by Dennis Keenon
Rick Smith can't wait to tell visitors to "take a hike" this summer_on his new 18-hole walking course, the Tradition, at Treetops North in Gaylord.
The Tradition, resting on gentle terrain near the entrance of the Treetops North site, invites walking, unheard of at many Michigan resorts, which mandate power carts to increase revenue.
Smith calls walking a "lost art" in golf.
"We wanted to do something special and different at Treetops, and I think a walking course achieves that goal," Smith said. "People can enjoy themselves on the golf course by walking and getting some exercise."
Smith, whose imprint as one of the top teaching professionals in the world is now rivaled by his work as a golf course architect, says golfers can gain an edge by walking.
"With carts, I think you sometimes lose the feel for golf," he said. "By walking, you get a better feel for the game, for a shot, especially when you're playing competitively."
With the Tradition, playing to par 70 at 6,467 yards from the championship tees, Smith created the classic look of a course built many years ago, with short distances between greens and tees, old-style bunkering and no water hazards.
The Tradition offers an interesting mix of holes, including five par 3's, ranging in length from 123 yards to 161 yards from the men's regular tees. Players of average ability can keep their tough-to-hit long irons and fairway woods in their bags on these holes.
Shortish par 4 holes are back in vogue, and Smith produced three holes at the Tradition that play under 310 yards from the regular tees, including the 293-yard 13th, which will require a precise second shot to a sloping green built to accommodate difficult pin placements.
And for those determined to test their mettle, and strength, from the championship tees, the Tradition serves up a pair of par 4 back-breakers: the 545-yard fifth hole (yes, the scorecard is correct) and the 491-yard 11th.
The Tradition already is receiving rave reviews. Two of Smith's star pupils from the PGA Tour, Lee Janzen and Rocco Mediate, gave the Tradition "thumbs up" on a visit last summer. And the Western Golf Association picked the Tradition to host its Western Junior Boys Championship in 1999.
Treetops will offer a caddy program and pull carts for walkers at the Tradition. Power carts also will be available.
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