BAY HARBOR GOLF CLUB
Bay Harbor; 800-462-6963, boyne.com. Yardage: Links, 3,432; Quarry, 3,348; Preserve, 3,378. Par: 36 apiece. Slope: 141, 145 and 143, respectively. Architects: Arthur Hills and Stephen Kircher, 1996 (Links); '98 (Quarry and Preserve). Greens Fees: $129-$199 for eighteen holes. T+L GOLF Rating: ***1/2
Three wildly different nine-holers: The Links course offers Irish-style golf with views of Little Traverse Bay and Lake Michigan; the Quarry is a postindustrial adventure over shale cliffs; and the Preserve winds through a hardwood forest. The Links gets the kudos but the Quarry is more interesting, if a bit zany. Local knowledge is vital on its par-five third hole, where a ravine cuts off much of the fairway on the blind second shot; aim for the Irish stone way left. And while you'll be tempted to try to drive the 332-yard par-four sixth, unless you're Phil Mickelson—who cleared the huge wetland hazard during a Shell's Wonderful World of Golf match in 1998—you'll almost surely butcher it.
BOYNE HIGHLANDS RESORT, DONALD ROSS MEMORIAL
Harbor Springs; 800-462-6963, boyne.com. Yardage: 6,814. Par: 72. Slope: 136. Architects: Everett and Stephen Kircher and Jim Flick, 1988. Greens Fees: $76-$109. T+L GOLF Rating: ***1/2
One of four courses on the west side of Little Traverse Bay, the Ross Memorial evokes both Scotland and North Carolina, and that's the idea. With each hole a replica of a classic Ross design, Boyne's Ross course is the best way to soak up Scioto Country Club, Pinehurst and other famous courses designed by the prolific late Scotsman without going bust on airfare and greens fees. Was that Oakland Hills we just played?Inverness?The scorecard doesn't say, creating a game within the game: testing your knowledge of the classics.
GARLAND RESORT, FOUNTAINS
Lewiston; 877-442-7526, garlandusa.com. Yardage: 6,760. Par: 72. Slope: 130. Architect: Ron Otto, 1995. Greens Fees: $75-$120. T+L GOLF Rating: ***1/2
Garland's Fountains course keeps you guessing with six par threes, six fours and six fives, while water comes into play on half the holes, including the 580-yard par-five seventh. The newest of the four eighteen-hole courses at Garland, Fountains features par-three ninth and eighteenth holes and the longest single-span log bridge in the country, located between the first green and second tee. The parfive fifteenth is a classic risk-reward hole: At only 469 yards from the blues and 485 from the blacks, it's short enough to be reached by some in two with a mid-iron—but with a green two-thirds surrounded by water, it had better be a good mid-iron.
SHANTY CREEK RESORT & CLUB, CEDAR RIVER GOLF CLUB
Bellaire; 800-678-4111, shantycreek.com. Yardage: 6,989. Par: 72. Slope: 144. Architect: Tom Weiskopf, 1999. Greens Fees: $70-$145. T+L GOLF Rating: ***1/2
There are two leitmotifs going on at hilly Cedar River: one in which every hole is so framed by trees that it feels like you're the last civilized being on the planet; and another in which you encounter condos. Cedar River is one of four eighteen-hole courses at Shanty Creek, and if it doesn't quite hold together, it is still the best of the lot, a solid test of golf that hosts the Michigan Section PGA Championship. As is his wont, Weiskopf tempts players with a drivable par four, the 285-yard thirteenth, where the play is to aim directly over a tree seventy yards in front of the green. It's the kind of hole you'll either love or hate and more than likely still be talking about after the round.
Threetops at Treetops ($50; 888-873-3867) is a nine-hole par-three course with jaw-dropping 90- to 145-foot elevation changes. The Arthur Hills course at Boyne Highlands ($84-$134; 800-462-6963) is one of his finest, a dramatic, big-shouldered track with downhill par fives. The Jones Masterpiece at Treetops ($60-$110; 888-873-3867) is one of the toughest par-seventy-ones in the Midwest. Grand Traverse Resort and Spa's The Bear ($50-$140; 800-236-1577) is a challenging links-style layout and one of Jack's best.
Crystal Downs Country Club, Frankfort. Designed by Alister MacKenzie and Perry Maxwell, this classic parkland layout features some of the best green complexes anywhere. At only 6,518 yards from the tips, it also boasts one of the finest collections of short par fours anywhere, requiring enough precision and creativity to challenge even the pros.
Harbor Point Golf Club, Harbor Springs. A challenging, semiprivate layout on rolling terrain with a lake that comes into play on two holes. Among the first one hundred clubs in America.
The Kingsley Club, Kingsley. Inspired by Crystal Downs, Kingsley is the modern version of its classic neighbor. Designed by Mike Devries in 2000, Kingsley features rolling fairways, classic MacKenzie-style bunkers and large sloping greens nestled among mature hardwoods and white pines.
Walloon Lake Country Club, Petoskey. This hilly track challenges players with uneven lies and blind tee shots and approaches. It also offers spectacular views of the north arm of Walloon Lake.
Wequetonsing Golf Club, Harbor Springs. A classic, old-school layout that was built in 1895. It was the summer home of former Augusta National chairman Hord Hardin, who probably felt right at home on Wequetonsing's small, fast and undulating greens.
Take the connecting less-than-one-hour flight from Detroit into Traverse City's Cherry Capital Airport, serviced direct by Northwest. It's worth the extra airfare, and without the four-hour drive from Detroit you'll arrive fresh enough for an afternoon eighteen.
Besides the copious golf courses, there's not much up here in the way of development; you can spend an entire week in the region and not see a single Starbucks. It's a relaxed getaway for unpretentious Midwesterners who enjoy the outdoors. Visit in July for Traverse City's National Cherry Festival, or come in April for the National Trout Festival in Kalkaska. Lake and river fishing are as much an epidemic up here as golf, and Boyne, Garland and other resorts provide guides.
BACK TO SCHOOL
There are almost as many top-notch ways to work on your golf game in Northern Michigan as there are first-rate places to play. The Crystal Mountain Golf Schools (231-378-2000; crystalmountain.com) are run by two-time Michigan Section PGA Teacher of the Year Brad Dean, who offers weekend instruction, short-game clinics and a junior golf camp. Crystal's women-only packages are among its most popular offerings. Treetops part-owner Rick Smith, teacher to the stars, runs the Rick Smith Golf Academy (989-732-6711; treetops.com), where he maintains a two-to-one student-teacher ratio. Jim Flick is a resident and dean of instruction at Boyne Highlands (231-526-3028; boyne.com/golf), and the Jim McLean Golf School at Grand Traverse Resort and Spa (800-236-1577; grandtraverseresort.com) can be found just six miles outside Traverse City.
Day-trippers, especially those with families in tow, will want to take the ferry to historic Mackinac Island (mackinac.com). Cars are forbidden on the island, which makes it easier to hear the clip-clop of horses pulling carriages. Activities on Mackinac include traffic-free hiking, bike rides (Island Bicycle Rental, 906-847-3211) and historic walking tours. For those looking to make more than just a day of it on Mackinac, the stately and historic Grand Hotel (800-334-7263) is the island's most elegant lodging option—and even offers a spot of golf in the form of a sporty 5,445-yard course called the Jewel.