Double JJ Resort: Something for Kids of All Ages

By Kiel Christianson, Senior Writer

Rothbury, MI - Since 1937, The Double JJ Ranch (originally named the Jack & Jill Ranch) has been the largest dude ranch resort east of the Mississippi, and the largest adult-exclusive resort in the nation. In 1998, it also became the first kid-exclusive resort in the nation. As a working dude ranch, it is a place where city-slickers can escape to test their mettle on horse trails and cattle drives.

At the same time, Double JJ's Thoroughbred Golf Club is one of the nation's most challenging courses, where golfers can come to test their metal woods. If you are under the impression that kids and adults or horses and golf go about as well together as oil and water, you are sadly mistaken in the case of The Double JJ: This resort offers guests not just with the best of both worlds, but with the best of all worlds.

An awful lot of fun can be packed into 1,400-plus acres, and Double JJ owners Bob & Joan Lipsitz do their darnedest to ensure that guests of the Double JJ-no matter their age or tastes in recreation-find nothing but fun no matter which sections of the ranch they choose to explore. The numerous options in accommodations alone can make your head spin faster than pure corn whiskey. And you'd need a month of Sundays to try your hand at all of the activities offered at the resort.

Let's start with lodging. For adults, there is the original Adult-Exclusive Ranch. For kids there is the Back Forty Family Ranch (where families can stay together or kids can stay by themselves while their parents stay at the Adult-Exclusive Ranch). For conference-goers or corporate retreat attendees there is the Conference Center. And for everyone there is the RV Park, campground, The Loft Hotel, and Homestead Condominiums. In all, there are beds for around 400, not counting the RV Park and campground.

As for activities, The Double JJ has got to be one of the most unique and diverse resorts anywhere. Even a partial list of the offerings here sounds like the wish-list of every kid and adult alive: swimming, water park, trail rides, hayrides, snowmobiling, dog-sledding, cattle drives, golf, archery, target shooting, dancing, nightly entertainment, cross-country skiing, snow-tubing, arts and crafts, fine dining, and corporate team-building programs (you haven't lived until you've gelded a colt with your CIO!).

One of the two most impressive attractions of the resort are the Thoroughbred Golf Club, a par-72, 6,900-yard championship course designed by Arthur Hills and recognized by national publications as the best upscale course in Michigan and one of the most challenging courses in the nation (see accompanying course review). The other is the Back Forty Family Ranch.

Opened in 1998, this section of the resort caters to families, and especially the kids, with its fully-functional recreation of an Old West town (complete with a jail should the youngsters get too big for their britches), petting barn, pony rides, arts and crafts, street shows, hayrides, and water park.

For those guests not staying on all-inclusive packages, "day use" passes can be purchased for The Back Forty Ranch for $7 for adults and $4 for kids (12 and under). And believe it when we say it's worth every penny! The water slide, centerpiece of the water park, is 30 feet high and 150 feet long, and it is just about as much fun as you can have with your clothes on (or some of them, anyway).

For those less daring, there's a swimming pool, log-rolling and zip-cord area, and a zero-depth pool filled with fanciful waterspouts for the youngest buckaroos.

But don't let all of this family fun fool you: Kids and their parents often have a very different idea of what constitutes a good time. So kids cannot only play at The Back-Forty Ranch, they can stay there too, as long as their parents are staying elsewhere at the resort.

So while the wee ones are having the time of their lives bunking in a Conestoga wagon or teepee with their soon-to-be-new-best-friends, Mom and Dad can be living it up just down the road at the Adult-Exclusive Ranch, where they can kick up their heels again and act nothing at all like responsible parents. Can you say "Yee-haw"?

In fact, it was as an adult-exclusive western resort that The Double JJ Ranch (The Jack and Jill Ranch at that time) gained its reputation. The original owner frequented banks in Chicago during the 1940s, where he took advantage of the changing demographics of the work force to build a clientele. He advertised mainly to young, single working women, who began putting away "vacation club" money for group trips to the ranch.

Once at the ranch, they would while away the days on horseback and mingle all night with local Rothbury menfolk (usually hand-chosen by the owner for their good looks, clean shaves, and upstanding characters).

The resort remained adult-exclusive until the Bob & Joan Lipsitz purchased it 12 years ago. In expanding The Double JJ into a full-service, family resort, while maintaining the adult-exclusive section of the ranch, they have tapped into yet another demographic trend: Boomers with kids and grand kids.

Even the addition of the golf course in 1994 was opened as part of a larger plan to include the whole family in the Double JJ experience. It seems that moms and kids were coming to The Double JJ, while dads were off on golf outings. Now the whole family can stay together as much-or as little-as they'd like, all at one resort.

The number of activities at The Double JJ is rivaled in number only by the number of amenities. From fine dining and golf-course vistas at the Sundance Saloon and Steakhouse, to a complete range of conference facilities to a private airstrip, you can find just about anything you need to make your stay enjoyable. Anything, that is, unless you simply can't do without a snooty, unfriendly staff.

The Double JJ prides itself on encouraging its 300-plus staff to mingle with guests at every opportunity. Of special interest are the 10% of the staff who hail from other countries (20 different nations total) and work summers at The Double JJ for a once-in-a-lifetime US experience. From the moment you check in with Kaye at the front desk (or one of her comrades), you will feel like one of the family.

Bob and Joan have even grander long-range plans for The Double JJ (Manifest Destiny, and all), including two more hotels, expanded conference facilities, a wee links golf course for juniors and beginners, and another championship course. But this isn't just a case of "Build it, and they will come"-Double JJ Travel Clubs exist, true to the vision of the original owner, in Chicago, Detroit, Toledo, Cleveland, and several cities in Ontario (the resort offers some great specials just for Canadians).

The reputation of the resort not only draws new guests from all over, it brings back the same folks year after year. Why go anywhere else when you've got the Old West, top-flight golf, and freedom from the kids/parents at a family resort all in one place?

Kiel ChristiansonKiel Christianson, Senior Writer

Kiel Christianson has lived, worked, traveled and golfed extensively on three continents. As senior writer and equipment editor for, he has reviewed courses, resorts, and golf academies from California to Ireland, including his home course, Lake of the Woods G.C. in Mahomet, Ill. Read his golf blog here and follow him on Twitter @GolfWriterKiel.

Reader Comments / Reviews Leave a comment