Michigan golf courses ranked in the top 100 in the country

By Jason Scott Deegan, Senior Staff Writer

PETOSKY, MI -- So northern Michigan hasn't made it onto your short list of places to visit on your next golf trip?

Well, that's fine. Most Michigan residents are more than happy to keep their golfing treasure their well-kept secret.

Most outsiders think of Michigan with a climate as cold as an iced tea in February and a topography as bland as the local Walmart parking lot. But that couldn't be further from the truth.

If you've ever been graced by the fairways of the Sandhills in North Carolina, Myrtle Beach in South Carolina or the golf mecca that is Pebble Beach, to be a true golfer, you've got to experience Michigan's finest fairways. How does Michigan compare nationally, you ask?

Just take a look at the latest installment of "The Top 100 Places You Can Play" by Golf Magazine in its September, 2002, issue. For the second straight year, six Michigan courses made the rankings of the nation's best public courses, tying southern vacation havens such as Florida and South Carolina. By comparison, only California and Arizona, with 10 courses apiece, followed by Hawaii with eight, rank higher.

What's even more intriguing is 10 Michigan courses have been ranked on the list since 2000, proving there's not only quality, but quantity of quality among its 800 public courses, which is No. 1 in the nation.

With the five Great Lakes, Michigan golf boasts not only Pinehurst-like courses cut through forests of glorious pines and hardwoods, but beautiful coastline gems - No. 18 Bay Harbor and No. 26 Arcadia Bluffs come to mind - as well.

For the first time, none of Gaylord's best courses made the list. The Fazio course (No. 55 in 2001) and the Smith Tradition course (No. 89 in 2000) at Treetops/Sylvan Resort both were fixtures on the list, along with Boyne USA' s best, the Heather at Boyne Highlands (No. 71 in 2001). Shanty Creek's newest course, Cedar River (No. 84), also fell from the ranking, marking an interesting trend.

All three of the new courses on the list - No. 87 Black Lake, No. 88 Tullymore and No. 98 Pilgrims Run - are not a part of Michigan's long-time resort scene in Petosky, Traverse City or Gaylord. They're all loving the chance to shine in the media spotlight, away from the shadows of Treetops, Boyne and the Grand Traverse Resort.

Jeff O'Malley, the director of golf at Pilgrim's Run, said his staff was "ecstatic" when they heard the news. He's already noticed a steady stream of new players coming to check out the course.

"We had one father bring his son out to play his first 'top 100' course," O' Malley said. "It's had an unbelievable impact for us. It's created quite a buzz."

To honor the state's best, according to Golf Magazine, here's a preview of each course:

Bay Harbor

Still at the tender age of four, the Bay Harbor Golf Club has been ranked among the nation's top 10 the past two years, before slipping to 18th. No matter, the "Pebble Beach of the Midwest" is still the best mix of challenging and picture-worthy holes in the state. Twenty-seven holes grace the property, but the two best nines are the Quarry, cut through an old rock quarry, and the links, which features a par-5 along Lake Michigan that does its best to rival the beautiful 18th at Pebble Beach. This design made Arthur Hills a hot architect. Just like the course it is often compared to, Bay Harbor will never be affordable for the masses with its $200-plus price tag.

Arcadia Bluffs

Once the environmental issues that delayed the construction of this course were somewhat settled (there is still a lawsuit in court), No. 26 Arcadia Bluffs emerged to become Bay Harbor's Lake Michigan rival as Michigan's most dynamic golfing experience. Many people say as the course matures, it's just a matter of time before the Bluffs overtakes Bay Harbor for No. 1. Some 70 to 80 miles south of Bay Harbor, Arcadia Bluffs features similar, breath-taking views of Lake Michigan's vast ocean of water. The 7,404-yard design, laid out on 245 acres, plays like a true Scottish seaside links course, overlooking 3,100 feet of shoreline. In true links style, 50 sod-walled bunkers, wide fairways, native grasses and large greens averaging 8,000 square feet highlight the experience. Arcadia's price tag is a little less than Bay Harbor's, but still no bargain at $160.

The Gailes at Lakewood Shores

Despite taking a huge plunge in the ratings (from 40th to 80th), The Gailes is still a tough test and a true bargain hunter's delight. It costs roughly $70 to play a course unique to American players. Golfers who have attempted to tackle the 6,954-yard, par-72 layout swear that The Gailes is just like a seaside links in Scotland. Although it's not right on Lake Huron, it's less than a mile inland, where the wind is always a factor in your club selection. Kevin Aldridge and his father Stan Aldridge, who owns the resort, walked many of Scotland's great designs -- Western Gailes, Carnoustie and Royal Troon - before Kevin designed the Gailes as a rookie architect. Opened in 1992, the course features jagged mounding, covered with fescue grasses; deep sod-faced bunkers; meandering burns; double greens and grassy hollows - all characteristics of old-style links courses.

Black Lake

No. 87 Black Lake is unique both on and off the course. It is one of just two Michigan courses designed by the legendary Rees Jones. It also is semiprivate as a part of the 1,000-acre Walter and May Reuther Family Education Center for United Auto Workers members, retirees and guests. Jones used the natural settings of 300 acres to create a challenge of 7,030 yards, with a rating of 74.3 and a slope rating of 140. For a cost under $100, Black Lake can provide a lifetime of memories.


The Tullymore's accent to the top 100 in the country (ranked No. 88) is nothing short of amazing, considering the course is less than two years old. The maturity of the course is a testament to the course's workers and the beauty of its 800 acres of land, including 350 acres of untouched wetlands. Course architect Jim Engh built a championship beast of 7,146 yards with one of the highest slope ratings (148) in the state. At the grand opening in September, 2001, just two years after groundbreaking for the project, Engh told TravelGolf.com writer Kiel Christianson: "This is the single best new-course grow-in that I've ever seen." The Tullymore has already surpassed its sister course, St. Ives, which is also considered an elite course. Both cost roughly $80-90 in season.

Pilgrims Run:

No. 98 Pilgrim's Run is the southern-most Michigan course on the list, just a 20-minute drive down U.S. 131 from the Tullymore, and just 45 minutes north of Grand Rapids. The course was designed by six employees, who each drew up three holes, and then hired Mike DeVries, a student of Tom Doak, to bring their fantasies to life on 400 acres. Since opening the front nine in July 1997 and the back nine one year later, Pilgrims Run has added a clubhouse in 1999. The course will also hit a home run with your wallet. Playing early in the season costs a mere $39, while the course's most expensive tee times are $59 on weekends. "Great Lakes Golf Magazine has rated us No. 1 in service, so we provide quite a combination (of good and affordable golf)," O'Malley said. "What more could a golfer want?"

For more information:

Bay Harbor
3600 Village Harbor Dr., Bay Harbor

Arcadia Bluffs
14710 Northwood Hwy. Arcadia

The Gailes at Lakewood Shores
7751 Cedar Lake Rd., Oscoda

Black Lake
2800 Maxon Rd., Onaway

9900 St. Ives Drive, Stanwood

Pilgrims Run
11401 Newcosta Ave., Pierson

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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