Michigan Golfer ON-LINE

My favorite holes in the U.P.
by Denny Grall
Sports Editor, Escanaba Daily Press

ESCANABA - When you think of the Upper Peninsula, what comes to mind? Splendid scenery and large areas of wilderness, right? How about golf, quality golf at excellent rates and on uncluttered courses?

Crossing north over the Mackinac Bridge provides more than just scenery, it is a paradise for golfers and sightseers alike. My favorite hole in the U.P. also provides possibly the best view of the peninsula from any golf course. It is No. 17 at TimberStone Golf Course in Iron Mountain, which has earned a 4 1/2-star from Golf Digest, meaning it is among the 201 best places to play in North America. It is a wondrous par-3, with seven tee boxes ranging from 215 yards to just 103 yards. It is difficult to swing the club because the surroundings are so brilliant.

The cart path down from the course’s highest point resembles Lombard St. in San Francisco with its many curves. No matter which tee you play, it is almost mandatory to scramble up to the top tee just for the view, which is a real knockout during the fall color season. If the pace of play permits on this splendid Jerry Matthews design, take a shot - with club and camera - just for the heck of it before playing from tee of your choice.

No matter which tee you play, keep it straight because massive boulders on the right side can send a wayward ball caroming hither and yon. Once, my shot nuzzled up fairly close to the pin after ricocheting off a boulder, but normally that errant ball bounces out where the deer roam. Be sure to check the pin’s location on a green shaped like Bass Lake - which is visible from the tee - because a knoll splits the green into two distinct targets. Land on the wrong side and only luck or divine intervention allows anything less than three putts. That hole is challenging, interesting, entertaining and gorgeous. What more can you ask for?

For another excellent view of the Upper Peninsula, as well as Lake Superior, check out No. 15 at Marquette Golf and Country Club. The 361-yard hole offers a superb view of the big pond, and is framed by the forest. It is absolutely breathtaking in the fall, and that scene is on the scorecard.

About 150 miles to the east is Wild Bluff Golf Course in Brimley, which offers choice overlooks of the entrance to the Soo Locks and Waishkey Bay, the eastern end of Lake Superior. After several glances at the shimmering water and Canada in the distance, throughout the round, a birdie putt that stopped just short on this 417-yard treasure was a fitting end to an excellent spring day. The hole, with a pond on the right of the green, will improve when a new clubhouse is constructed later this year that will provide an expansive view of this Mike Husby-designed gem.

No. 9 at Escanaba Country Club is not necessarily the favorite hole for anyone, but it gets more attention than most holes. It is 428 yards coming back to the clubhouse, but the pin is perched atop a high hill on an undulating green that is not receptive to weak shots. Unless you are a big knocker off the tee, it is best to lie up beneath the hill and lob onto the green and be content with a bogey. Many fine rounds have been destroyed as a small gallery in the clubhouse enjoys watching your disaster.

For a southpaw who tends to slice, the 311-yard fourth hole at the Terrace Bluff Golf and Country Club in Gladstone is ideal. You can easily bend around the dogleg for a short pitch into a green guarded by three bunkers, providing an idea of what it is like to play with the big hitters.

Another favorite is technically not in the Upper Peninsula, although it is in the 906 area code. That would be The Rock on Drummond Island, which requires a 10-minute ferry ride from DeTour just to get within a 15-minute drive of The Rock and its excellent lodging and course. The 131-yard 15th is a treasure. Water runs along both sides of the signature hole with a waterfall dropping into a pond, requiring a precise tee shot.

Like TimberStone’s classic hole, you may lose the ball but it doesn’t hurt as much because the shot is always pretty, no matter where the ball goes. To borrow a line from Johnny Horton’s North To Alaska? song, “way up north” in the Copper Country is another favorite from the southpaw stance. The No. 6 “Verdie Cox Hole” at Portage Lake Golf Club in Houghton is 420 yards, requiring a tee shot over a pond. Keep the ball to the left on the slight dogleg left and you have a better chance to avoid a bunker on the right front of the green, which also drops sharply from the right. The final 200 yards is played slightly uphill to an elevated green.

Another interesting hole even further north, at the tip of the rugged peninsula jutting into Lake Superior, is the 502-yard fourth hole at Keweenaw Mountain Lodge. There is a blind tee shot from the valley floor and the fairway goes uphill over a ravine and runs a little right to left and provides a nice view of Brockway Mountain. The rustic lodge and course, built during the CCC era of the 1930s, is also a favorite haven. In an area where wilderness and scenery abound, the golf is just as special and extremely affordable. Just about any hole can be your favorite.

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