Michigan's Upper Peninsula: Two time zones, one great golf destination
DRUMMOND ISLAND, Mich. -- The road to the Drummond Island Resort and Conference Center seems to wind forever through the wilderness. It twists and turns around heavy tree cover in a lost kind of way.
This isolated Drummond Island route mirrors Michigan's remote Upper Peninsula in so many ways. It's peaceful, pleasant and pleasing to the eye. Unfortunately, it's hard to find for most of the civilized world.
Most golfers who tackle the U.P. come from the bordering regions of Wisconsin, Canada and Michigan's Lower Peninsula. Regional flights to Marquette and Sault Ste. Marie come from Detroit, Chicago and Milwaukee, so it's possible to pull off a U.P. golf trip no matter where you live.
It will take some driving to find the best of "Yooper" land. Planned properly, however, the trip will reap plenty of bounty -- three of the top 25 public golf courses in Michigan. I've already zigzagged my way across these back roads several times to research the best itinerary. This path can work forward or backward, depending upon your starting point.
Day 1: A rocky ride at Greywalls
Marquette is the Upper Peninsula's largest and finest city. A revitalized downtown sits just blocks from Lake Superior. It's a college town, home to Northern Michigan University, with a handful of fine restaurants (try Elizabeth's Chophouse or Capers at the Landmark Inn) and a busy summer social calendar. Best of all, it's the birthplace of the Greywalls Course, the wild new playground at Marquette Golf Club.
Greywalls looks more Canadian Rockies than Midwest. Love it or hate it (and some do), this dynamic Mike DeVries design slides over and around piles of exposed granite. After the first two holes, where the green sites are over-designed, Greywalls settles into a dangerously delightful rhythm. No two holes are the same, and every shot must be calculated correctly. The recently renovated Ramada of Marquette, in the heart of downtown, is just blocks away.
Day 2: Iron play at Iron Mountain
TimberStone at Pine Mountain in Iron Mountain plays as pure as Greywalls does quirky. TimberStone is less than a two-hour drive from Marquette, but Iron Mountain resides in the central time zone, so you'll have an extra hour to get there.
TimberStone ranks as one of Michigan's only five-star courses (by Golf Digest). Michigan's Jerry Matthews -- who has designed more courses in the Wolverine State than anyone -- did well to leave this place as his legacy. It's scary good. The opening holes on each nine are benign, just enough to ease players into the difficulty ahead. The layout rips down the ski hill for the par-3 17th and par-5 18th.
The nearby Pine Mountain Resort is more of a ski lodge than a golf resort, but it fairs fine as a place to stay and play. Drink up at Famers, home of the Upper Peninsula's Hall of Fame.
Day 3: Sweet day at Sweetgrass Golf Club
Once again the time zone comes into play. The Island Resort and Casino in Harris, just west of Escanaba, is 41 miles from TimberStone. Golfers lose an hour, though, so account for that change in your driving plans.
Sweetgrass Golf Club, host of an LPGA Futures Tour event in 2011, looks and plays more mature than its opening date (July 2008) suggests. Paul Albanese's course provides a sharp contrast to its competition.
Wide fairways in a meadow setting feel supersized after playing the narrow tree-lined corridors of TimberStone. An island green on No. 15 at Sweetgrass adds intrigue. The best two holes are par 5s at No. 9 and No. 18, separated by a water hazard with multiple waterfalls. A popular package -- the Perfect Foursome -- allows a two-night stay at the casino resort and one round at Sweetgrass, Greywalls and TimberStone, the three best courses in the U.P.
Day 4: Aces at Wild Bluff
Strap into that seat belt. It's a 175-mile drive from Sweetgrass to Wild Bluff Golf Course, the Mike Husby design at the Bay Mills Resort & Casinos in Brimley.
Wild Bluff, the former host of the Canadian Tour's championship, makes it all worthwhile, matching Greywalls in scenic lake views. The course, cut on a ridge, overlooks the Waishkey Bay, the St. Mary's River and Canada. This ridgeline plays a big part in the course's highlights -- the par-4 first, the par-3 15th and the dramatic par-4 finishing hole.
The Bay Mills casino isn't as large as the flashier, newer casino at Island Resort, but it's a good spot to hang after golf. A Soo Locks dinner cruise leaving out of Sault Ste. Marie could be a fun excursion away from the course.
Day 5: Pick your ferry
From here, it's decision time: Do you pick a ferry ride to Mackinac Island or Drummond Island?
The ferry to iconic Mackinac Island leaves from St. Ignace, which is roughly an hour from Brimley. The Jewel Golf Course, Mackinac Island's only 18-hole course, delivers striking views of The Grand Hotel and the Mackinac Bridge. The Jewel incorporates the island's signature old-world experience -- a 15-minute horse-and-carriage ride -- between the shorter front nine to a tougher, heavily wooded back nine. There are no cars on the island, where Victorian architecture along Main Street has attracted generations of families to its fudge shops, bars and restaurants.
The Drummond Island ferry leaves from DeTour Village, which is 45 miles from Brimley. The name is appropriate. The short ride is a detour from civilization. Not much was on Drummond Island until Tom Monaghan, the former Domino's Pizza magnate and Detroit Tigers owner, developed the Drummond Island Resort and Conference Center in the 1980s. Even today there is still no police presence, high school or major grocery store on the island. The resort consists of a 40-room main lodge and separate Bayside Cottages and golf course cabins for rent. The Rock at Drummond Island, a solid course designed by Harry Bowers, plays tough from the tips, so move up a box to enjoy its scenic ponds and the deer sightings spread across a whopping 400 acres.
After golf, drink up more scenery and rustic elegance at Bayside Dining, a wonderful dinner spot along the water. The Pins Bar & Grill at the lodge serves up a more casual atmosphere for families and offers eight lanes of bowling. Renting canoes, kayaks and bikes is free to guests.
If I had to choose between Mackinac Island and Drummond Island, I'd take the easy way out and play both islands. They're a great finish -- or start -- to a loop around "Yooper" land.
August 30, 2011