Summer golf in northern Michigan: Great climate and even better courses

By Brandon Tucker, Managing Editor

TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. - While scorching summer temperatures are keeping golfers away from sunbelt destinations like Myrtle Beach, Las Vegas and Scottsdale, another destination equally rich in golf is just starting to heat up: northern Michigan.

Bay Harbor Golf Club
Bay Harbor Golf Club is one of many stunning northern Michigan golf courses.
Bay Harbor Golf ClubJones Masterpiece golf course at Treetops - hole 6Garland Lodge
If you go

Michigan has more golf courses (nine) in Golf Digest's Top 100 Public Courses than any other state except South Carolina, which also has nine, and six are in the top 40. But despite the national awards and stellar rankings, only about 20 percent of northern Michigan's golfers are out-of-staters.

"The biggest reason is the seasonality," said Kevin Frisch of Resort and Golf Marketing. "Northern Michigan's prime golf season generally spans only from May thru September. Being more of a summer destination, most people identify with resorts in the south that are open year round."

Frisch adds: "Even though we have a short season, the quality stacks up to anybody."

Summer weather seldom eclipses 80 degrees, and the days are so long - there's sunlight well past 9 p.m. - 36 and even 54-hole days are entirely possible for the golf-starved.

Northern Michigan didn't really begin to emerge on the national level until the mid-80s, with resorts like Treetops and Shanty Creek building dramatic courses on sloping, mountainous land doubling as ski resorts in the winter months.

Two decades later, world-class courses built on similar natural and dramatic terrain have sprouted up all over the north.

"There are more high-end golf resort destinations within a close proximity than anywhere else in the country," said Frisch. "There's no place with more nationally award-winning golf courses with all the top architects."

One of those architects is Tom Doak, whose recent projects, including Pacific Dunes and Cape Kidnappers, have shot him to the top of in-demand designers. Doak received his first solo design in northern Michigan at High Pointe Golf Club. Today he resides in the Traverse City area.

"I fell in love with the place," said Doak. "I joined Crystal Downs and I've lived here ever since. There is a great variety of golf courses in northern Michigan."

Northern Michigan's best golf courses

Bay Harbor Golf Club, Petoskey: One of golf's most distinct theaters lies at Bay Harbor. It features three nines designed by architect Arthur Hills, and the Links and Quarry Courses are both as spectacular as you'll find. Many holes play perched above Lake Michigan, then the holes wind inland and play through and around an abandoned rock quarry. The Quarry nine finishes with two scenic holes playing down along the rocky shores.

Arcadia Bluffs, Arcadia: The state's highest ranked public course at the moment is Arcadia Bluffs (No. 10 in the country according to Golf Digest). It weaves through rugged, wild dunes overlooking the coast of Lake Michigan. It sits so close, one of the holes collapsed into the water shortly after it opened in 1998. Rest assured, the ground has since been stabilized, and now it's one of the nation's best pure links courses.

Forest Dunes Golf and Country Club, Roscommon: Tom Weiskopf's Forest Dunes has received superlative praise, being referred to as a mix of "Pine Valley and Augusta National" for its contrasting pine-laden and sandy barren nines. Grounds crew keep the course "tour ready" all year. You won't want the round to end, which is why it also features a bonus, par-3 19th hole.

Black Lake Golf Club, Onaway: Designer Rees Jones, the proclaimed "U.S. Open Doctor" for his restorations of championship venues like Bethpage Black and Pinehurst No. 2., built Black Lake, which is owned by the United Auto Workers. But you don't need to work the assembly line to play one of the North's most remote and challenging courses.

Tullymore Golf Club, Stanwood: Tullymore plays through more than 800 acres of thick woods and wetlands. The first Michigan design of Jim Engh, who is better known for his work in the Rocky Mountain west, Tullymore is his most acclaimed course.

Northern Michigan's top golf resorts

Treetops Resort, Gaylord: There isn't a whole lot to do at Treetops besides golf, but chances are you won't even notice. It's been named the Midwest's best golf resort and has drawn national audiences to its annual ING Par-3 Shootout, which is regularly attended by Phil Mickelson, Fred Couples and other PGA Tour pros.

It also has four championship golf courses, designs from Robert Trent Jones, Tom Fazio and two from now owner Rick Smith. All four feature steeply elevated tee shots and wide, bowled fairways. The steep, downhill par-3 sixth hole on Treetops' Masterpiece Course sets the trend, and courses and resorts all over the region have run with it. Of course, golfers aren't complaining.

Grand Traverse Resort, Acme: The Grand Traverse Resort just outside Traverse City looks like a resort more suited for Las Vegas than northern Michigan. Its centerpiece is a newly renovated 16-story shiny glass tower that overlooks the Little Traverse Bay and its three golf courses, including one of America's toughest layouts, Jack Nicklaus' the Bear Course. Also on site is the newer, arguably better Wolverine Course, built by Gary Player.

You're also just a shuttle bus away from the resort's casino, Turtle Creek.

Boyne Highlands, Harbor Springs: Boyne USA operates eight courses and three separate facilities in northern Michigan. Their best golf facility is Boyne Highlands, located around the bay from Bay Harbor (also owned by Boyne). The Heather Course receives the most raves. The Donald Ross Memorial Course features 18 of the legendary designer's finest holes from all over the world, including the famous 16th hole at Oakland Hills South. Arthur Hills also offers his Hills Course along with Jim Flick's Moor.

Shanty Creek Resorts, Bellaire: Shanty Creek Resorts in Bellaire features three separate villages with cottages and hotels and four golf courses tucked in the mountains. Weiskopf's Cedar River Course and Arnold Palmer's The Legend Course are modern and take the most advantage of Shanty's hilly terrain. They rank among the best in the state.

Garland Resort, Lewiston: Garland has four (soon to be five) courses by one designer you've probably never heard of: Ron Otto. His family owned Garland, and he decided to design all the courses himself. The Fountains Course and Monarch Course are especially good, and four first tees and the practice area are within walking distance of the massive main lodge. It has become one of Michigan's favorite golf retreats for groups and corporate outings.

Getting to northern Michigan

Northern Michigan is a three-to-four-hour drive from metro Detroit and about five-to-six from Chicago. Northern Michigan's biggest airline hub is Cherry Capital Airport in Traverse City. It's serviced by Northwest, Delta, American and United and has direct flights to Chicago, Detroit, Cincinnati, Atlanta and New York.

Brandon TuckerBrandon Tucker, Managing Editor

Brandon Tucker is the Managing Editor for Golf Channel Courses & Travel. To date, his golf travels have taken him to over two dozen countries and over 500 golf courses worldwide. While he's played some of the most prestigious courses in the world, Tucker's favorite way to play the game is on a great muni in under three hours. Follow Brandon on Twitter at @BrandonTucker.


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