Fall for Golf
Michigan is a beautiful state, but perhaps no more beautiful than in autumn, when temperatures are lower, skies are clear and colors burst forth like nowhere else. Color tours are a favorite fall pastime of Michigan residents and visitors to the Great Lakes State. Some of the state's best color tours, however, can be found on some of Michigan's finest golf courses. Here are a few options to consider when planning your autumn adventure in Michigan:
A-Ga-Ming Golf Club
Nestled off US-31 just north of Traverse City in Kewadin, is one of Northern Michigan's better kept secrets. Offering great golf and outstanding views, A-Ga-Ming should be considered as any golfer plans this year's fall golf tour Up North.
Offering four sets of tees and playing just 6,700 yards from the back, A-Ga-Ming is playable for all levels of golfers. The original layout of the front nine is carved out of stands of pine and highly favors a straight hitter. Any form of wayward shot at A-Ga- Ming is quickly swallowed by the dense northern Michigan forest. The back nine, added in 1987, features three of the best finishing holes in northern Michigan.
While the fairways are tight, the rough is forgiving and the greens are relatively flat and roll extremely true. Scoring well should not be difficult for a mid-level golfer who can work the ball into smaller greens. Keep the ball well below the hole on all of the par-4s or a three-putt is a definite danger.
A selection of the prettiest holes in Michigan would have to include the 235-yard, par-3, 16th hole. It is difficult enough to block out a cake-top, bunker and gully guarded, 200-yard carry when trying to decide on your shot into this green. But at dusk, when a golfer stands in the back tee box overlooking the length of Torch Lake and it's surrounding hills, it is next to impossible to focus on executing a well-struck shot.
The best way to experience A-Ga-Ming may be to take advantage of the Triple Play Golf package that includes A-Ga-Ming, The Chief, and High Pointe Golf Club. With rates for the fall pegged at $219 per golfer, this package includes a round at each course as well as two nights' lodging. Request lodging at the Maple Ridge Condos for a spectacular fall color tour by simply walking to the window. Call (800) 678-0122 or visit http://www.a-ga-ming.com for more information.
Hidden River Golf and Casting Club
Located in Brutus, Hidden River is an often overlooked destination for many Michigan golfers. This 7,100-yard layout sets up very well from five sets of tees and offers all golfers the chance to experience an excellent combination of all types of golf.
The first three holes and the majority of the back nine allow the golfer the typical northern Michigan experience. Holes are carved out of pine stands and offer nice views of the area. Where Hidden River distinguishes itself from other courses in the area however, is in its ability to keep the golfer interested. With the Maple River, one of the country's finest trout streams running through the property, there is rarely a dull moment of golf with water coming into play on seven of the holes.
More open than the rest of the course, an atypical links layout highlights numbers four through eight. The home stretch of the front nine culminates in a 159-yard par-3 with a 60-foot drop from tee to green. Listen to the GPS (global positioning system) cart range finder when it tells the golfer to take two clubs less off the tee. No. 9 is one green not to be missed long.
Play golf in the morning at Hidden River and put away the sticks for an evening of fly fishing on the Maple River. Guides are available for hire to show you around the river and provide casting and fly selection advice.
Providing another excellent package deal in the North, Hidden River has teamed with the Little Traverse Bay Golf Club, Black Lake Golf Club and, the Charlevoix Country Club to offer the Big Fore package. Starting at $377 per player for a "Two Day Weekend", this package includes three rounds of golf, dinner and lodging at two of the courses on Friday and Saturday night, as well as lunch at two of the courses on Saturday and Sunday. Call Trout Creek Condominiums at (800) 748-0245 or visit http://www.hiddenriver.com for more information.
Opening this summer, the future of Michigan golf has arrived and it lies in the back 1,100 acres of the Otsego Club, just east of Gaylord. Built by Gary Koch with the sole purpose of bringing a PGA event to Northern Michigan, the Tribute raises the standard for all courses to come in the state.
Carved out of the Sturgeon River valley, the Tribute takes a visually stunning 15-minute cart ride from the clubhouse to reach the first tee. Playing just over 7,300 yards from the tips, yet offering up to six tees, the Tribute sets up well for all players. Where it shines however is from the back three sets of tees. It is from here that a golfer can take advantage of routine but drastic elevation changes that offer breathtaking views of the surrounding area.
Among its most appealing features, none of the Tribute's holes are visible from any of the others. This allows the golfer to focus on what is directly in front of him or her at that moment. The fabulous scenery is enough of a distraction without having to worry about where the pin is on the next green, or who may be hitting an errant tee shot into you from the next fairway.
Awaiting the golfer after a lengthy ride from the second green is a superb downhill, 410-yard par-4 that is reachable for most mid-handicap golfers that can hit the driver down the middle. Even if one cannot, it is worth a try just for the sheer pleasure of feeling like a big hitter as your ball continues to soar and seems never to land. Even a long iron or 3-wood off the tee leaves only a short wedge into a generously sloping green.
All of the par-5s on the course play as true par-5s for all but the longest of hitters who must be willing to work the ball from all directions with long irons and fairway woods into heavily guarded greens for a chance at eagle. The same may be said of the par-3s where accurate iron shots will reward the golfer. But leave the ball on the wrong level of the green, and you will be faced with a menacing double break that continues to run past the hole.
The Tribute is just one of four courses available for play at the Otsego Club. It must be played in any trip to the Gaylord area and is worth the drive from the southern parts of the state for a day trip if that is all of the time you have available. Take advantage of the low $95 rates now, as the rates are bound to rise as the course becomes better known in the near future.
If more time is available, the Otsego Club offers an unlimited golf package for $209 per golfer (a surcharge applies for the Tribute) for two days of midweek golf. The proximity of all four courses to the Otsego Club's excellent lodging makes the Club an excellent choice for a mid-week fall getaway. Call (989) 732-5181 or go to http://otsegoclub.com for booking information.
Less than an hour's drive from Traverse City, Shanty Creek Resort in Bellaire, boasts some of northern Michigan's best golf. Cedar River, designed by Tom Weiskopf, combined with the Arnold Palmer layout, the Legend, provide an excellent weekend trip to Shanty this fall.
Starting the front nine of the 7,000-yard Cedar River, a golfer is faced with typical northern Michigan golf. The landing areas are fairly tight, the rough is high, and the greens are firm yet hold well and run true. The highlight of Cedar River however, begins on the 357-yard sixth tee and carries through the turn to the to the 532-yard par-5 10th. This stretch of five holes makes Cedar River worth coming back to year after year as they test every shot in the player's bag.
In contrast to Cedar River, which rewards players who hit a straight, high ball with moderate spin and some accuracy, the Legend offers the golfer generous landing areas. In typical Palmer fashion however, the premium on the 6,700-yard layout is on the placement of all shots. A well struck ball to the left or right, while well within the fairway may still lead to a lay-up or poor angle into smaller,well mounded greens.
As with Cedar River the highlight of a round at the Legend comes on the middle holes. The 501-yard par-5 No. 7, is easily among the best holes in all of Michigan. Off the tee, a wide open landing area with water all along the right, a fairway bunker on the left, and a stream which runs across the fairway at the far end of the landing area, force the player to consider all options very carefully before pulling a club. After a solid drive, the player is forced to hit to a yardage for a required lay-up as even the longest of hitters do not want to contend with the heavily bunkered and stream guarded green. Once reached, the green offers a brief moment of respite before the golfer goes onto Nos. 8-12, as it is relatively flat, though narrow.
Bring your driver to the Legend but spend more practice time on the putting green than the driving range. Also pay close attention to the yardage card for good overhead pictures of the layout. A well placed ball here will be rewarded while errant, though well hit, shots will cost any golfer four to five shots per round.
Offering various accommodations, Shanty Creek is an excellent choice for fall weekend getaways. The courses all offer spectacular views of surrounding hillsides and river valleys for a ready-made color tour of the Torch Lake area. Contact Shanty Creek Resort at (800) 678-4111 for more information on fall specials or visit on the web at http://www.shantycreek.com.
Stonehedge at Gull Lake View
While southwest Michigan offers plenty of excellent golf for players in numerous locations, it offers only one true golf resort: Gull Lake View. Located in the heart of Kellogg country just outside of Battle Creek in Augusta, this 90-hole complex will challenge any golfer while making them feel like they have left home for North Carolina. The golf courses are beautifully manicured and the staff is among Michigan's finest.
The aptly named Stonehedge courses (a literal stone hedge borders almost every hole at some point) at Gull Lake View highlight the finest of what southwest Michigan has to offer. The property was ravaged last year by a windstorm that leveled some 6,000 trees, but the casual observer would never know it as there are plenty of trees left on the course to attract errant tee shots.
Playing 6,700 yards from the black tees, Stonehedge's South Course is an excellent loop offering five sets of tees. Unlike some courses where the varying tee boxes are available for aesthetic reasons only, Gull Lake View uses the five boxes to offer a truly different and playable round of golf for players of all abilities.
Each hole at Stonehedge could be considered the "signature hole" as all offer an excellent chance for golfers to hit a variety of shots into quick rolling, gently sloping greens. The rough is challenging, yet not punitive, which allows recovery shots a chance of hitting, and staying on, the large greens.
Again, the way to experience southwest Michigan's finest this fall is by signing on for a package. Starting at $114 per golfer, which includes unlimited golf on any of the five courses, and lodging in the Fairway Villas, these packages are ideal for the golfer living in southern Michigan with a weekend to spare. Call (800) 432-7971 or go to http://www.GullLakeView.com for more information.
The Bear at Grand Traverse Resort and Spa
The Jack Nicklaus-designed Bear provides a links style diversion from typical northern Michigan golf. Heralded as the best golf course in the North and one of the best resort courses in America, the Bear survives the explosion of excellent golf in Michigan to remain a must-play on any visit to the Traverse City area.
At just over 7,000 yards from the tips, an average golfer is better off moving up to the middle set of three tees where the course plays a much more manageable 6,300 yards. This is particularly true if a prevailing wind out of the west is coming off Grand Traverse Bay. A stiff wind will make the incoming holes difficult as potential water carries of 100-plus yards await an already challenged golfer.
The way to "tame the Bear" is simple: leave the driver in the bag unless you hit it arrow straight and focus on managing the course. A round of well-executed shots hit from tee to fairway will award even the high handicapper with a rewarding experience on this difficult layout. If the rough is up and the course is being mowed to Michigan Open standards (which the Bear has hosted for the last 17 years), keeping the ball in the fairway is essential to scoring well.
Deep bunkers guard several greens which are subtly sloped causing minor breaks that are often best read from both sides of the hole. Having said that however, the greens do roll very true and will be forgiving to a well rolled ball.
Joining the Bear at Grand Traverse are the Gary Player-designed Wolverine and the original resort course, Spruce Run, which hosted the Open four times before the tournament moved to The Bear. Both of these courses give the golfer a different feel of Grand Traverse golf and are individually challenging for players of every level.
Combine fantastic golf with a world class resort and spa facility and you have all the makings of a great fall weekend getaway. Call (800) 748-0303 or visit http://www.grandtraverseresort.com for booking information. MG
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