U.S. 23: 400 Miles of Golf
Have you tried the U.S. 23 Golf Trail?
It's not open as much of the year at the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail in Alabama, and it's not marketed in savvy fashion like the group of courses calling themselves the Michigan Grand Golf Trail. But the U.S. 23 Golf Trail definitely exists - if only in the minds of a few Michigan Golfer editors.
U.S. 23 runs nearly 400 miles in Michigan, from the Ohio state line past Cheboygan in the north. Dozens of golf courses of all shapes, sizes, and degrees of difficulty dot the landscape within a few miles of the route.
With the economy sputtering and energy prices on the rise, many tourists are expected to stay much closer to home in these warm months. So, over the next two issues of the magazine, we'll suggest a few great golf getaways up and down this old federal highway. Try the whole adventure for a summer vacation or chip away at it with day trips and weekend ventures.
Our trip starts at the Ohio state line and, with stops at six diverse courses, travels north to the Flint area in this issue. In the next issue, we'll make it all the way to the Straits of Mackinac.
Links At Lake Erie(http://www.linksatlakeerie.com)
Our first stop is actually much closer to I-75 than U.S. 23, but amenities abound at Links at Lake Erie, some 20 miles east of U.S. 23 in Monroe, at Exit 11 of I-75. A large warm-up facility with three sets of tees and practice greens and bunkers gets your trek off to a good start. Two teaching pros are available for lessons you can schedule just a few days in advance.
The course itself plays nearly 6,600 yards from the tips and features water on 14 holes. The best might be the 389-yard, par-4 sixth hole. There's water on both sides of a tight landing area and it usually plays straight into the wind.
As head pro Brian Strange puts it, "There's a lot of family atmosphere around here," once the round is over. Links at Lake Erie sits next to an RV park, an outlet mall, and a go-cart track. And, it's usually among the first tier of Michigan courses to open each spring. This year they put the flags in on March 21. "Down here by Toledo we usually don't get nearly as much snow as most of the rest of the state," Strange said.
Green fees are $25 for 18 on weekdays and $27 on weekends with carts running an additional $22. A senior special on weekday mornings lets players 60 and older play with carts for only 20 bucks. Book a tee time at (734) 384-1177.
Have you ever wondered if you could survive the nasty, island green on the 17th hole of the PGA Tour's Tournament Players Championship? Save yourself the 24-hour drive and stop off at the Legacy instead. This challenging course is just a few miles north of Toledo on US 223 - take the Ottawa Lake exit west from US 23. Have fun at the par-3 eighth. The 145-yard hold has a big island green with a sweeping shelf in the middle. Make a birdie here and your buddies should buy you a steak in the fantastic clubhouse restaurant. The Legacy, an Arthur Hills course, is a very well-groomed, 6,840-yard gem from the tips. Its best feature is nearly perfect, hand-mowed greens. You'll pay $55 for 18 holes with cart on summer weekends here. Call (734) 854-1101 for tee times.
Eagle Crest Golf Club(http://www.eaglecrestresort.com/course.html)
Our next stop is all about convenience. Eagle Crest Golf Club at Eastern Michigan University is less than 10 minutes down I-94 from U.S. 23 in Ypsilanti. A quick drive from most spots in southeastern Michigan, the resort-style course is built for easy navigation as well. It's a cart-oriented golf course with lots of paved paths and quick rides from greens to tees. Wide fairways throughout the front nine make for several nice warm-up holes. Those "pace-enhancers," coupled with a fine banquet facility, make for an excellent outing atmosphere.
And you'll likely need a full scramble team to successfully navigate Eagle Crest's signature hole, the 520-yard, par-5 16th. A tight landing area off the tee requires players to avoid woods on the left and water short and to the right. An extremely shallow, rock-strewn peninsula serves as your green. Almost all players must lay up. And many will be laying up on their third shots, too.
As challenging as the 16th is, Eagle Crest's most unpredictable hole might be the par-5 ninth. You might even call this dogleg right Ypsilanti's own "Road Hole." The entire length of the hole bends around the access road to the clubhouse, giving new meaning to the phrase "cut the corner." It's possible to fade one right down the road and bounce, bounce, bounce within short iron distance of the green. It's also possible to kick wildly to the right where broken car windows and insurance claims likely await.
One of the pricier courses in our tour, Eagle Crest runs $65 with cart on weekends and $55 weekdays. For tee times, call (734) 487-2441.
After traversing Eagle Crest's mind-bending back nine, players can use a little strategic fine-tuning. The new "Strategic Fox" at Fox Hills is just the place for it. Scheduled to open in June, this high-quality par-3 course is "keyed toward families and kids," says Fox Hills marketing pro Cindy Simonelli.
The course has its own clubhouse with a jungle-themed atmosphere to make golf fun for the little ones. The Strategic Fox layout brings Fox Hills total inventory to 63 holes, including the top-notch Golden Fox course. Green fees range from $15 for juniors on the Strategic Fox to $62 for a weekend 18 for adults on the Golden Fox.
Fox Hills is nine miles east of the U.S. 23/M-14 interchange in Ann Arbor. Call (734) 453-7272 for tee times.
This is not the course to try out those pricey Titleist Pro VIs you've been thinking about buying. Players negotiate a dozen water hazards on Mystic Creek's 27 holes. The three nines - The Lakes, The Woods, and The Meadows - all offer plenty of challenge. The best of the bunch is The Lakes, which plays more than 3,300 yards from the tips and offers a series of terrific risk-reward shots going over and around water.
Mystic Creek is in Milford, a few miles east of U.S 23 and a couple miles north of I-96. Greens fees run $55 with cart on the weekends, $45 on weekdays. Carts are mandatory. Call (248)684-3333 to book tee times.
The Majestic At Lake Walden(http://www.majesticgolf.com)
This is as good as golf gets in southeast Michigan. And it's worth the hefty, $70 green fee (with cart) to tee it up. These 27 holes feel like northern Michigan, yet The Majestic is conveniently located between Brighton and Flint right beside U.S. 23 (a couple miles north off the Hartland exit).
The second two nines here are better than the first, but all three are picturesque. If you have the chance, start at Number 10 after a ferry ride across Lake Walden. One swing thought can carry you through - take an extra club to carry a variety of elevated greens, deep bunkers, and wetlands protecting many of the holes.
After the challenges at Mystic Creek and the Majestic, we end the first half of our U.S. 23 Golf Trail at a confidence-building track a few miles south of Flint. Fenton Farms is perhaps best known for its former owner, Detroit Lions legend Alex Karras, whose 1960s football buddies held raucous matches at the course years ago. Today, Fenton Farms is still a good place to grab a cart, a couple of beers and bust a few drives on mostly open and forgiving fairways.
Visible from U.S. 23, Fenton Farms is affordably priced at under $30 to walk 18 on weekends. It's located on Torrey Road, a half-mile south of Thompson Road, US-23 exit 84. For tee times, call (810) 629-1212.
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