It only took me 22 and a half years of living on this earth before I found out about “Up North”, as so many golfers and non-golfers affectionately call it.
The reason for my delay in learning about the wonderfully unique region of Michigan is because I grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area and went across the country to Syracuse for college before landing in Detroit for my first sportscasting job in 1997.
To this day I still love blowing peoples’ minds when it comes to golf in the state shaped like a mitten. Having lived in Arizona for more than a decade now, it always gets an entertaining response when I let folks know that while there are a little more than 300 golf courses in what is widely known as one of our country’s top golf destinations here in AZ, Michigan has more than 900 courses — and the overwhelming majority of the ones I’ve played are good to great!
As a longtime co-host of syndicated golf radio & TV show Michigan Golf Live, I was quickly schooled in just how voluptuous of a golf land exists in the state that has been known much more for struggling as much as any place in the country during our economic downturns.
The good news, as I discovered on my most-recent family vacation, is that summer tourism is still alive and well in Northern Michigan, a place that is a “must visit” for anyone who loves the game of golf.
Although we make the journey every summer as part of a family tradition I married into, there were a handful of firsts on this particular trip, including a very enjoyable stay on the historic and charming Mackinac Island (located in between the mitten-looking Southern part of Michigan and the Upper Peninsula). The automobile-less Island is full of activities — including golf, biking, hiking, and horseback riding — and is famous for its fudge, which comes in all kinds of flavors and is seemingly being made fresh daily in every other storefront along Main Street.
After two fun nights on the Island, it was time to head back to the mainland and take the clubs out of the travel bag. I can honestly tell you that I don’t remember ever having a bad golf experience in Northern Michigan, but this trip was particularly enjoyable, beginning at the newly re-designed Crooked Tree Golf Club in Petoskey.
The sister course of the more-well-known and upscale Bay Harbor Golf Club already was one of my favorite spots in the past because of some fabulous views above Little Traverse Bay and a strong layout with a good mix of challenging and risk/reward holes.
After renowned architect Arthur Hills and his crew finished up a redesign of the final three holes earlier this summer, Crooked Tree Golf Club took a big step up in terms of fun and play-ability, which, for this guy, is the name of the game right now. Whereas the previous finish would leave a bitter taste in some folks’ mouths as they hit the road, the new look includes more ample and easy-to-discern landing areas, remodeled greens and totally new green locations on 16 and 17.
After finishing up a great golf experience at Crooked Tree, my family and I made the 15-20 minute drive through Petoskey and over to the Boyne Highlands Golf Resort in nearby Harbor Springs. This was my first stay at the resort and for a father with two kids under the age of 9, it was an absolute home run! The exterior of the resort is very cool and makes you think you’re staying somewhere historic; inside, it’s a welcoming mountain lodge sort of feel.
The room we had was ideal for us, with a king-size bed and a separate room with bunk-beds for the kids. There were plenty of dining options and activities available right on site, even with our late-evening arrival. While we all agreed we’ll have to return to try what looked like an exhilarating zip-line course, the whole family loved the chair lift to the top of the mountain, which gave us great views of the entire golf and ski resort property.
As for the golf at Boyne Highlands, there are great options right on the property with four championship courses (Arthur Hills, Donald Ross Memorial, The Heather, The Moor) to choose from, but on this trip I simply gazed longingly at those courses from the car.
I did find the time later in the trip to visit Bay Harbor Golf Club, and it was not a disappointment. The rent may be a bit higher there, but you’ll quickly notice why after experiencing what this fantastic 27-hole facility has to offer. On this occasion, my group played the Quarry and Preserve courses, two distinct experiences for sure. Both are vastly different from the more-scenic Links course that provides more views of the sparkling Little Traverse Bay.
That isn’t to say there is a dearth of quality photo opportunities on the nines we played, including Bay Harbor’s take on #7 at Pebble Beach below.
No matter what tee box you play from on the Quarry course, you can expect a stiff test. The Preserve offers a bit of a reprieve — it even was nice enough to surrender a handful of birdies to our group — serving as your back 9.
The important thing for golf travelers to remember is that my most-recent visit was limited to two golf courses in a very small geographic area. If you expand that area by just another 15-20 miles your options open up to dozens of top-notch options along with more lodging and activities. It’s a big reason why I tell everybody that my favorite place to golf in this country is in Michigan.
Do yourself a favor and book a golf vacation to Northern Michigan. I promise you won’t regret it (as long as you do it before both the temperature and the snow start to drop). If you’re looking to upgrade your experience, feel free to take me with you … or just email me any questions you have about Michigan golf at [email protected].