Having an enthusiastic band of golfers at your side, on a journey across northern Michigan, was a necessity. From my experience, traveling with one partner typically results in a bit of disaster, unless the partner is your spouse or your sibling. Two partners isn’t much better. If a pair of the trio gets in a tiff, the 3rd member of the group must serve as mediator of the melee. It’s no fun being that guy. Four is the minimum number for golf. Each of the battlers has someone to calm him down, and restore balance to our universe. From there, you jump to six or more, as natural 3somes and 4somes divide out at 6 through infinity.
Ours was an ambitious plan, one that might run into a few bumps along the way. There were no tiffs, no melees, no arguments about things ephemeral. We were to travel across southern Ontario, from Niagara to Sarnia, crossing bridges at both ends. We would begin our trip at Forest Dunes, a resort in the fun-to-pronounce town of Roscommon, Michigan. Forest Dunes was a curiosity for many years, home to a Tom Weiskopf golf course, opened in 2002. It was recognized as a very good golf course, and was one that I had missed on my first visit to northern Michigan. 14 years on, the golf resort opened a unique combination of courses. Adopted favorite son Tom Doak, a Connecticut transplant to northern Michigan, and his Renaissance Golf team, designed The Loop. A course that plays one direction one day, then turns round and plays back again the next, this type of design had not been seen since the Old Course in St. Andrews. At The Loop, 18 teeing areas and 18 putting greens are utilized to offer completely different golfing experiences over the same grounds. Unlike double greens, where half the green is used on one hole, with the other half reserved (purportedly!) for the other, The Loop’s greens are devoted entirely to each hole, depending on the direction of … the loop.
Our first day saw us play the Red Course of The Loop. Day two had us in the morning on the Black Course routing, then over to Forest Dunes for our 2nd 18 holes of the day. In addition to those 3 regulation courses, the property contains a massive, 18-hole putting course called Hilltop, a substantial practice facility, and a soon-to-open par three layout. We decided to do engage in two putting competitions on day three, before embarking on our next segment of the journey. After losing the 18-flag putting challenge on the final hole, I gained a measure of satisfaction on the long-distance putt-off. While the others took the high road, I stayed low. I didn’t measure how far the Hilltop extended, but I know that I arrived in the final hole’s vicinity in 3 mighty blows, and calmly 2-putted for a victorious 5.
The next stop on our journey took us farther west and farther north. We arrived in the towns of Petosky and Harbor Springs, home to courses owned by the Boyne corporation. We played two of the three nines at Bay Harbor, located in the attractive, lakeside town of Petoskey. Our golf took us over the Links and Quarry nines. I had played both during my 2007 visit, and was eager to revisit them. Both were as enjoyable as the previous trip, with tremendous weather this time around. 12 years ago, the Travelin’ Duff and I escaped a monsoon in the tunnel that connects the 6th green and 7th tee. We were joined there for 20 minutes by as many carts as would fit, with rain water rising part-way up our cart tires! We survived, and emerged to find a glorious, post-rain 7th hole. I wondered why the Preserve nine had been left off our agenda for a second consecutive visit. After completing the golf, the trio of accomplices repaired to the saloon, while I drove off to find the mysterious Preserve. I’ll talk about it when I detail our time at Bay Harbor.
Although Bay Harbor is part of the Boyne experience, it is a world unto itself. It has a private-club feel, contrasted by the open experience at the Boyne Highlands resort property. This is not a negative, just a difference. Over at Boyne Highlands, we settled in to a 36-hour plan to play three courses: Hills, Heather and Memorial. Arthur Hills was retained to build the Hills course on the main property, after the success of his Bay Harbor triumvirate. He did not disappoint. The Heather course is the original resort course, built by Robert Trent Jones, senior. The Donald Ross Memorial is a collection of Ross’ most memorable golf holes from his storied architectural career.
The final stop on our journey across state brought us to the western edge of the state, the eastern shore of Lake Michigan. After stopping by one of the world’s great courses (private, perhaps detailed down the road, perhaps not) we descended to Arcadia Bluffs, home to a pair of spectacular layouts. The Bluffs course, opened in 1999, moves up and down an ideal piece of property on the cliffs that overlook Lake Michigan. It’s unforgettable, in an Irish style. A mile up the road and inland, the South course opened in 2018. This course hearkens back to the geometric bunkering stylings seen in Raynor, Travis and Leeds. It plays firm and fast, but its green speeds do not frighten the parkland golfer. It is a contrast to the resort’s other course, and will remain in your memory as long as its partner course does.
That’s the lineup. Over the course of the next month or two, we will publish reviews of each golf course and property. If you’ve never been to the northern midwest, it’s worth the drive. Stay in the USA, as the bridges tend to back up, even for Nexus holders. Understand that you might be without cell coverage for periods of time, as northern Michigan is not always friendly to the TMobiles, Verizons and ATT of the world. Plenty of WIFI is to be found at the end of the day, and your attention should be on the courses, not on your phone.