It's time to discover Michigan's secret: Boyne Country resorts
BOYNE COUNTRY, Mich. -- Everybody in Michigan knows where "Boyne Country" is.
Turns out, every golfer in America should find it, too.
Boyne Country is just a small pocket of land in Charlevoix and Emmet Counties in remote Northern Michigan, but it couldn't have been more influential for the state's tourism industry.
Boyne Country stretches from Boyne Falls, home to Boyne Mountain Resort, just northwest of Gaylord, and sneaks up along the coast of Lake Michigan to Harbor Springs, home to Boyne Highlands Resort, a good 25 miles away. In between, Boyne USA Resorts, the parent company to the two resorts, seems to own everything from loads of real estate to home and condominium developments.
Long before Northern Michigan became officially recognized as a national caliber golf vacation destination, Boyne Country set the standard for great golf in Michigan. The eight courses affiliated with the two resorts include two of the top 100 public courses in the country -- the 27-hole Bay Harbor Golf Club and the Heather at the Highlands -- and some of the most memorable shots you'll ever play.
Boyne Mountain first opened as a ski resort in 1948. The Highlands emerged in 1964, and one year later, The Robert Trent Jones Sr. Heather course opened. To some, 1965 was the birth of golf in Northern Michigan, as the Alpine (1970) and the Moor (1974) joined the Boyne empire a decade later, proving to hundreds of developers that golf could be successful in a six-month climate four hours away from metro Detroit.
Where to play
Distinguishing the best course among the eight Boyne courses is like picking which band you like better -- the Beatles or the Rolling Stones. They're all classics, and excellent choices.
The Alpine and the Monument call Boyne Mountain home. The 7,061-yard Monument, opened in 1985, is more dramatic than the 7,045-yard Alpine with sweeping drops between trees and glorious views of the countryside. To get to each requires a 12-minute cart ride from the pro shop, a unique way to warm up for the stunning downhill tee shot that awaits you on both courses. At the Highlands resort, the 6,890-yard Heather is the highlight. The 175-yard approach shot over water on the final hole is one you'll always remember.
The 6,814-yard Ross Memorial, which opened in 1989, pays tribute to Donald Ross' most famous holes.
Arthur Hills added the 7,312-yard Hills course in 2000. The tee shot on the 570-yard No. 13 is reminiscent of high-altitude golf in Colorado as the ball plummets some 100 feet or more to a fairway below.
The final course at the Highlands is the 6,809-yard Moor, a standard parkland design considered a notch below the other Boyne treasures. If you haven't had enough golf by now, the Jim Flick Golf Academy is also an option at Boyne.
The Bay Harbor Golf Club and the 6,704-yard Crooked Tree Golf Club are almost sister courses in Harbor Springs. They're literally right across the street from one another and roughly a 25-minute drive from either lodging property.
The beauty of Bay Harbor, opening in 1996 to national acclaim, is well-documented, so if you've only got one shot, play the Links-Quarry 18, but Crooked Tree often gets lost in the shuffle. Crooked Tree, which opened in 1991, but joined the Boyne family in 1997, is actually tougher than Bay Harbor with treacherous greens and some diabolical carries of the tee. It's a fun challenge with a handful of photogenic views of the Little Traverse Bay similar to Bay Harbor.
Where to stay
Few resorts in the Midwest can match the country charm and elegant personality of Boyne Highlands, with its brick-paved walkways and ivy-covered walls. The Highlands offers the widest array of rooms at Boyne -- 414 in all -- from the 165 rooms in the Main Lodge to a 72-unit condominium hotel that sleeps 600 people. Staying in private townhomes, cottages and condos are pricey, but more secluded, options.
Boyne Mountain is more functional and less scenic, with 259 places to crash, including hotel rooms, mountain cottages and more condos. When Boyne Mountain started to show its age, the ambitious Mountain Grand Lodge and Spa broke ground in 2000, but today, the eyesore is just a skeleton of steel, a sign of the struggling economy and the woes of the travel industry after the Sept. 11th attacks.
When construction is completed, the Mountain Grand Lodge will feature more lodging (one-, two- and three-bedroom suites), a world-class spa and fitness center, an indoor/outdoor hot tub and pool, and new restaurants and shops.
Opening in 1998, the posh Inn at Bay Harbor in Harbor Springs offers 136 different accommodations, including 80 suites, with amenities like balconies on the water and fireplaces. The Spa and lake-side dining are probably its biggest attractions. In December, The Inn will be flagged as a Renaissance Resort, a full-service division of Marriott International, Inc. that boasts 125 properties worldwide.
Where to eat
Although less intimate than Boyne Highlands, Boyne Mountain has better dining options. Ericksen's in the Main Lodge is a favorite stop for the breakfast buffet and convenient, tasty dinners. The Snowflake Lounge has more casual grub, while the Eagle's Nest, at the top of the mountain after a ski lift ride, has food almost as good as the view. The Beach House on Deer Lake, just footsteps away from the pro shop and the beach, serves fine fare, too.
To avoid backtracking to Gaylord, which is filled with restaurants, the nearest town to Boyne Mountain is Boyne City. Its quaint downtown, which sits on the water, boasts two top eateries -- The Mexican-themed Red Mesa Grill (231-582-0049) and the Boyne River Inn (231-582-6300) for steaks and burgers.
Boyne Highlands has your standard upscale resort restaurant, but many golfers pack Teddy Griffin's Road House, just off the property, for its great atmosphere. Nearby Harbor Springs and Petoskey, both 15 minutes away, are two of Michigan's best tourist traps, so ask the concierge to narrow down your overwhelming amount of choices, depending on price and your cravings.
Boyne Country always has attracted the elite from Detroit and Chicago. Vacationers love to boat along Lake Michigan and shop in the friendly, eclectic downtowns of Petoskey and Harbor Springs.
Tennis players can hit away at the courts at either resort, and kids and parents alike will enjoy the pitch-n-putt challenge just outside the Boyne Highlands main lodge.
Both resorts have outdoor pools. Boyne Mountain's hot tub -- Michigan's largest outdoor tub -- dwarfs the Highlands' two hot tubs, but both are equally soothing on sore golf muscles.
Of course, the ski season is high season at Boyne, which was owned by legendary ski industry pioneer Everett F. Kircher until his death in 2002. His son, Stephen, has taken over the leadership reigns.
To Boyne Mountain Resort -- Using Gaylord Exit off of I-75 North (Exit 282). Turn Left (West) onto M-32 and continue for 13 miles. Once you reach US-131 turn Right (North) and continue for 7 miles. The entrance will be on your left and just South of Boyne Falls.
To Boyne Highlands Resort -- Use the same directions until you pass Boyne Mountain. Once in Petoskey, head straight as US-131 turns into US-31. After about 3 miles, turn left at the intersection of US-31 and M-119. After another 3 miles on M-119, turn right (north) at the intersection of M-119 and Pleasantview Rd. Keeping an eye out for Teddy Griffin's Road House on the left (3 miles), turn left at Teddy's onto Highland Rd. The entrance will be less than a mile down on the right.
October 7, 2003