Golfweek’s Best: Where to play golf in Michigan, from Forest Dunes to Arcadia Bluffs, Boyne to Greywalls

·28 min read

Red barns and cows. Narrow two-line highways and trees – so many trees. Grand lake views stretched to the horizon. Blue jean jackets and gas stations attached to liquor stores. Tall cornfields and billboards advertising only the finest marijuana edibles.

And incredible golf.

Michigan is more rural than an outsider might expect, full of farms and small-town crossroads. Outside Detroit and a few midsize cities, the Great Lakes State is the embodiment of Midwestern agrarian living, this despite it being the 10th-most populous state among the 50.

And thanks to a boom of golf course developments over the past 25 years mixed with a handful of exceptional classic tracks, Michigan offers what could be considered a surprisingly inspiring spread of public-access layouts. Outsiders might expect states such as California, Arizona and Florida to be packed with solid golf, but a recent study of Golfweek’s Best ranked courses revealed that Michigan offers the seventh-best sampling of elite public-access layouts in the country, ahead of such golf-heavy destinations as Hawaii and Virginia. Not bad for a state where the golf season doesn’t stretch much past seven months before the snow falls in many locales.

The Links nine at Boyne’s Bay Harbor Golf Club in Michigan (Courtesy of Boyne Golf/Evan Schiller)

I was there to see as many courses as I could fit into 11 days. Landing in Detroit and cruising west toward Lake Michigan, I would tee it up at 15 layouts – including a new par-3 course – and put some 1,400 miles on my rental car’s odometer before dropping it off in Milwaukee, the easiest major airport for me to reach after sliding my carry bag back into its travel case at the end of the trip.

This trip started with an airport arrival in Detroit and meandered all the way north into the Upper Peninsula along the shores of Lake Superior with samples of everything from daily-fee options with one course to a winter-season ski destination with 10 tracks. The only rule was the courses had to offer spots on their tee sheets to non-members. I started my planning with the goal of playing the top five Golfweek’s Best Courses You Can Play in the state and added plenty more, including four days in the Upper Peninsula hosting a tournament for Golfweek’s Best raters. My golf route, in order:

  • Eagle Eye, No. 5 in Michigan on the 2021 Golfweek’s Best Courses You Can Play list for public-access layouts

  • Arcadia Bluffs’ Bluffs Course in Arcadia, No. 1 in Michigan

  • Arcadia Bluffs’ South Course, No. 6 in Michigan

  • Forest Dunes’ Bootlegger par-3 course

  • Forest Dunes’ The Loop, No. 3 in Michigan

  • Forest Dunes, No. 4 in Michigan

  • Belvedere, No. 9 in Michigan

  • Boyne Golf’s Arthur Hills course, No. 19 in Michigan

  • Boyne Golf’s Donald Ross Memorial

  • Boyne Golf’s The Heather

  • Boyne Golf’s Bay Harbor (Links/Quarry nines), No. 8 in Michigan

  • Island Resort & Casino’s Sage Run

  • Timberstone

  • Marquette Greywalls, No. 2 in Michigan

  • Island Resort & Casino’s Sweetgrass, tied for No. 15 in Michigan

One of the best parts: The end of summer in Michigan offers some of the best-rolling greens found in the country. Bent grass thrives at this latitude, and the putting surfaces I sampled were, without exception, pure. Perfect greens frequently are an imperfect goal – there’s a lot more to great golf than smooth and fast greens – but seeing ball after ball roll across Michigan’s putting surfaces with hardly a bump or wiggle was a highlight of my trip.

It was an unforgettable and sometimes exhausting romp, with nine rounds played on foot and six in carts. There were cliffside holes overlooking one of the Great Lakes followed by secluded, forested layouts – even a fast and firm track that plays in one direction one day, the other direction the next. Hills, valleys, bluffs – a few birdies to keep things rolling, and so many bogeys. Too much golf and never enough, always waking before sunrise to squeeze in more holes, trying to finish before dark with enough time to find an open restaurant while avoiding the roadside deer that flashed through my high beams en route to that night’s bed.

Simply put, a wandering golfer’s dream.

Day 1: Eagle Eye Golf & Banquet Center

Where: Bath, Michigan (near Lansing)
Year opened: 2003
Designer: Chris Lutzke in collaboration with Pete Dye
Golfweek’s Best: No. 5 among public-access layouts in Michigan

Eagle Eye
Eagle Eye

The par-3 17th at Eagle Eye in Michigan (Courtesy of Dave Lee)

I landed mid-morning in Detroit on a direct flight from Florida and hustled westward through a rainstorm not entirely expecting to find a set of par 3s that would be entirely comfortable in … well, Florida. But that’s what awaited at Eagle Eye, where the par 3s serve as exclamation points to a fun and frequently difficult layout.

The Florida comparison goes so far as include an island-green par-3 17th that is an almost exact replica of No. 17 at TPC Sawgrass’s Players Stadium Course, the famous hole that awaits the pros each year in the PGA Tour’s Players Championship. This version tips out at a slightly longer 146 yards, but the bulkheaded green above the water is nearly the same, including the pot bunker on the front right and the walkway long and left.

But Eagle Eye’s 17th isn’t its scariest par 3. That would be No. 5, which tips out at 210 yards with its green wrapping around water short and left, with nowhere plainly in sight to bail out right.

The course features two distinct loops, to the southwest and back for the front nine, then north and returning for the back side. Holes are separated by tall rough and mounding that would feel at home on any Pete Dye layout, as might be expected on a course designed by Dye disciple Chris Lutzke. There is ample room to play within the hole corridors, but players who stray too far to might frequently find themselves searching in heavy scrub for wayward golf balls.

The green complexes are excellent, with sometimes brutal breaks from section to section. Low-cut surrounds provide plenty of chipping options, with every club from the putter to a lob wedge in play.

Golfweek’s Best rater comments

  • “It’s a course that is fun and challenging (especially for a first-time player). Nothing is hidden but most holes call for serious thinking followed by good to great execution. Most greens are framed beautifully by their backgrounds. The last par 3 (No. 17) was a complete surprise: It’s an almost duplicate replica of the 17th at TPC Sawgrass. Lots of fun. As usual with Mr. Dye’s design work, precision is essential.”

  • “A really excellent public course with superb use of mounding to separate and differentiate holes and make an interesting course out of essentially flat land. Shifting wind presents a constant challenge. A surprisingly pleasant experience.”

[vertical-gallery id=778168228]

Days 2-3: Arcadia Bluffs

Where: Arcadia, Michigan
Years opened: Bluffs course 1999, South course 2018
Designer: Warren Henderson for the Bluffs, Dana Fry for the South
Golfweek’s Best: The Bluffs is No. 1 among public-access layouts in Michigan and No. 53 among all Golfweek’s Best Modern Courses in the U.S.; the South is No. 6 among Michigan’s public-access layouts

Arcadia Bluffs’ Bluffs course in Michigan (Courtesy of Arcadia Bluffs)

Forget the actual golf for a minute. Standing on the patio behind the Bluffs clubhouse, I was treated to one of the superb views in all of American golf. White Adirondack chairs are perched above the 18th green, and golf holes tumble in all directions down to the shoreline of Lake Michigan. Go there late in the day just to watch sky run through its entire spectrum of colors as the sun descends into water.

That visual theme continues throughout a round at the Bluffs course, with jaw-dropping vantages of the lake to the west. The clubhouse sits well away from and above the bluffs, leaving the best land for the golf. The course features four holes directly on the 200-plus-foot bluffs, and the hilly terrain provides lake views from nearly every hole.

The fast and firm landscape is anything but flat, with wide holes bending into and alongside dramatic slopes. The Bluffs is a tough course to walk but a dream to observe, especially on those holes that play westward. The dunes creates plenty of awkward shots to challenge any player, and the rugged design features plenty of sand with fescue and native scrub. Designer Warren Henderson – working with Rick Smith – produced a tumbling bedsheet of terrain with the holes laid atop the best spots, playing alongside and across sometimes intense mounding.

The Bluffs layout isn’t perfectly designed for walking, with players doubling back uphill some 300 yards from green to tee at one point and crossing big chunks of ground from green to tee at others. But to focus only on that would largely miss the point of the place – the architects sought out the most dramatic sites for holes, and surely they knew most players would be in carts. If the 18 holes aren’t always perfectly connected, they certainly are memorable for the shots they require.

It certainly didn’t all come together easily. The hilly terrain of the Bluffs course presented environmental challenges during construction as storms washed tons of sand down a ravine and into Lake Michigan. Steps were taken to rectify those challenges, with the ravine stabilized and a complex drainage system put into place, leaving golfers to enjoy an unforgettable playground high above the lake.

Arcadia Bluffs’ South course in Michigan (Courtesy of Arcadia Bluffs)

The resort’s newer South course, by comparison, presents an entirely different set of challenges than the Bluffs course. Not directly on the lake, the course sits two miles southeast of the Bluffs on less-dramatic land where an orchard once grew and where Dana Fry created a throw-back course that has captivated fans of old-school architecture.

The greens are a tribute to the Golden Era style of architects C.B. Macdonald and Seth Raynor. The South features plenty of geometric shapes, especially squared-off edges of greens. Fry has credited Chicago Golf Club, designed by Macdonald in 1896 and renovated by Raynor in 1923, as inspiration for the South.

Combined with the extremely tight and bouncy turf, the geometric shapes present exacting greenside challenges that must be considered before a player tees off on any given par 4 or 5. It’s a strategist’s dream, with a ball on one side of the fairway presenting a reasonable approach while a ball on the opposite side of the fairway leaves the player a problematic shot.

The firm greens sit well above surrounding bunkers, and balls flying in at the wrong angles tend to shoot off the putting surfaces. The greens are then segmented by swales, ridges and bumps, further complicating matters – great fun in a beautiful parkland setting on a course that was built to be walked and savored.

Combined, the two courses present very different and enjoyable experiences, making for a perfect and quick trip. The resort offers a range of lodge rooms and cottages with quick and easy quick access to the excellent dining and golf. The centerpiece of the property is the view from the back of the main lodge, across those chairs and the 18th green and down to the lake – come for the golf, stay for the view.

Arcadia Bluffs’ South course in Michigan (Courtesy of Arcadia Bluffs)

Golfweek’s Best rater comments

  • Bluffs course: “Hard to imagine a modern ‘coastal’ course ranking much above this spectacular layout. The bluffs above Lake Michigan seemed to be created by the divine power specifically for this course to be designed. Epic views. Astonishing use of rolling hills, subtle elevation changes, ridges, valleys and chasms. Intimidating hazards and bunkering frame virtually every hole.”

  • South course: “A modern Seth Raynor tribute that could not have been more expertly executed. Extremely impressive how they were able to replicate the template-style green complexes that Raynor famously employed in his classic designs. They implemented quadrants as well as any course I can recall outside of genuine Raynor courses that I have played.”

[vertical-gallery id=778167812]

Days 3-4: Forest Dunes

Where: Roscommon, Michigan
Year opened: Forest Dunes 2002, The Loop 2016
Designer: Tom Weiskopf for Forest Dunes; Tom Doak for The Loop
Golfweek’s Best: The Loop is No. 3 among public-access courses in the state and tied for No. 103 among Modern Courses in the U.S.; Forest Dunes is No. 4 among the state’s public-access courses and tied for No. 157 among Modern Courses in the U.S.

Forest Dunes in Michigan (Courtesy of Forest Dunes/Evan Schiller)

After wrapping up a morning round at Arcadia Bluff’s South course, it was a two-hour drive east to Forest Dunes smack dab in the middle of Michigan. Traffic was light on the mostly two-lane trip, leaving me plenty of time in the afternoon to twice go around Forest Dunes’ new par-3 course, the Bootlegger.

The Bootlegger is part of a major trend in which top golf destinations build extreme par-3 courses to provide a quick, fun alternative to traditional courses. Architects Keith Rhebb and Riley Johns delivered on that motif with holes ranging from 65 to 150 yards, playing to sometimes crazy greens that wouldn’t work on a big course but that pack plenty of laughs and roars for the frequent eightsomes strolling along. I played it the first time with two wedges, an 8-iron and a putter, then went back for more with only a 4-iron. Crazy thing, my scores weren’t all that different.

After a night in the comfortable Lake Ausable Lodge just steps away from the first tee of Forest Dunes’ namesake course, I started the next day shortly after a foggy sunrise on The Loop, one of the most creative courses to come online in decades. The course has 18 greens and 18 tees, but it plays in opposite directions on alternating days. The two routes are called the Red and the Black, and I teed off on the Red, reminding myself to keep right.

The Loop is a blast, playing across incredibly tight and bouncy turf. Each green can be approached from two directions to make up the Red and Black, but when playing either direction, the holes appear purpose-built – there’s not really any confusion or appearance of makeshift golf shots to accommodate the various routings. When you finish a hole, you can look back to see how it might play in the opposite direction, noticing bunkers that don’t really come into play in one direction but that lurk menacingly when playing in the opposite direction. The greens are typically difficult to hold with anything but a flushed iron shot, with sometimes dramatic mounding that presents very different challenges when approached from different directions.

The Loop at Forest Dunes in Michigan (Courtesy of Forest Dunes/Evan Schiller)

It’s all very clever and a great way to have two courses share a common piece of land – the Old Course at St. Andrews in Scotland can play this way but rarely does, and the recently developed Silvies Valley Ranch in Oregon utilizes a similar concept but with more greens.

After a quick lunch on the clubhouse patio, I set out for my second 18 of the day, this round on the eponymous Forest Dunes course built by that other Tom, this time Weiskopf. As with The Loop, conditioning was impeccable, but the overall vibe and experience is vastly different.

Forest Dunes plays through wooded corridors on the front nine before spreading across more open dunes on the back. It’s a much more traditional course, calling again and again for solid shots into beautifully contoured greens that are a bit less extreme than found on Doak’s Loop. The shorter par 4s are particularly strong, especially the 302-yard 17th – one of my favorite holes on this weeks-long trip. The green is within reach to players using the appropriate tee boxes for their skill level, but a tall and scraggly dune and sand trap short and right of the putting surface complicates matters. It’s a perfect do-or-die challenge near the end of a round, offering plenty of opportunity and plenty of frustration.

Golfweek’s Best rater comments

  • Forest Dunes: “What is most striking about this course from a routing perspective is how it weaves in and out of the forest and dune areas several times in the course seamlessly. Particularly strong set of par 4s including short and drivable par 4s as well as brutes (such as No. 14) and everything in between. A really nice walk in the park and outdoor experience as the course meanders through various terrain types.”

  • The Loop: “The reversible routing is absolutely ingenious. The green complexes make everything possible, and they are very interesting from both sides. There are subtle and significant contours in them, and they fit seamlessly into the land.”

[vertical-gallery id=778167871]

Day 5: Belvedere Golf Club

Where: Charlevoix, Michigan
Year opened: 1927
Designer: William Watson, with a restoration by Bruce Hepner starting in 2016
Golfweek’s Best: No. 9 on Golfweek’s Best ranking of public-access courses in Michigan.

Belvedere in Michigan (Courtesy of Belvedere)

If you’re searching for old-school cool, this is your spot. From the small wooden clubhouse filled with photos of top pros who have ambled through the classic course, Belvedere is perfectly understated and inviting. It’s a members’ club that allows outside play at select times, and from the time you park in the yard in front of the clubhouse, it’s completely natural to consider asking for a membership application.

Originally built by William Watson – who worked on such classics as Olympia Fields and Olympic Club, among many others – the course had become overgrown in spots with trees and lost much of its intended flavor over the decades. Enter Bruce Hepner, who frequently works with Tom Doak, and longtime course superintendent Rick Grunch. The pair received a blessing when Watson’s original drawings were uncovered in an old building nearby in 2016, giving them the blueprint for a convincing restoration.

Greens were stretched outward to their original dimensions, bringing back into play the mounds that had lost much of their strategic influence. Tree removal opened corridors to allow strategic angles, and bunkers were restored. The greens are frequently steeply slanted, built for a time when putting speeds were much slower. Now that they are in pristine and modern condition, the challenges can be considerable – careless or unskilled approach shots often lead to tricky recovery attempts. The rolling fairways play up, over and around ridges, and the width might lull players to sleep, but the greens will certainly slap them awake.

It’s a course you want to play again as soon as you walk off, hoping to find better angles to try out what you have learned. There really is no greater compliment than that.

Belvedere in Michigan (Courtesy of Belvedere)

Golfweek’s Best rater comments

  • “The world of golf needs more places like Belvedere. Understated and under the radar, Belvedere is everything that is good about golf. The design weaves its way over the land wonderfully, presenting solid golf holes without any pretense. Interesting and unique green complexes with wonderful contouring on and around the surfaces are a highlight of a design that has so much character and wonderful features. Belvedere is simply a charming and challenging test in an idyllic setting, and a place that anyone who loves great architecture should seek out.”

  • “Belvedere GC is a wonderfully charming course that feels like a step back in time. From the pro shop and clubhouse to the course itself, the property pays homage to its history.”

[vertical-gallery id=778167910]

Days 5-7: Boyne Golf

Where: Harbor Springs, Michigan (there are several locations for Boyne Golf’s 10 courses, but Harbor Springs was my jumping off point)
Year opened: The resorts began at Boyne Mountain in 1947, and golf was introduced with the Heather course in 1966.
Designers: Robert Trent Jones Sr. and Arthur Hills are among the architects who built Boyne’s 10 courses.
Golfweek’s Best: Boyne’s Bay Harbor (Links and Quarry nines) is ranked No. 8 among Michigan’s public-access courses, and Boyne Highlands’ Arthur Hills layout is No. 19.

The Quarry nine at Boyne’s Bay Harbor Golf Club in Michigan (Courtesy of Boyne Golf/Evan Schiller)

So. Much. Golf.

Boyne Golf is a neat moniker, a tidy umbrella title. But with 10 courses stretched across 20 miles of Michigan, one name hardly covers it all. There are mountainous courses. Parkland layouts. Lakeside thrillers with views that will entice you to shop for airline tickets. Golf at Boyne’s three resorts – Boyne Mountain, Boyne Highlands and the Inn at Bay Harbor – runs the gamut, with holes stretching for days.

For this trip, I cruised up from my morning round at Belvedere, stopping for food truck lunch in Petoskey along the way before an afternoon tee time at Boyne Highland’s Arthur Hills course. I would play four rounds in three days at Boyne, sampling everything from par 5s that could serve as ski slopes to waterfront holes on Lake Michigan that implored me to whip out the smartphone for more photos.

Boyne Highland’s Arthur Hills course in Michigan (Courtesy of Boyne Golf)

The Arthur Hills course is the namesake of the designer of more than 200 courses who was an early advocate of environmental stewardship for courses, and this eponymous layout reflects that mentality. The layout is carved largely through a hilly forest, the front nine playing flatter before building into an elevated back nine that twists and turns along the slopes. Hole corridors are wide and inviting, but there are slopes and runoffs to challenge any skill level. It’s a beautiful, tough test when played at any length, with greens that are receptive to solid approaches but brutally honest in rejecting poor shots.

After a night in the freshly renovated Main Lodge at Boyne Highlands, I was first off the tee as a single the next morning at the Donald Ross Memorial course. This layout wasn’t built by Ross, but it does incorporate themes from several of the historic architect’s designs such as Seminole, Plainfield, Pinehurst and even Royal Dornoch near where Ross was born. The terrain is not the same as found at all of Ross’s original holes, but the design principles utilized combine to create a fun layout with several memorable holes.

Boyne Highland’s Heather course in Michigan (Courtesy of Boyne Golf)

That afternoon I tackled the Heather, the original Boyne golf course by Robert Trent Jones Sr. that opened in 1966. The front and back nines are distinct loops, each starting and ending just across the street from the Main Lodge. The holes play across a rolling landscape not far from the resort’s ski lifts – the range is actually on a ski slope. This layout presents the most challenging tee shots of the four courses I played, forcing players left and right, up and down through wooded corridors. The 18th tumbles down a slope and across a large pond, forcing a long carry or a lay-up short and left, all the hole anybody would ever want with observers perched on a patio above the green.

After a steak supper from the renovated menu at the lodge and a second night in my elegant suite, I made the 30-minute drive southwest through Petoskey to Boyne’s Bay Harbor Golf Club perched on the shore of Little Traverse Bay and Lake Michigan. The resort and courses were built on a former rock mining site and cement factory that had scarred 1,200 acres of shoreline. In what Boyne calls the largest land-reclamation project in American history, the site is now home to a charming lakeside village, shops, restaurants, the Inn at Bay Harbor as part of the Marriott Autograph Collection and, of course, golf.

Bay Harbor has three distinct nines designed by Hills, with the combination of Links and Quarry ranked highest in Golfweek’s Best. The Links nine wanders atop open land high above the lake east of the clubhouse, with the par-3 fourth tumbling down a hill and the green sitting tight to the shoreline ­with the lake and beach in play. After playing back from there along the shoreline, the course moves to the Quarry nine, with six holes along the exposed rock and pits left by the mining operation before rejoining the shoreline for its final two holes. The two nines offer exceptional visuals and a great variety of shots.

Boyne Highland’s Donald Ross Memorial in Michigan (Courtesy of Boyne Golf)

Golfweek’s Best rater comments

  • Bay Harbor: “The Links/Quarry course is a great test and a beautiful golf course. Both the Links and Quarry nines feature spectacular views of Little Traverse Bay, elevation changes, a premium on shotmaking and great variety. Missing the targets leaves you in awkward positions to get on the green, or with lost balls in the heather or wetlands.”

  • Boyne Highlands Arthur Hills course: “Very attractive layout with stunning use of the surrounding pines to set the scene. While the course was enjoyable for everyday resort play, it easily could be toughened up with (hole locations) and length to make for a very formidable challenge. Nice use of the varied terrain and hazards to create shotmaking opportunities that were interesting, varied and memorable.”

[vertical-gallery id=778167832]

Days 8-11: Upper Peninsula

Where: Four courses stretched across the center of the Upper Peninsula from Escanaba to Marquette
Years opened: Sage Run 2018, Timberstone 1997, Marquette Greywalls 2005, Sweetgrass 2008
Designers: Paul Albanese for Sage Run, Jerry Matthews for Timberstone, Mike DeVries for Greywalls, Albanese for Sweetgrass
Golfweek’s Best: Marquette Greywalls is the No. 2 public-access course in the state and tied for No. 80 among Modern Courses in the U.S.; Timberstone is tied for No. 13 among public-access layouts in the state; Sweetgrass is No. 15 public-access in the state.

Marquette Greywalls in Michigan (Courtesy of Marquette Golf Club/Paul Hundley)

After a third night in the lodge at Boyne Highlands, it was into the car for an easy three-hour drive across Mackinac Bridge and deep onto the Upper Peninsula. While much of the Lower Peninsula of Michigan was rural, the U.P. takes it to a whole new level, with Highway 2 along the north shore of Lake Michigan a scenic treat. I was headed north then west to host a tournament packed with some of the best players from among Golfweek’s Best nationwide rater pool, and after 11 rounds in rapid order, I was just hoping I could still get the ball into the air.

Round 1 was that afternoon at Sage Run, and after stretching off those 200 miles in the rental car, I was faced with a rollicking 18 that at times wandered onto and alongside dramatic hillsides in a beautifully natural environment. Sage Run is owned along with Sweetgrass by the Hannahville Indian Community, operators of the Island Resort & Casino near Escanaba. Paul Albanese laid out the best parts of the course across a drumlin – a hill left over from glacial drift – and at times the layout offers a thrill ride of elevated shots. The front nine was strong, but the more-raucous back nine ranked even higher with the scratch and nearly-scratch players in the tournament. The well-manicured layout makes the most of fun ground and offers several memorable shots.

Sage Run at Island Resort & Casino in Michigan (Courtesy of Island Resort & Casino)

After checking into the Island Resort & Casino for four nights – and a night of watching my scratch golf competitors show much more proficiency than I at the tables – we made the nearly hour-long drive west to Timberstone at Pine Mountain Ski and Golf Resort. Jerry Matthews carved the course from lush forest on ground that frequently tumbles, with tighter corridors than found at most of the other layouts on my Michigan itinerary. Timberstone also features sometimes exaggerated mounding around its greens, placing great emphasis on accurate approaches and scrambling.

Timberstone in Michigan (Courtesy of Timberstone)

Day three in the U.P. took us 90 minutes north, all the way to the shores of Lake Superior for Marquette Golf Club’s Greywalls course, which is one of the most fascinating – and sometimes frustrating – courses found anywhere. Mike DeVries blasted the course out of rock about a mile inland and above the lake, and the terrain is stunning. Holes shoot up, down and around the hills, with exposed rock faces in play on several holes. The visuals alone can knock a player out of sorts, and the bedeviling greens take that to another level. It’s not necessarily a course for scoring well on the first go-round, but after salving your scorecard wounds over dinner, it’s definitely a course you might want to tackle again and again. The views, the rocks, the greens – it all makes up an experience unlike any other. Golfweek’s Best ranks Greywalls as the top course in the U.P. and I agree with that assessment – I only wish I could get another swing at the short par-3 17th to figure out how in the world to keep a wedge approach near the flag on the front left of that monster of a green.

Sweetgrass at Island Resort & Casino in Michigan (Courtesy of Island Resort & Casino)

The rater tournament ended on Day 4 at Sweetgrass, which sits next to the Island Resort & Casino and offers a wide-open, resort-style layout with plenty of interesting shots. After a day on Greywalls spent watching balls slide off daunting putting surfaces, Sweetgrass was a comfortable respite of wide fairways and larger greens. Albanese incorporated several classic green templates such as a redan, a biarritz and a double green. The layout is largely devoid of trees, offering a completely different vibe than the other U.P. tracks we sampled – it’s almost like a Florida course plopped into northern Michigan. A chilly wind howled that day across the open prairie-style holes, but the expansive corridors kept everyone in play for the most part.

Marquette Greywalls in Michigan (Courtesy of Marquette Golf Club)

Golfweek’s Best rater comments

  • Sage Run: “Super fun course in a pure Michigan setting. Variety of holes on an expansive piece of property with a defining drumlin running throughout. Played 45 holes here in one day and I kept wanting more.”

  • Timberstone: “When it comes to visual appeal and use of the elevation and natural surroundings, Timberstone is right up there with other courses in the Midwest. Its difficulties are it’s treelined fairways on every hole and challenging green complexes that are defended by undulation, elevation and bunkering and in most cases a combination of all three. Its setting on the side of Pine Mountain provides great vistas, and several holes provide visually intimidating challenges right off the tee.”

  • Marquette Greywalls: “Greywalls has to be seen to be believed. The golfer feels as though they’ve been dropped into a Golden Tee video game. Beyond the dramatic views lies a very strategic and thoughtfully laid golf course. DeVries has a ton of talent. Maybe his best work?”

  • Sweetgrass: “Nice resort course with generous fairways and manageable greens. You need to pick the appropriate tees and take the wind into consideration.”

[vertical-gallery id=778167890]

Thoughts on Michigan

After one more night in the casino – I broke even that night, which is better than I had fared in the rater tournament – I was southward bound on a three-and-a-half-hour drive to Milwaukee’s General Mitchell International Airport. My rental car was starting to feel lived-in after nearly 1,400 miles, and it was time to head home.

The Bootlegger par-3 course at Forest Dunes in Michigan (Courtesy of Forest Dunes)

My head was spinning with all the golf shots I had hit, the miles I had walked and the unique holes I had seen. Michigan is a big state full of open roads, small towns, one-light crossroads, and mile after mile to think and relax. It’s easy to traverse from one golf destination to the next, with another round always within easy reach.

As with great golf resorts all around the U.S., the top courses in Michigan are packed these days as people have turned to golf as a great escape from COVID-19. Word of advice as the snow will start falling soon across the state: If you want to play these resorts in 2022, book early. Don’t wait until spring to plan your own adventure across the Great Lakes State.

And don’t lock yourself into just one resort. Take several days to sample the highways and see a wide selection of the great golf diversity Michigan offers. Boyne Golf makes it easy to play courses at all three of its resorts, and it’s a relatively easy drive from any of these courses I was fortunate enough to play to the others – even those in the U.P. From the shores of the Great Lakes to the upland forests in the center of the state, Michigan is guaranteed to surprise first-time visitors and continue to thrill even players well-versed in all the state has to offer.

1

1