The Loon Golf Resort in Gaylord, Michigan blossoms into full-service resort

By Jason Scott Deegan, Senior Staff Writer

GAYLORD, Mich. -- For more than a decade, the Loon Golf Course seemed the odd man out in the crowded northern Michigan golf mecca.

Loon Golf Resort - clubhouse
The expanded Loon Golf Resort clubhouse overlooks the 18th hole.
Loon Golf Resort - clubhouseLoon Golf Club - hole 18Loon Golf Club - hole 14Loon Golf Club - hole 1Butch Harmon at the Loon Golf Resort
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That's no knock on the excellent Mike Husby design. It's just a matter of numbers when competing with the likes of the five golf courses at Treetops Resort, the Classic and Tribute courses at the Otsego Club and Resort and Black Forest, one of Tom Doak's earliest designs.

The Loon also sits fewer than three miles from more value-oriented tee times at Mountain Lake, Marsh Ridge Resort and the Pines at Michaywe.

The Loon won't get lost in the shuffle anymore -- not with the likes of Natalie Gulbis and Butch Harmon helping to raise the profile of the golf course in northern Michigan. The Loon continues to blossom into a full-service golf resort under the vision of owner John Manni.

In just the past six months, the Loon Golf Resort has added 11 townhomes near the greatly enhanced clubhouse and a teaching facility to accommodate its new Butch Harmon School of Golf.

Harmon, the renowned golf instructor who lives in Las Vegas, left impressed with the Loon in late July after his visit for a pro-am to kick off the grand opening of his first school in the Midwest.

"When you live in the desert like I do, you come to the Midwest and marvel at the trees," Harmon said. "I love the layout. It's challenging. You have to hit shots. It's really nice here."

Harmon isn't the only golfing celebrity to sing the praises of the Loon Golf Resort this summer. Gulbis will visit for a charity classic Aug. 13-15 to benefit the Otsego County United Way and for a pro-am Sept. 24-26.

Manni and his wife, Kathy, developed a friendship with Harmon and Gulbis after meeting at Harmon's golf school in Las Vegas.

Four of Harmon's Vegas instructors will lead five three-day golf schools at the Loon's expanded driving range from Aug. 17-Sept. 2, possibly with more sessions to come next summer. A new, 484-square-foot hitting bay offers video analysis.

Harmon, the swing guru for Phil Mickelson, Dustin Johnson and Fred Couples, said his instructors won't force a system on a golfer. Every swing is different, Harmon said, and every player is different.

"My philosophy is I don't have one," Harmon said. "The secret to teaching is can I fix one thing that will fix five things."

Harmon's school marks just a small piece in the evolution of the Loon Golf Resort. The townhomes are its backbone. Each unit features four bedrooms, four bathrooms, full kitchens, balconies and two separate living areas with 42-inch flat-screen televisions. The units sit so close to the clubhouse that they foster an intimate setting in which the staff learns each guest's name almost overnight.

General Manager Matt Preuss emphasizes a commitment to customer service every day. The Loon is the only resort in Michigan that will transport the golf clubs of overnight guests to other area golf courses.

"We are basically a brand new facility with a mature golf course," Preuss said. "We think we can give people great service and great lodging at an affordable price. We are not positioned as a high-end golf resort by our cost, but we are positioned that way from a service standpoint."

Treated like royalty at the Loon Golf Resort

Mike Racine of Windsor, Ont., returned to play in the Harmon pro-am after a positive experience as a guest at the Loon Golf Resort in June. His group -– which included four husband-wife couples -- offered rave reviews on the Loon's service and the food in the clubhouse.

"We were treated like royalty," Racine said. "It's almost like I'm a member of the course. We don't get that anywhere else. That's why we keep coming back."

An aggressive improvement plan should entice others who haven't experienced the new Loon. Plans exist to build six more townhomes this fall, so the course can host a full outing of 144 players.

The Loon's clubhouse, recently expanded to include a huge outdoor patio for dining, a renovated bar, updated bathrooms and new TVs, will expand again by next year.

The conditions of the 6,701-yard, par-71 course generally rank among the best in Gaylord, even if its layout features a few quirks -- namely the short, 304-yard 14th hole. The five par 3s are strong, none shorter than 156 yards from the blue tees.

To add drama to the finish, there are plans to transform the 225-yard 17th into a potentially drivable par-4 and to add a monster back tee on the 398-yard, par-4 18th that already demands a heroic approach shot over water. It would serve as a fitting end to a golf course brimming with personality.

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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