Michigan’s Upper Peninsula is a lot of wilderness with a bit of civilization. And when you add great golf to the U.P.’s other features, like its clean air and crystal clear waters, three Great Lakes coasts, dramatic rock outcroppings, aromatic pines, a bit of ‘Yooper’ culture and a lot of ‘welcome,’ you know you’ve found a real golf getaway.
The Island Resort and Casino in Harris, Michigan, is a bit of drive from the Detroit area, but easily accessible from other areas of northern Michigan, as well as Wisconsin and Canada. It’s also an easy drive (about 13 miles) from the Escanaba Airport, where you can land in about an hour and a-half via a direct flight from Detroit’s Metropolitan Airport.
The Island Resort hotel, which recently added a convention center, offers comfortable lodging, an indoor pool and hot tub, small fitness room, a fantastic concert showplace, and a good-sized, island-themed gaming floor with 140 slots, table games, two bars, three restaurants, a coffee and ice cream shop, and live entertainment most nights. It also has a poker room and bingo hall.
Best of all, Island Resort and Casino offers Stay n’ Play packages that pair lodging with golf rounds at three fabulous courses – its own Sweetgrass Golf Club, Greywalls at Marquette Golf Club and Timber Stone at Pine Mountain in Iron Mountain, starting as low as $265 per person,.
This trio of courses offers three very different golf experiences.
Sweetgrass (www.sweetgrassgolfclub.com), designed by Paul Albanese, opened in 2008 and is a three-year LPGA Futures Tour stop, the first of which met with great community support and player accolades in June 2011. The course has five sets of tees, which play 7,275 yards from the tips to 5,075 yards from the front. Many of its well-groomed, rolling fairways are lined by tall breezy grasses, as the course name implies. And while the grasses can make for a challenging out, they are playable and errant shots are typically retrievable.
The wood-sculpted eagles guarding the 16th green surprise you in a fun way, yet remind you of the Indian heritage that blesses the track
An easy ride 80 miles to the north lands you at Marquette Golf Club (http://marquettegolfclub.com) home of the awe-inspiring Greywalls. While the Marquette Golf Club’s original course, which opened in 1926, is a classic design by William Langford and David Gill, Greywalls designer Mike DeVries steals the show with his contemporary masterpiece. Opened in 2005, its rugged, natural rock outcroppings accent fairways, guard approach shots and greens, and on the picturesque par 4, 5th hole, nearly edge the green, towering high above the putting surface below. Fairways slope and tunnel like a snowboarder’s half-pipe at times, which confirms DeVries minimalist approach to course design. And while nary a level fairway lie can be found on some holes, the course is an absolute delight to play.
Of course, all of the challenge and fun of Greywalls is set amid dramatic views of one of nature’s most pristine jewels, Lake Superior. And you don’t have to wait long to see it. From the country-simple pro shop, a nearly mile-long golf car ride through enchanted northern forest brings you to the first tee and practice green, where the majestic lake spreads beyond the treetops before you. Perched on the hilltop you can literally see for miles to a horizon where the lake’s deep, blue waters blend with the sky and the cliffs of Grand Island look like miniatures some 50 miles away. You can feel and smell the lake breezes, which on a sunny day are immeasurably refreshing. But like the two-faced beauty she is, a cold, cloudy day on Lake Superior could turn gentle breezes into harsh whipping winds, making work out of the normally enjoyable high-ground tees and fairways.
With its five tee sets, Greywalls plays 6,828 yards from the back and 4,631 yards from the front. Generous and forgiving front tee placements give golfers from those tees the boost needed to keep their game competitive and enjoyable. And on the par 5, 18th, everyone can enjoy the ride, and finish with a flourish, as the fairway plays like a broad, tiered chute, funneling most tee shots toward the center and down to a slightly domed green.
Two added notes about Greywalls: With natural rock face tiers in many of its fairways, golf car drivers need to carefully heed fairway signage, i.e., no reckless shortcuts. And while the tee-to-green vistas are consistently captivating, sometimes the prettiest views are behind you, so to fully experience the course, you sometimes need to pause and take-in the 360 view.
The third course, Timber Stone at Pine Mountain ( www.pinemountainresort.com ) is a pleasant ride 39 miles west of Island Resort and Casino to Iron Mountain. Here, Jerry Matthews has created one of his characteristic natural-design masterpieces. Amid towering pines, he has carved out a beautiful course with generally lush, wide fairways and large rolling greens.
Everything about Timber Stone says Northern Michigan and Upper Peninsula – from the natural pine construction of the pro shop/clubhouse to the campfire that often greets golfers near the practice green on cool mornings. Throughout the course, deer casually cross fairways, nibble leaves from low branches and bed down in woods near tees and greens, unfettered by passing golfers. And the golf is wonderful.
Measuring 6,937 yards from the back ‘Forest’ tees and 5,060 from the forward-most ‘Stone’ tees, the course plays well for golfers of all levels. Its forested fairways mirror the look and feel of some of the Gaylord area tracks, with an extra touch of natural U.P. wilderness. The cart path to the Fourth tee, shows off a great stand of medium-size white pines and fragrant greenery on the right, and the 17th “Sagoia” hole is a ‘Threetops’-style par 3, with a view of the town of – you got it – Sagoia in the distance. Holes 5 and 6 present visually narrow landing areas guarded by a shared pond. And while the par 5, 5th Hole presents a narrower fairway throat, the water is more in play on the par 4, number one handicap 6th, despite its larger landing area.
Like Dave Douglas at Sweetgrass and Marc Gilmore at Greywalls, Timber Stone Golf Director Joe Rizzo is a terrific host. Ironically, he and General Manager Scott Grubb are East and West Coast transplants, respectively, who both landed in the U.P. by marrying women who were born and raised in the area. So, here in the remote wilds of Timber Stone at Pine Mountain Brooklyn meets L.A., which helps to explain the New York Yankee ball caps for sale in the Pro Shop.
Great golf, beautiful vistas, nice lodging with gaming entertainment, and wonderful food at places like upscale Elizabeth’s Chop House (www.elizabethschophouse.com) in Marquette or casual fine dining at The Stone House in Escanaba (www.stonehouseescanaba.com), it’s the U.P. at its best.
For more information or reservations for Stay n’ Play packages, call Island Resort and Casino at 1-800-682-6040.