Golf- and resort-rich Bellaire in northern Michigan out to become its own destination
BELLAIRE, Mich. - Does northern Michigan have room for another golf destination?
The golf-rich village of Bellaire thinks so. Located west of northern Michigan's most trafficked and marketed golf vacation spot, Gaylord, and north of the region's biggest hub, Traverse City, Bellaire offers its own niche.
The village itself doesn't feature much more than one road with a few small stores. "We have our own bowling alley," one local says brimming with pride.
But what it lacks in a vibrant center, it makes up for it with plenty of resort accommodations at Shanty Creek Resorts and lodge and condo rentals littered throughout dense forest. And the golf doesn't get much more concentrated anywhere. Seven golf courses bump up right against each other, so forget that "45-minute drive to anywhere" rule often used in Northern Michigan.
Shanty Creek hosts four golf courses at three facilities all within a mile or so by car, and Hawk's Eye and the Chief are next door neighbors of their own. Add the town's original course, Bellaire Golf Club at the base of the mountain and you've got plenty of golf without putting miles on your car.
And this year, the visitor will get some great stay & play deals at Shanty Creek as well as Hawk's Eye and the Chief. Their strategy is simple: bring in as many people as possible to spread the word on the resurgence of Bellaire.
"This is the year we bring the people back," says John Stultz, vice president of sales & marketing for Shanty Creek Resorts. "We want to develop Bellaire golf to be as big as Gaylord."
Revival at Shanty Creek Resorts
The revival of Shanty Creek Resorts is playing a big hand in establishing Bellaire as a destination. Seemingly left for dead after financial woes a few years back, new ownership and management are revamping the facilities with a new attitude and plenty of cash. Their four courses are back in good shape and the Summit Village hotel is about to undergo a $10 million facelift.
Bellaire golf courses have a few things in common: first off, they're all heavily wooded and rustic. Some have a few condos on them, but are often shielded by thick woods. In ski country, you'll also get plenty of rolling land and elevated tee shots - the Legend and Hawk's Eye especially.
And all of the courses here are a great bargain. None cost more than $80 this summer and with the right package you can tack on a night's hotel for that price too.
Bellaire in Northern Michigan: Where to golf
Cedar River - Tom Weiskopf's Cedar River course opened with a bang at Shanty Creek when it first opened in 1999 and received plenty of "best of" nominations both in Michigan and nationally. Nearly a decade later, look for Cedar River to start climbing the charts again thanks to some restoration and a newfound pledge to conditioning. It has great visibility off the tee, framed by tall pines. It's a joy to play, and the par 5 finisher to the green guarded by a pond front right is a fine, risk/reward finish.
Hawk's Eye - Hawk's Eye is another modern course that is a bit similar to Cedar River, playing through tall pines, many elevated tee shots and few parallel holes. It was also ranked by Michigan golfers in the state's top five - an achievement considering the 800 or so courses in the "hand". It starts with three holes off the bat that offer downhill tee shots - although the 9th hole features the steepest drop: a 440-yard hole that on a dry day will leave you with a little chip into the green.
The Legend - This Arnold Palmer design was one of the pioneers of dramatic, modern golf in northern Michigan. It's set on 600 acres of hilltop ground, overlooking Lake Bellaire. It's the most up-and-down of the Bellaire courses, featuring plenty of downhill tee shots and expansive views. Golfers get a good introduction to the course at the steeply downhill par-5 1st that doglegs around trees to a well-protected green.
The Chief - the older sister course to Hawk's Eye, the Chief features a few open holes before setting back into heavy woods like its more acclaimed sister. The Chief is usually about $10 cheaper than Hawk's Eye. It was built by Canadian architect John F. Robinson and plays just over 6,600 yards from the championship tees.
Schuss Mountain - An older course built in the '70s, Schuss Mountain remains relevant among its newer courses these days due to scenic layout with few tricks - perfect for a warm-up or less-challenging round . Although the name may imply grand rolling fairways as it sits next to ski slopes, you'll find more roller coaster holes on the nearby Legend.
Also playing in Bellaire is the Summit Mountain course at Shanty Creek and Bellaire Golf Club - both a little older and outdated compared to its newer neighbors. Down the road is the Farm Golf Club, another shorter 18-hole course.
Cedar River is the newest of the three villages at Shanty Creek. It features 72 spacious rooms all with their own balcony. It overlooks the Cedar River Course and you can walk to the putting green and driving range. Shanty Creek guests can also be shuttled to any of the Bellaire Golf Courses by resort staff. An added service feature, cart attendants make their way through the parking lot every day and wipe down car windows and windshields.
"It's just a way of saying 'we appreciate how far you came,'" Stultz says.
There are two restaurants at Cedar River: the informal Weiskopf's Grill and the more formal La Vigna Italian restaurant. For a good view with your meal, head to Summit Village and have dinner at the Lakeview Dining Room overlooking Lake Bellaire.
July 3, 2007