-up demand after a very rough winter.

Warm weather in May always brings out the die-hards and so it was on a mid-May weekend at Garland Resort near Lewiston where nearly 2,600 rounds were played on its four courses, with some players fitting in as many as 45 holes a day.

"That always seems to happen on the weekend between Mother's Day and Memorial Day. Mostly it's guys, but we were extremely busy," says Todd Campbell, director of golf for Garland.

All of which means it should be a great summer for the "Gaylord Golf Mecca."

In 1987 a group of golf courses in the Gaylord area joined forces to increase their marketing power and promote the Gaylord area as a premier golf destination. Fifteen years later the Gaylord Golf Mecca includes 25 courses, five resorts and 24 hotels making it the largest golf resort community in Michigan, and third in the Midwest.

So what's new in the Gaylord Golf Mecca this season?

There are three new members in the Mecca: These are the Black Lake Golf Club in Onaway, Thunder Bay Resort in Hillman and the Forest Dunes Golf Club in Roscommon.

The Black Lake golf course, which opened in 2000, was designed by Rees Jones and is cut from a 1,000-acre forest retreat owned by the United Auto Workers. Black Lake was awarded second place by Golf Digest in the "Best New Upscale Public Facility" category and included in the "Top 10 You Can Play" by Golf Magazine in 2001. It was also rated the No. 1 public course in Michigan -- before Arcadia Bluffs, that is.

Since the course opened, the public was allowed to play but not to stay in the lodge, which was still reserved for UAW families. However, this season the lodge is offering golf packages to the public. The word about this outstanding course is getting around and Black Lake has become the "must-play" course for 2003.

Occupying 400 acres halfway between Interstate 75 and Alpena, Thunder Bay Golf Resort is a bit out of the way, but close enough to Elk Ridge that you can play both courses in one stay. The par-73 Thunder Bay golf course is cut through mature forest and, with five sets of tees, stretches from 5,004 to 6,677 yards. It's known for its elk-viewing trips in the fall.

Forest Dunes was designed by Tom Weiskopf and is nestled on 500 acres of heavily wooded land east of Grayling, surrounded by protected state and national forest land. It is a semi-private golf club with memberships available. Similar to other national clubs around the country, Forest Dunes will be allowing public play until the memberships fill.

The golf course and the Forest Dunes Lake Cottages are situated on Lake AuSable. The course plays 7,104 yards from the tips, 5,939 from the middle tees, 5,097 from the forward tees and 3,084 from the junior tees (this is one of the only courses in the area offering junior tees).

Forest Dunes received Golf magazine's prestigious "Top 10 You Can Play" award in 2003.

Rick Smith buys Treetops Resort: Located just outside of the town of Gaylord, Treetops has gained national prominence in the last few years as the host of the ESPN-televised Par-3 Shootout.

Last July, Rick Smith, the resort's director of golf, acquired the popular resort from the Melling family with the backing of a group of investors, including Harold "Red" Polling and Robert Eaton, the former CEO's of Ford Motor Company and Chrysler Corporation. Smith is now the managing partner and responsible for the operation of the four-star resort.

The property spreads over 4,000 acres of scenic terrain, which the group intends to further develop. A major face-lift is planned for the resort amenities including hotel room upgrades and additional attractions.

Treetops' has always offered great golf: It has four courses (plus a par-3) designed by Robert Trent Jones Sr., Tom Fazio and Smith himself. However, the resort amenities have been somewhat lacking in focus, with no central facilities or theme. We look forward to seeing what changes Smith will bring to this terrific property. Golf Digest ranks the resort 32nd on its list of "Top 75 Resorts in America." With improvements, we know it can go much higher.

Tylenol-Par 3 shoot-out players announced: Threetops is home to the annual Par-3 Shootout, which will be played June 30 and July 1 this year. This is about the biggest golf spectator event that takes place in this neck of the woods and every year is a sellout.

This year the sponsor will be Tylenol. It will feature Fred Couples and Phil Mickelson from the PGA Tour and Lee Trevino and Fuzzy Zoeller from the Champions (aka Senior) Tour in a modified skins game.

The purse for the 18-hole tournament is $540,000 and an additional $1 million bonus is available for every hole-in-one. Each hole is worth $20,000, with a $10,000 bonus for the player hitting his shot closest to the pin. If the hole is not won, the money carries over to the next hole. If the hole is won, the player doesn't get the money unless he validates it on the next hole by either winning or tying the low score. No validation is necessary on playoff holes.

The Rick Smith designed Threetops Course was named by Travel & Leisure Magazine as the No. 1 par-3 course in the nation on its list of America's Top 5 Par-3 courses in December of 2002. This award follows Golfweek's ranking of Threetops as America's best Par-3 Course. If you haven't played a par-3 course in some years, be sure to fit this in during your visit to the Gaylord area. It offers some big surprises and will certainly sharpen anyone's short game.

Tickets for the Tylenol Par-3 Shootout are now on sale and may be purchased online at or by calling (989) 732-6711, ext. 2499. The rate is $30 for one day or $50 for two days.

Otsego Club tightens its holdings: Keith Gornick, the owner of the Otsego Club, had been planning to sell this venerable resort (previously known as Hidden Valley) and last year was looking for buyers. To better position the property for sale, Gornick sold The Loon back to Mike Husby and did not re-new the lease on The Lake.

Recently Gornick has decided to keep the resort and operate it with just two courses, the original Classic and the new Tribute. The Tribute, which opened last season, was designed by former PGA TOUR player and NBC golf commentator Gary Koch. It was selected one of the Top 10 new courses by Sports Illustrated in 2002.

Mike Husby re-purchases The Loon: Mike Husby has long been a familiar figure on the Gaylord golf scene. He was the designer of Marsh Ridge and of the popular The Loon course off Charles Brink Road, which he sold to the Otsego Club. He then headed even further north to design and operate Wild Bluff in the Upper Peninsula near Brimley.

Husby has returned to Gaylord and purchased the Loon back and will be running the day-to-day operations. This course was named one of the country's 100 most user-friendly golf courses by Golf for Women magazine. Michaywe will again operate The Lake: For the past several years, The Lake has been under the management of the Otsego Club, but now that Gornick has decided not to re-new its lease, Michaywe has stepped back in to take over the operations. So once again The Lake and The Pines will be under joint management.

Garland giving away lifetime golf: Garland resort, near Lewiston, has a special place in the hearts of area golfers. It offers 72 holes of golf set into 3,500 acres of wilderness. This season, Garland is giving away a lifetime golf membership each week through Oct. 12. Every guest staying at Garland Monday through Sunday will be automatically registered for that week's drawing. The 25 lifetime memberships to be awarded are worth over $500,000.

Also, Garland is introducing a new ladies package that includes two nights lodging, two rounds of golf, and a gift certificate for a golf lesson, a massage, a gift from the golf shop or as a meal credit. Two-day packages begin at $146 per player.

A deal often overlooked: When visiting the Gaylord area, be sure to play the Black Forest course at Wilderness Valley. It is one of the area's toughest courses at a 145 slope, but is still a bargain at $65, carts included.

Thanks go to Golf Marketing Services for their assistance with this round-up.

For more information on the Gaylord Golf Mecca, call (800) 345-8621 or

To contact the individual resorts

Beaver Creek Resort/The Natural, Gaylord
(989) 732-1785

Black Bear Golf Resort
(866) 983-4441

Black Lake Golf Club, Onaway
(989) 733-4653

Black Forest/Wilderness Valley Golf Resort, Gaylord
(231) 585-7090

Elk Ridge, Atlanta
(800) 626-4ELK

Forest Dunes Golf Club, Roscommon
(989) 275-0700

Fox Run Country Club, Grayling
(800) 436-9786

Garland, Lewiston
(877) 4-GARLAND

Gaylord Country Club, Gaylord
(231) 546-3376

Lakes of the North/Deer Run, Mancelona
(800) 851-4653

Marsh Ridge, Gaylord
(800) 743-7529

Michaywe/ The Lake and The Pines, Gaylord
(888) 746-3742

Otsego Club, Gaylord
(800) 280-5666

The Loon, Gaylord
(877) 732-4455

Thunder Bay Resort, Hillman
(800) 729-9375

Treetops Resort, Gaylord

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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