The Michigan Golfer/Michigan Women's Golf Network
Shortly after his father, Alan, passed away in 1998, the Ostego Club's charismatic owner, Keith Gornick, wanted to honor his father by constructing a beautifully natural, championship golf course on the Gaylord property his father purchased back in 1955.
To do this, Gornick set aside 1,100 glorious acres in the scenic Sturgeon River valley, and hired PGA golf professional Gary Koch to handle the architecture and design of what may soon be regarded as one of the greatest new golf courses in the Midwest.
Gornick's decision to hire Robbins/Koch Golf Designs for the Otsego Club was a natural choice, having met Rick Robbins and Gary Koch five years earlier. Also, it so happened that Koch lost his own father not long after Gornick's dad passed away, so it was only fitting that the course be christened, "The Tribute."
According to Gornick, the venture was, "a tribute to two outstanding fathers, an incredible piece of land, the game of golf and also the community that we live in."
The sheer size of the property, and its dramatic natural features, made the design and construction of the course extremely challenging. Koch and Robbins set out to design a golf course that clearly utilized the extreme elevation changes and natural topography of the land. "It was truly amazing to have over 1,100 acres to work with. We spent a lot of time simply walking the land to get a feel for where the golf would naturally fit," said Robbins. "Keith made it very clear that he wanted nothing disturbed that would affect the environment."
Indeed, the concern for, planning around, and protection of the natural features of the Sturgeon River valley, is exemplary. The dramatic scenery, stunning vistas and elevation changes are simply breathtaking. Due to the immensity of the tract, you seldom see any holes but the one you're playing, which emphasizes the secluded feel and natural splendor of The Tribute. To stand on the tee of the par-3 ninth hole, with its cascading rivulets, steep slopes and deep evergreen woods is but one of many memorable scenes that golfers for generations will certainly banter about over a beverage at the 19th hole.
As you might imagine, a golf course built on this much property does offer a lengthy challenge to the low handicapper. The Tribute's back tees stretch to 7,347 yards. The great story here, however, are the design considerations made for golfers using the forward tees, which play a friendlier 5,085 yards. Often, golf course architects are accused of not putting enough thought into what at times seems to be an arbitrary and capricious system of locating forward tees - immediately in front of the middle tees - making the forward tees play long, or, perhaps even worse, setting the forward tees well in advance of the middle tees, in an overly patronizing gesture to women and seniors.
In talking with Robbins, it is obvious that his design team gave plenty of thought to the placement of the forward tees, as well as in the placement of hazards. "What we did here was realize that a course of championship caliber needs to also be enjoyable for the high handicapper, for women and for our younger and older golfers." Robbins explained that rather than select any piece of ground for the forward tees, his staff looked at the average location of the approach shot for women and seniors, considering an average drive of 170-200 yards. "We wanted to maintain an approach shot for golfers using the forward tees of 120-170 yards on the par-4s, presuming they hit that 185-yard drive. We used a similar design approach on the par-3s, and with four separate tees, we knew we could accommodate all challenge levels." In addition, Robbins designed the forward tees with ample area, and used them to offer a slightly different angle to or view of the hole. Finally, Robbins and Koch set most of the fairway bunkers and other hazards on the left side of the fairway, knowing the better golfers tend to draw the ball. The right side would find light rough or a bail out area, or a wider landing area, accommodating the fade that most amateurs play.
Several female golfers who had played the course when it opened in September of 2001, left their comments in the pro shop. Most touch on the dramatic natural beauty of The Tribute, some said it was the best course they'd ever played, and many mentioned that finally a golf course architect located and constructed tees with their game in mind, and not merely as an after thought. This is a terrific compliment, as women and seniors now make up such a large percentage of American golfers, and carry with them a great deal of purchasing power.
To quantify this fact, consider the statistics cited in Dorothy Langley's 1997 book, A View from the Red Tees: The Truth About Women and Golf. In the U.S. alone, golf is valued as $15-20 billion industry. Women golfers make up 20 percent of all U.S. golfers, and with the exception of golf clubs, buy 50 percent of all golf products. And these figures are increasing every year. The "average" woman golfer plays 14 times per year at a cost of $452; but half of all women golfers have a "high interest" in the game, playing 27 times per year at a cost of $800. Langley also reports that the presence of women in golf is growing dramatically. In 1997, there were 5.4 million women golfers in the United States, but more than half of all golfers who are trying golf for the first time are women. From a golf marketing perspective, this means that women are not only spending a lot on golf, but are about to spend a whole lot more. And we all know that our senior golf population, with earlier retirements and longer life spans, is growing exponentially. Koch and Robbins obviously understand the economic importance of designing golf layouts that cater to women and seniors, and at The Tribute, considerations of where to place the forward tees are second to none. If you check out any of the pro shops at the Otsego Club (which also include Gaylord's The Lake and The Loon), you will find plenty of women's golf apparel, equipment and accessories. Women and seniors are the future of golf, and the Otsego Club understands this marketing trend.
Another great asset of The Tribute is that it combines many great looks. The first two holes are fairly open and unassuming, much like a Scottish links course. Then you head to the third tee. Instantly, you are teeing it up atop a ridge, overlooking a fairway that plunges downward some 200 feet to a large green nestled in the floor of the valley.
The fourth hole, a wonderful par-5 with alternate fairways, is equally breathtaking. In fact, every hole at The Tribute has some unique quirk or attribute that causes one to realize that the beauty of this course is indeed the sum of its parts.
Many courses have a "signature hole." At The Tribute, each hole rivals the next for signature status. To this writer, this is the mark of truly great golf course. The Sturgeon River, and the wetlands it creates, the ample bunkering, the large and undulating greens, mixed hardwood and evergreen forests and incredible topographic relief make The Tribute a great golf experience.
If you play no other course in northern Michigan this year, you owe it to yourself to get to Gaylord and play this course. And while you're there, be sure to take advantage of the warm hospitality of the Otsego Club. The Logmark is possibly the coziest pub in the north country, but if you prefer a truly great gastronomic adventure, then by all means dine at the stylish Pontresina Restaurant. The culinary staff is second to none, as is the 20-mile view. Congratulations to Keith Gornick for creating this terrific addition to the Gaylord Golf Mecca. In an area long blessed with great golf venues, the Ostego Club's The Tribute may soon be regarded as the best of them all.
To decide for yourself, contact the Otsego Club at (877) 465-3475 to inquire about tee times and green fees for the 2002 season, or visit online at www.otsegoclub.com.
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