After the nationally ranked resorts, try Northern Michigan's underdog golf courses
TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. - Northern Michigan has no shortage of high profile golf courses: Bay Harbor, Arcadia Bluffs, Forest Dunes, The Bear at Grand Traverse and Treetops Resort, to name some of the most nominated.
These facilities get all the high ratings nationally thanks to big budgets, famous architects and the best plots of land -- and command big greens fees because of it.
Be sure to visit at least one to see the best in the area, but don't head home until you experience a few of the north's overachieving lesser-known gems. A golf course is around every corner in this neck of the woods. Here are some of the most memorable and unique you may not know about.
Northern Michigan underdog golf courses
Belvedere Golf Club, Charlevoix - Scot designer Willie Watson, the original designer of Olympic in San Francisco built Belvedere in 1927, and it remains a relevant test heading into the 21st century, despite little change. While on the short side by modern standards (6,700 yards), it offers a laidback atmosphere and fine shot values - most notably the famous short par-4 16th hole that plays to a heavily sloping elevated green.
Belevedere hosted the Michigan Amateur Championship for 39 years and maintains a strong national membership - including members from Augusta National and Cypress Point. One in particular is PGA Tour legend Tom Watson, who spent his youth at Belvedere and is a member to this day. Every odd summer or so, he secretly returns to walk the course just like old times.
"He calls it one of the best in the world," Head Professional Steve Braun says. "I'm sure that's because of nostalgia and childhood memories, but he still comes back."
High Pointe Golf Club, Williamsburg - Fans of architect Tom Doak will want to take a look at his first ever solo design, just outside Traverse City -- long before his Pacific Dunes fame. Signage outside of High Pointe boasts that it was "designed by nature." Doak didn't move much earth here at all. It's minimalist and unassuming.
The course features two contrasting nines. The front is wide-open links, while the back plays through thick woods on rolling terrain. It can be tricky - don't assume driver on every tee. Some greens will give you headaches as well. You won't find many flat lies anywhere.
High Pointe is walker friendly, and you can play in the summertime for as low as $35.
Cedar River at Shanty Creek, Bellaire -- Tom Weiskopf's Forest Dunes in Roscommon is on most "Top 10" lists in Michigan, but his other course, Cedar River at Shanty Creek in Bellaire, shouldn't be overlooked.
It's set on plenty of wooded acreage on rolling terrain around the Shanty Creek ski hills. The 14th hole plays downhill to the foot of a rocky creek and is one of the most dangerous short par-3s in the area. You'll also get downhill back-to-back par-5s on nine and 10.
Hawk's Eye G.C., Bellaire - Michigan golfers aren't dumb. They're a fanatic bunch and voted Hawk's Eye over 800 other courses into the state's top-five in Michigan Golf Magazine - despite a lesser-known architect, John Robinson.
Play Hawk's Eye and it's easy to see why it's user friendly: plenty of elevated tee shots, rolling, rustic terrain and good conditions tee to green. Slap a different designer's name on this course and it can probably ask over $100, but summer fees peak out at $89 (but most packages offer rates much cheaper).
A-Ga-Ming (Torch Course), Kewadin - Just north of Traverse City, A-Ga-Ming's Sundance Course is bigger, longer and flashier. But don't leave until you play the original Torch course next door. It's a mid-'80s design, with fewer tricks and small greens, but tight fairways and some of the areas best views, especially on holes seven through 10, which overlook Torch Lake.
Ross Memorial at Boyne Highlands, Harbor Springs - At the Boyne Highlands facility, the Ross Memorial jostles with the Heather course for the resort's favorite. It is cheaper than the Heather and Hills course as well.
Featuring 18 replica holes of some of Donald Ross' works nationwide, the Memorial doesn't just teach you something about one of the game's early innovators, it's a great test of golf as well.
"They could have built the same golf course but not called it a 'replica' - and it would be just as good," Kevin Frisch of Resort & Golf Marketing said.
It also helps the course is in wonderful condition (and is importing new white sand for the traps this year) and features golf carts with GPS. The finishing hole is the famous 16th at Oakland Hills South, which doglegs around a pond and weeping willows to a shallow green that slopes towards the water.
July 12, 2007