Three-of-a-kind: Michigan's Upper Peninsula boasts Vegas-style gaming and a triangle of great golf
Gems like Greywalls Golf Course at Marquette Golf Club, Timberstone at Pine Mountain and Sweetgrass Golf Club at the Island Resort & Casino have Michigan golfers heading north to the Upper Peninsula.
ESCANABA, Mich. -- The state of Michigan was awarded the mass of land to the north of the "hand" in 1835 - part of a settlement that stated they would leave Toledo to Ohio.
Later named the "Upper Peninsula," Michiganders will gladly tell you they came out ahead on that deal. The locals, or "Yoopers," are especially proud of their not-so-little slice of Michigan. Sparsely populated, the often mountainous U.P. contains more than 4,000 lakes and 12,000 miles of rivers and streams that make the U.P. as much of a fishing destination as one for golf. It's also far enough north to catch regular showings of the "Northern Lights" and it also means that at the height of summer it presents long daylight hours for 36 or even 54 holes for ambitious foursomes.
"The U.P. is almost it's own little state," admits Paul Albanese, who was the project manager at Jerry Matthews' Timberstone Golf Club in Iron Mountain, and also built the new Sweetgrass Golf Club at the Island Resort & Casino which opened this year. "But they're very embracing people."
And they're mighty proud of their best golf courses. Timberstone and Sweetgrass, which, along with Greywalls in Marquette, complete a triangle on the western side of the U.P., are three golf courses worthy of national attention. But they're hardly similar to each other.
"With these three golf courses," says Albanese. "You have three distinct flavors and styles."
Golf courses in Michigan's Upper Peninsula
Greywalls Golf Course at Marquette Golf Club: Debuting in 2005, Greywalls has emerged as one of Michigan's most talked-about venues, thanks to it's hilly, rocky outcroppings that peak out around greens and beside fairways. From it's highest points, the mighty Lake Superior looms in the background.
Architect Mike Devries - a former intern of "renaissance-style" architect Tom Doak - appears to be on a mission to out-minimalist his mentor with an all-natural design that, while is at times awkward, is always captivating. It's not a golf course you can roll out of bed and play, as it's opening front nine presents some severe slopes and intimidating looks compared to a more level back side - though here, that's relatively speaking.
Timberstone Golf Course at Pine Mountain: A decade-old Jerry Matthews design, Timberstone takes golfers deep into the woods for that quintessential northern Michigan retreat. Tall pines line most holes here, making accuracy a large component in it's challenging slope of 148.
But while Timberstone is narrow and demanding in many points, the last two holes yield a friendly - and spectacular - finish, with back-to-back steep downhillers. First, a par-3 17th affords the most panoramic and expansive views of the U.P. you'll find on a golf course, followed by a 600-plus-yard, par-5 finisher that tumbles downhill so steeply there are rock walls that create several tiers in the fairway. The course is suitable for former Green Bay Packer Brett Favre, whom Head Professional Susie Fox says signed an autographed jersey for her little dog (who you may see peddling merchandise in the new clubhouse).
Sweetgrass Golf Club at the Island Resort & Casino: Opened in the summer of 2008, Sweetgrass is a fitting compliment to Greywalls and Timberstone. It's setting is on far less severe or wooded property, instead on gently rolling, "Native American prairie-style". At many points it's wide open, playing through sweeping heather and around native "Sweetgrass," considered by the local Potawatomi Tribe to be a healing, mystical herb.
But to really make the golf course a standout, a bevy of dramatic design aspects were installed by Albanese. The most noticeable is the par-3 15th's island green, a rare find around northern Michigan. He also built a dramatic "biarritz" style green on the par-3, paying homage to classical design. The resort also sought out some of Michigan's historic, recovered bridges from the Department of Transportation, which take golfers over a series of creeks winding through the golf course.
And both nines finish with the kind of pizazz you'd expect from a casino course, with parallel par-5s on the ninth and 18th that play around water with numerous water falls built with local rocks, and culminate at a 22,000-square-foot double-green.
November 21, 2008