Canadian Lakes Has Come A Long Way
One of the popular new TV shows of this season is all about living the "American Dream." It could be about Canadian Lakes, the sprawling 7,000-acre resort located in mid-Michigan near Stanwood.
Starting out as a blue-collar resort in 1962, Canadian Lakes allowed the new affluent middle-class to enjoy the fruits of their labor with waterfront ownership on its more than 1200 acres of lakes. When Don Bollman, who was in the retail hardware business at the time, started Canadian Lakes, golf wasn't in the picture.
Forty years later, under the guidance of Don's daughter Judy Browning, her husband Norm, and former brother-in-law and partner Bob Doerr, Canadian Lakes is one of the premier golf resorts in the state of Michigan with two outstanding golf courses and a new 44-room luxury inn.
St. Ives, a Jerry Mathews designed golf course, is one of only 11 Golf Digest five- star "Places to Play" facilities in the United States, and Tullymore, designed by award winning Colorado golf course architect Jim Engh, was recently ranked as one of the top 100 Golf Digest courses in the country.
"My father was forward thinking for his time. His vision was to create a resort with a family atmosphere where everyone would have something to do," said Judy. "He wanted to create a pristine environment with green belts, septic systems and setbacks, which was ahead of its time."
The Brownings went to work at the resort in 1965, and Doerr joined five years later.
"Golf wasn't high on Don's list of priorities," added Norm as we talked sitting on the balcony at the St. Ives clubhouse overlooking the course and one of the many lakes scattered around the property. "He put in a nine-hole course in 1964 to complement the lakes and other recreational facilities they had at the time. A second nine was added in 1968, but he saw golf as another recreational opportunity, not as a means to attract guests."
The trio saw things a little differently, and bought Judy's dad out of the business in 1982. Continuing to add parcels as they came on the market, the 18-hole Royal Canadian course, routed by Michigan golf course architect Bill Newcomb, was added around that time.
In 1986 Kevin O'Brien, Director of Golf, came on board.
"It wasn't a big operation at the time, but Don and Bob promised that more would be coming on line," smiled O'Brien recalling those early years.
The St. Ives course and clubhouse were completed in 1996, and it put Canadian Lakes on the golf course map. In addition to it's five-star rating, the course has garnered a Top 10 Golf Facility for Women award from Golf for Women, and it's also been named one of the top 100 golf shops in America by Golf Digest.
Carved out of glacial highlands, this mid-Michigan links offers as many elevation changes as an "up north" course. Wetlands, bridged and undisturbed, are colorful and challenging accessories to the bold imaginative Matthew's design.
How do you follow up on those accolades?
"We knew we had this worthless piece of land, except for hunting, and we wanted to create something unique to complement what we already had," said Doerr, who has an excavating company and did much of the work on St. Ives. "Of all the golf course architects we interviewed, we felt Jim Engh could fill the bill."
Opening in late 2001 Tullymore was an instant hit with both golfers and the media. The accolades have just started pouring in, and to cull a Golf Digest Top 100 position in your first full season is almost unheard of. Beautiful bunkers blend generously with weaving fairways. Bridged wetlands lie in harmony with small lakes and meandering creeks.
When you've built two award winning golf courses, a new clubhouse, and added a new inn in less than seven years, where do you go next?
"We've been at this for nearly 45 years, why stop now," replied Judy with a sage smile. "Our master plan is our cash flow. If things continue to go well, we may look at adding another course in a few years."
Unlike many resorts, Canadian Lakes has a good supply of home-grown golfers. Of the 1800 homes scattered around the property, over half are year-round residents, and golfer visits have been increasing annually. Look for the "American dream" to continue growing at Canadian Lakes.
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