U.S. 23 Golf Trail
The rugged golf along the northern half of U.S. 23's path through Michigan summons the same kind of machismo that bear hunters, anglers, and marathon canoe paddlers have displayed here for generations. Come hungry. It's a land of big appetites -- for food and for golf. Like any good restaurant, the U.S. 23 Golf Trail has too many tasty options to sample all at once. We could devote 10 pages of this magazine to cover every track along the trail. Last month we featured a half dozen strong layouts between the Ohio border and Flint. Here we'll tell you about six prime spots between Flint and the Mackinac Bridge. There are many more, including impressive adventures like Black Lake, Elk Ridge, Bay Valley, and Apple Valley, not fully detailed in this month's sampler.
You can stand in line quite a while in Frankenmuth to grab one of Zehnder's famous and filling chicken dinners. You can do some waiting at The Fortress, too, on busy weekends. Go early on Sunday morning. Bring your best long game. Enjoy the testy but true greens. And a few hours later you'll walk off the course ready for dinner down the street. This fortress can be downright impenetrable for high handicappers -- but strong players will enjoy the shot values, especially on approaches to greens. A third of the holes demand forced carries over wetlands, streams or ponds. Deep bunkers catch most wayward approach shots. Several long par-4s play into the prevailing wind out of the west. The toughest of the bunch is the monster, No. 13. This par-4 plays 410 yards from the men's tee (443 from the tips). It's often into the wind. Ponds closely guard both sides of the fairway. Knock it down the middle and the battle's not quite half over. Your long iron or fairway wood approach into the two-tiered green must be perfect. Brutal bunkers, mounds and tall grasses guard the right side. And a beach grows into the pond front left. Hungry yet? Call (517) 652-0460 for tee times. The Fortress runs $65 on weekdays, $69 on weekends and $45 during twilight hours. Devour that chicken dinner and get some rest. The challenge has just begun.
It's big. It's beautiful. And it's reminiscent of several other special courses you may have heard about or played. The sweeping green complexes of Pinehurst No. 8 come to mind. So do the tall hardwoods and dramatic fairway bunkering of West Michigan gems like Pilgrim's Run and Thousand Oaks. In fact, Golf Digest recently ranked this Arthur Hills layout near East Tawas the 11th-best course in the state (ahead of Thousand Oaks and another distant cousin, St. Ives). Golf for Women magazine also just named Red Hawk one of the top 100 women-friendly courses in the nation. "We've got 18 good golf holes," says head professional Kevin Whitmore. "Art gives you a lot of options on every hole." One option all but the best players should exercise: play the gold tees and leave the tips to the pros. As of mid-June, the two-year-old course had yet to yield a round in the 60s. The gourmet Italian restaurant in the clubhouse is the ideal venue for a debate about which of these 18 is the best. The par-3 No. 3 and par-5 16th are likely candidates. A 65-foot vertical drop greets players on the third tee. It's about half that high to the shelved putting surface on 16. This hole suits those with the guts and talent to attempt brilliance. They'll stalk two-putt birdies by carrying fairway bunkers on the drive and launching an iron approach to the green. Red Hawk is $65 on weekdays and $75 on weekends. Call (800) 729-9375 for tee times, group rates, and twilight specials.
LAKEWOOD SHORES RESORT-- THE GAILES and BLACKSHIRE
You might very well post your worst score of the year at The Gailes. Seemingly good shots will disappear into hidden pot bunkers and streams. Approach shots just a couple of feet off line can trickle off greens. If the wind howls, add at least six shots to your score. As intimidating as all that sounds, all who play bogey or better really cheat themselves if they don't make time for at least one pilgrimage to this Scottish masterpiece in Oscoda. Many Michigan courses claim Scottish links influences -- and many are hollow imitations. None pull it off like The Gailes. The windswept landscape, double greens and fairways, terrorizing grass-walled bunkers, deep native grasses -- it's all here. Leave the ego in the trunk, enjoy your own futility and you'll likely go away with several memorable shots. Just like the classics of the British Isles, The Gailes yields to smart plays and good short games. The Gailes is already eight years old. If all its accolades haven't been enough to attract you yet, the new Blackshire Course a mile away offers 18 more reasons to book a stay at Lakewood Shores Resort. Pitched as a Michigan version of famed Pine Valley, Blackshire is actually more forgiving than either the Gailes or that New Jersey masterpiece. Course management and a hot putter can produce good scores at the Blackshire. The 365-yard first hole gives you a good feel for what you'll face on the rest of the course. Position is everything. A large sand waste area catches long drives. Four bunkers protect the green. And approach shots flow down from an exaggerated slope on the left half of a green seemingly without flat putts. "The Blackshire course really brings us up to the next level," says Lakewood Shores Head Professional Craig Peters. "Add in our more traditional Sarradella course and you really get three completely different rounds of golf here." Oh, we almost forgot to mention the food. Lakewood Shoresâ main dining room specializes in stuffed New York Strip, stuffed orange roughy, and roasted chicken smothered in cheeses, peppers and onions. Thoughts of dinner might help you get out of those pot bunkers. The Gailes and Blackshire courses run $55 on weekdays and $62 on weekends. Call (517) 739-2075 for tee times and lodging reservations.
THUNDER BAY RESORT
Don't let the par-73 scorecard scare you here. This is a good place to satisfy birdie urges after the challenges of The Fortress, Red Hawk, The Gailes and Blackshire. The longest of three par-5s on the back is only 540 yards -- the other two are under 500. Just remember to keep it straight. They probably wouldn't offer elk viewing at this active resort if the property wasn't loaded with hardwoods. The food? We recommend the Loft Restaurant overlooking the golf course. Try the Summer Citrus Chicken Salad, smoked pork chops, or one of several Michigan fish dishes. Thunder Bay specializes in specials: weekly specials, weekday specials, Father's Day specials, Mother's Day specials and multi-course specials (including deals with Red Hawk and nearby Elk Ridge). The rustic lodging is the perfect headquarters for a Sunrise Side foursome foray. Call (800) 729-9375 for the latest lodging and rates.
WHITE PINE NATIONAL
Dessert lovers often can't save the best for last, but resist the urge to play this gem until the last day of your trip. It's the perfect way to end a perfect week. White Pine National is a place where an old hunting preserve and hints of Donald Ross design philosophy combine to produce ultra-fun rounds of golf. Here you'll find small greens with occasional wild slopes, fescue-ringed bunkers placed in strategic landing areas and great views of the forested hills near scenic Hubbard Lake. "We don't try to beat you up out here," says owner Bruce Wolfrom, who built the course with his brother, Clem. They're both Ross disciples of sorts, having served as superintendents at separate Ross designs (Bruce at Barton Hills in Ann Arbor and Clem at Detroit Golf Club. "We don't think most players want to come out and struggle on the golf course," Bruce says. "There's plenty of beauty and challenge here but you can always find your ball and get around the course in four and a half hours." Most of the holes at White Pine National cut through pine and hardwood forests. But driving areas are generous. Some holes allow players to try run-up shots so evident in the ground game era in which Donald Ross worked. Others require high, soft shots to elevated greens peppered with devious humps and bumps. Good players will get their share of birdie chances -- but these greens make the blade work overtime. Speaking of working overtime, White Pine also offers a 43,000-square-foot putting green designed after the Himalayas at St. Andrews. We recommend a spicy chicken wrap sandwich and a beer in the clubhouse -- and putts until sunset. White Pine National runs $38 on weekdays and $48 on weekends. Juniors play for free Monday thru Thursday when accompanied by parents or grandparents. Call (517) 736-3279 for tee times and lodging.
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