Come on Up
The lure of incredible scenery and tremendous courses is expected to keep the Upper Peninsula in the center of the thriving golf boom this year. Destinations like Tahquamenon Falls and Wild Bluff Golf Course, Drummond Island and The Rock, Kitch-iti-ki-pi and the wondrously expanded Indian Lakes Golf Course in Manistique are among the prizes awaiting those who are willing to battle the higher gas prices. "They came up here last year and the gas prices weren't cheap. There is good, quality golf up here and a lot of interest and the prices are reasonable," said Frank Guastella of Red Fox Run Golf Course near Gwinn.
"We are very competitive with our pricing and we offer such a unique situation," said Mike Husby of Brimley. The Wild Bluff architect was speaking about his course and other Upper Peninsula sites as well. Susie Fox of highly regarded Timberstone Golf Course in Iron Mountain agrees. "If you want to come here and play golf you will come regardless of the gas prices," said the recent inductee to the Upper Peninsula Sports Hall of Fame. "We have a real niche in the market with a beautiful casino," Husby said. "One of the things we (Wild Bluff) keep stressing is our golf and gaming package." That $99 package includes a round of golf, a night of lodging and $15 in food vouchers at one of three locations.
Wild Bluff, which opened to raves last year, features a new clubhouse this season that overlooks the No. 18 green and an expanded pond. "It is for aesthetics," Husby said, indicating the pond is not designed to come into play on the final approach shot of the round. "The rounds were way above what we thought they would be," he said of the 2000 season. "The compliments we are getting have been tremendous. The repeat business is something we are just thrilled with." Continual tweaking in tree lines adjoining the generous fairways have made the course extremely playable, with rounds averaging about four and a half hours. Service amenities have also been bolstered, with additional staff.
The Golf Association of Michigan's senior women's tournament will be held at Wild Bluff Aug. 23-24, the first time a state tourney will be held in the Upper Peninsula. Wild Bluff has also instituted a golf academy, with a 5-to-1 student-teacher ratio. A computerized golf swing system will analyze each player in slow motion. The $449 package includes two nights of lodging, $30 in food credits, refreshment coupons, a nightly slot tournament at the casino, use of the practice facility and three rounds of pre-booked tee times for golf. For more information on Wild Bluff, check out 4baymills.com for the entire complex or wildbluff.com for golf.
Timberstone is the most decorated golf course in the Upper Peninsula. It received a prestigious 4 1/2-star ranking from Golf Digest in 2000, which placed it among the top 201 places to play in the United States. It was No. 3 among best new upscale courses in a 1998 Golf Digest ranking. "We're working very diligently to get that extra half-star," said Fox, indicating Timberstone visitors came from 35 states and five of Canada's provinces last year. "This is our fifth year and the course has matured as planned. It is just plush," she said. Steps have been taken to speed play by using more course rangers, better signage and improved yardage guides on the scorecards. Fox attended a golf show in Milwaukee earlier this year and was overwhelmed and almost embarrassed by the raves bestowed on the course by visitors. "I was just beet-red," she said, indicating it felt like she was on Candid Camera. "The only complaint I heard was people couldn't get on the course early enough in the spring. That is a good problem to have." The driving range has been expanded to 300 yards, Fox said. Stay-and-play packages are available. For more on Timberstone, check out timberstonegolf.com.
A variety of exciting additions highlight life on Drummond Island, the largest freshwater island on the Great Lakes and just 50 miles from the Mackinac Bridge. A nine-hole natural turf putting course is free for lodge guests. It includes landscaping features such as rocks and small trees. "It helps with your putting game or you can use it for general fun," said Kara Cloudman, sales and marketing manager of Drummond Island Resort and Conference Center. "The kids can play it as a putt-putt course and the adults can hone up their putting. There are no clown faces," she said with a chuckle. Most non-motorized amenities, such as bicycles, canoes and putt-putt golf, are free to guests. Non-guests pay a nominal fee. A deck has been added for waterfront dining at the rustic Bayside Restaurant & Lounge overlooking Potagannissing Bay. A variety of enticing packages are available, year-round, in the boundary waters of the United States and Canada. There is also a bowling alley, sporting clays, outdoor chapel and banquet facilities, snowmobiling, sledding, cross country skiing and an ice bridge to Canada. For more, check out drummondisland.com.
Red Fox Run near Gwinn continues to blossom under private ownership, which took over when the U.S. Air Force closed K.I. Sawyer in 1995. Owner Frank Guastella said major improvements for this year include routing the traffic around No. 8 and 11 greens by clearing the dense underbrush. "As the season progresses we will start a tee renovation program," he said. "From there, we will continue to clear out some dense areas on the back nine. The military just cut through the trees and didn't do a lot of clearing on the sides. We want to make it a little more playable and speed play." The pro shop has been renovated and the clubhouse will be renovated during the offseason. A forward tee will also be built on No. 17. Red Fox Run also offers four golf academies, including one for women. There is a 4-to-1 student-teacher ratio and the $225 package includes daily instruction, before-and-after videotape, two meals a day and golf and cart.
Indian Lake Golf Course near Manistique unveiled a gorgeous and demanding nine-hole addition last year that has put it among the must-play top five in the region. "Our members really, really love what we have and the feedback from out-of-town play has been exceptional," said manager Scott Bellville. "People think we have one of the nicest layouts in the U.P." The high anticipation of the opening last June has been met with equally high response. "There was no letdown at all, which is unusual," said Bellville. Some drainage problems have been spotted on holes 14-16. A pond is being added about 290 yards off the tee on the right side of the 15th to alleviate standing water. "It won't come into play for most golfers," said Bellville, indicating a bunker on No. 15 may be changed to a pond to handle the excess water.
Other top stops include George Young Golf Course near Iron River, the Terrace Bluff Golf and Country Club between Escanaba and Gladstone, Wawonowin Country Club in Ishpeming and Oak Crest Golf Course in Norway.
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