When people talk about golf in America the usual litany of States normally mentioned includes California, Florida, the Carolinas, New York, Arizona, Texas, to name just a few. But few people outside America’s heartland rarely know or appreciate the high calibre golf options found in the Midwest.
Right near the top of the listing for locations in that area is Michigan. The Great Lakes State - the only one that touches four of the five - provides the 4th greatest number of golf courses in America. The State also provides the most publicly available courses too. To give a fuller picture, $4.2 billion of economic activity is tied to Michigan’s involvement within golf. In addition, 58,000 jobs are related to the industry happening there. For golfers the good news is that during peak summer months the sun can shine for as much as 18 hours - allowing golfers the opportunity to enjoy multiple rounds.
Tucked in the Northwest corner of the lower half of Michigan is Traverse City. With just over 15,000 in population, Traverse City is the gateway to a golf haven of high calibre offerings. There are not many nonstop flights to Traverse City so it is likely you will need to make a connection either through Detroit or Chicago.
Traverse City serves as your base to a triangle golf mecca that includes Arcadia, Petoskey / Boyne Highlands and Roscommon. Head roughly one hour southwest to Arcadia and the shores of Lake Michigan and enjoy the scenic wonder and golf challenge of Arcadia Bluffs Golf Club. Opened in 1999 the Warren Henderson/Rick Smith design has been continuously rated the premiere public golf option in the State and features an array of massive hillocks with holes fitted within them. The opening series of holes is good - but starting with the 8th the remainder of the round provides a superb series of holes culminating with an uphill par-4 finisher. At nearly every opportunity the views of Lake Michigan are always available to take in when playing.
Just opened this past August - and located just 1.5 miles from the original - is a second 18-hole layout called the South Course. Patterned after Chicago Golf Club, the oldest 18-hole course in America, the South is the handiwork of Dan Fry - the man responsible with two others in the creation of Erin Hills in Wisconsin, host site for the ‘17 US Open.
Unlike the Bluffs, the South Course is on relatively flat land with some movement. The qualities of the course come from the plethora of bunkers scattered throughout the course and the routing which constantly keeps golfers on their toes as it moves in all different directions. The bunkers are often angled and feature high ridge areas which can significantly impact those attempting to escape from them. The 7,412 yard par-72 layout is also kept firm and fast so being able to link both aerial and grounds games is essential. A comprehensive practice facility will open sometime in ‘19.
As you head north - roughly 100 miles - be sure to stop in the community of Charlevoix and enjoy the vintage 1925 William Watson design at Belvedere. For many years the facility served as host site for Michigan Golf Amateur and will do so again in ‘25. The layout is split by a roadway and the roll and pitch of the terrain makes for very interesting holes. The course was updated in ‘17 and many of the original features - most notably the expansion of the putting surfaces - have added a substantial connection to its original pedigree. Be sure to check out the uphill short par-4 16th featuring a green that sits beautifully on a high ridge line.
The next golf stop involves the cluster of golf courses tied to Boyne Golf. The arrival of golf started in 1966 and here you have 10 courses at three different resorts under one umbrella. Be sure to play the Quarry and Links Nines associated with 27-hole Bay Harbor Golf. The Arthur Hills layout is closest to the Lake and winds can often freshen, adding to the challenge. The differences in presentation between the Links and Quarry make for a memorable encounter and is rated among the best public options in Michigan. Roughly 20-30 minutes away is the remaining ensemble of courses tied to Boyne Golf. There are a number of stellar layouts - led by The Heather - one of the finest from Robert Trent Jones, Sr. Be sure to enjoy the closing hole - a long par-4 over a pond that was not originally in the plans but was later added. The Arthur Hills layout is also a fine test with a quality routing and the Donald Ross Memorial provides salutes to celebrated holes from the design maestro. Be sure to play the others if time allows including the Moor, Crooked Tee, The Alpine and The Monument. When there, take a moment to stop by the Boyne Golf Academy, which provides all the needed elements to sharpen one’s game with a superb practice facility.
The last stop heads in a southeasterly direction of approximately 100 miles. Forest Dunes features a Tom Weiskopf layout that is spellbinding for its natural beauty: holes cut through dense pines and others weaving in and around native dunes. Since its opening, Forest Dunes has been rated among the top three public courses in Michigan and among the 25 best in America.
In 2016 an additional golf experience was added with The Loop. The course provides a layout that can be played in both directions. The mastermind is the noted architect Tom Doak. The course features two distinct routings - Black and Red. Each day the course being played is changed so golfers can enjoy the creative challenges provided. The Loop is clearly a distinct opposite vision to the Weiskopf course. Playing angles are important as the putting surfaces provide for a range of shapes, sizes and contours. Those opting to play The Loop will need to walk, as powers carts are verboten until after 1pm. Caddies can be arranged and trolleys can also be rented. In just a short time since it opening, The Loop has garnered praise for its total elasticity and the manner by which its design style of minimalism truly evokes a connection to the roots of the game from Scotland.
Plans are also being contemplated for a third course added to the offerings at Forest Dunes. No decision on the architect has been chosen thus far but the layout will be immediately near where The Loop commences. If a third course is indeed added, the totality of what Forest Dunes provides will be on par with any publicly available facility in America. When coming to Forest Dunes be sure to enjoy the nearly two-acre 18-hole putting course called Hilltop. Adjacent to the practice facility the layout provides a range of putting challenges that are fun for all levels of players.
Playing the triangle of golf options when coming to Traverse City is truly an experience one will not forget. For those who have never been it is well worth looking at your future golf calendar and making plans to head there. You won’t be disappointed.
Places To Stay
When finishing golf at Arcadia Bluffs avail yourself of the various lodging options on property. The locations include staying at The Lodge, The Bluff’s Lodge or the larger sized Cottages. For those seeking a bit more connection to the local community, head 15 minutes north of Arcadia via M22 and head to Frankfort. This charming small community has a very walkable downtown area and the immediate proximity to Lake Michigan is ideal for enjoying late day sunsets. If interested in staying it is best to check out the Harbor Lights Resort, adjacent to all of the prime visiting spots.
When heading north to the Boyne area be sure to make plans to stay at The Inn at Bay Harbor. The ideal location provides quick access to the same name 27-hole layout. The accommodation is complemented by a range of services and amenities. For those looking to stay closer to the multiple courses at Boyne you can access various lodging options in close proximity to the courses there.
When golfing at Forest Dunes take advantage of The Lake Austable Lodge - just 35 yards from the 1st tee and as well as the larger sized Villas and Cottages also on-site.