“Am I in a holodeck on Star Trek’s Voyager?” – because suddenly I had been transported into the quaint Bavarian-style tourist town of Frankenmuth which could very well have been transplanted from the German Alps. Frankenmuth, “Michigan’s Little Bavaria,” is billed as Michigan’s number one tourist destination hosting over 3 million visitors each year. It hosts several festivals throughout the year and is known the world over for their fabulous chicken dinners.
We started at The Fortress, in the heart of Frankenmuth, only a par 4 away from its sister property, Zehnders. This “Scottish” links-style course was redesigned and expanded to 18 holes in 1992 by architect Dick Nugent. It’s a well-laid-out design with Bent grass tees, greens and fairways that are all in pristine condition. The 75 bunkers ensure that most of the greens are well protected and the fescue-covered mounds force you to keep the ball in the fairway.
The most difficult hole, I would say, would be the long par 4, 13th. From the tips, it measures 443 yards (410 from middle tees) and an accurate tee shot is essential here, since there is water on both sides of the entire hole and the green is well protected with bunkers. Our gracious and enthusiastic host, John Shelton, claimed that “if I want to score on this hole, I do not try to go for this green in two, because it has produced more big scores then small”. He prefers to be short of the green by using a mid-iron for his second shot, and take his chances on an up-and-down. Bogie is a good score on this hole!
Probably the prettiest hole on this course is the 17th, an elevated 172-yard par 4, with a pond in front and a river directly behind the green. Wind conditions and the downhill shot will challenge your club selection on this hole.
With the tips measuring out at 6813 yards and a course rating of 73.6 and slope of 139 (Middle is 6271/70.8/129), this course will definitely challenge your game particularly if the wind kicks up.
Our next stop was after a 25-minute drive past Saginaw to Apple Mountain. Definitely worth the drive! This is a year-round golf, ski, meeting and conference center with all the amenities imaginable, including two award-winning restaurants.
Golf Magazine claims “the playing conditions are perfect” at Apple Mountain, and I would have to agree. John Sanford designed this fair-playing course with generous fairways, but be careful—there is water on 14 of the 18 holes, with plenty of bunkers and lots of contour to their greens.
My favorite two holes were the 5th and 6th. Both stand on top of the man-made ski hill and offer majestic views of the valley. The 5th is a straight downhill, par 3 measuring 175 yards from the blacks (156 from the blues) with an apple-shaped green and bunker formation. Club selection is critical here.
Don’t let the view from the tee of the 6th lull you into a false sense of security, since you’ll need an accurate drive on this hole to avoid the second set of wetlands and an apple-shaped fairway bunker. A very beautiful hole!
This course will test your skills from all tee blocks, but bring your best game if you are going to test the black tees at 6947 yards with a slope of 142 and a course rating of 74.5.
Close by was the Sawmill Golf Club. The son of Apple Mountain’s architect, John Sanford, Jr., has designed another excellent course that will challenge your skills. It is situated among natural wetlands and pine groves, so accuracy is a must on this course.
My favorite hole is the par 3, 11th, a daunting shot of 214 yards (195 from the blues) entirely over a wetland bog. Surprisingly enough, there were no bugs on this course.
The toughest would have to be the 6th hole. It’s a short par five from the blues, at 485 yards, but a three-shot hole nevertheless. From the tips, it is 528 yards, but you need a 333-yard drive to clear the wetlands that run down and across the fairway, so a layup is the right call here. From there you’ll need to hit a long iron to be in any position for this doglegged green position.
After touring the area and playing these three great golf courses, I found the Saginaw County to be not only a tranquil golf experience but offers ample fine dining, shopping and plenty of family fun to entertain all members of the family.