Enter Michigan, Turn Right

Thanks to Greg Johnson for this guest blog post on golfing the sunrise side of the state.

Thunder Bay Resort is 21 miles west of Alpena, 54 miles east of Gaylord and in a little village called Hillman. One might think there can’t be much to do there, and they couldn’t be more wrong.

Golf, of course, tops my lists in all places, and it was right outside the fairway cabins we used on a family visit.  It was fun, affordable, isolated, and relaxing – everybody can play this track.

It also seemed like the perfect spot to venture from in search of other golf, unless of course you wanted to see some elk, make a quilt, attend a wine tasting or even do a Murder Mystery weekend (sort of theatrically like playing the game Clue without the board).

It has seemed to me for many years that Michigan golf (in the national order of things) gets a little bit ignored.  And in Michigan, the sunrise side of the state takes the brunt of it.  Go north, golfers are told, to the rich resort areas of Traverse City and Gaylord, and catch the beauty of golf and a sunset on the Lake Michigan side.   And I agree. Those things are great, worth the time, wonderful.  But don’t be afraid to turn right and get up early for the sunrise.  The sunrise side has similar stuff going on though, and in all price ranges. Also, it is in perhaps even more natural and less crowded settings.

Among a couple of my favorite golf spots is Red Hawk Golf Club in East Tawas.   The award-winning course, designed by Art Hills, is an escape to the hills for great golf. It’s scenic and if you take it on from the right tees for your game, you will love it.   Oh, and the restaurant on site is a great 19th hole as well.

The other place that you have to see to believe is Lakewood Shores Golf Resort in Oscoda, which is like visiting one place and getting three remarkably different golf experiences.   The Gailes is a replica of the links courses in Europe, and you can be out on the golf course and truly feel you are visiting another place. It’s one of Michigan’s most unique golf experiences.   Also on hand is The Blackshire course, which is more of a classic design that tests golfers at all levels. Beauty and challenge are combined, so be sure to bring your “A” game.   Of course, you don’t have to leave if you just want something nice and fun, or a place to play with everybody in the family. Lakewood Shores offers up the Seradella course, which is a golf course in a garden.

There’s more on that side of the state, of course. It just takes some seeking and the willingness to have fun.

Enter Michigan, turn right.

Greg Johnson has been writing about Michigan golf since 1982 primarily as the golf writer for The Grand Rapids Press and Booth Newspapers. He is a native of Three Rivers, grew up in St. Joseph, a graduate of Lake Michigan College in Benton Harbor and Michigan State University in East Lansing. An award-winning writer, he has lived in Hudsonville for the last 20 years and worked in Grand Rapids for the last 27 years.

The Bear Won

Thanks to Greg Johnson for this guest blog post on his battle with The Bear.

In the first encounter with The Bear, well, not surprisingly, The Bear won.  Stripped of ammunition (in this case golf balls) as well as pride, I declared I would never try that monster of a golf course again.  But a year later, The Bear at Grand Traverse Resort and Spa in Acme won again.  

And so it would go — for 24 years.  Bear 24, this golfer 0. 

Jack Nicklaus, Governor James Blanchard, Doug Grove- Director of Golf/Grand Traverse Resort at the opening of The Bear

Sure, it’s not as tough as when it first opened with designer Jack Nicklaus on hand.  Jack that day was not so sure he was unleashing the right thing upon golfers in the shadow of Traverse City, our delightful Michigan tourist Mecca in the north.  Then-owner Paul Nine had ordered the toughest 18 Jack could design though, and the Golden Bear of golf had delivered.  It was brutally tough, and not just for the average golfer.

In the first Michigan Open Championship played there, which included the top professionals and amateurs from the state, The Bear exacted double-digit scores on single holes.  Strangely enough, that made me feel better about the mauling my game would take at the place. 

The Bear has softened over the years, though it still has deep bunkers, long grasses in rough areas, difficult shots over various hazards, including water and undulated hard-to-read greens.  My last scorecard had a 9 on it — yes, on one hole — the diabolical par 3 No. 9 hole that looks oh so innocent.

Some have criticized the design as too severe, too much dirt moved, too much of everything. One wonders if they just scored too much. 

Here’s the crazy part. It’s beautiful, too.

Your score is likely to be ugly, but the collection of grasses, bunkers, twisted greens and the surrounding is stunning.  I seem to get closer each year to my handicap when I play, though it’s certain to have something to do with better knowledge of the angles, bumps and pin positions. I have painfully learned where never to hit it.  Yet, I dig the place, which is located at a grand resort complete with great dining, a classic spa, great service, a nearby casino and two other golf courses on the property. 

The Bear is amid a Michigan vacation paradise waiting for its victims.  Fore I say, and for as long as I can swing a club.  I’ll beat it yet.

Greg Johnson has been writing about Michigan golf since 1982 primarily as the golf writer for The Grand Rapids Press and Booth Newspapers. He is a native of Three Rivers, grew up in St. Joseph, a graduate of Lake Michigan College in Benton Harbor and Michigan State University in East Lansing. An award-winning writer, he has lived in Hudsonville for the last 20 years and worked in Grand Rapids for the last 27 years.

Getting Ready to Golf

Thanks to Greg Johnson for helping us get ready for the 2010 Pure Michigan golf season!

The 22nd West Michigan Golf Show Feb. 12-14 opened with a line of golf enthusiasts wanting the free golf balls that annually go to the first 100 people through the doors of the DeVos Place in downtown Grand Rapids. And the people kept coming, and coming long after the golf balls were gone.

Golf has been taking the hits from the economy like everything else, but the industry is surviving across the state. The golf show is the first of the handful of such shows in the next few months across Michigan. As we continue to wait for spring and golf season, the show offered the usual collection of interesting things and latest information regarding Michigan golf.

For instance:

Remember the King’s Challenge course up in Cedar that the Arnold Palmer Co. designed? A group led by Bob Kuras, president of The Homestead resort, purchased King’s Challenge last year. Major restoration work and improvements have been implemented. It will open this year as the Manitou Passage Golf Club. The Homestead is a jewel of Northern Michigan and just minutes from Traverse City. The Manitou Passage plans to be a major destination for golfers who visit or live in that area, too. The Palmer Co. built a winner in the first place several years ago. Now it’s had a facelift and is being managed by people who are experts at welcoming folks to the finest golf experience Northern Michigan has to offer.

Scott Hebert, the six-time Michigan Open champion, was in the house, or den in this case. He’s the head golf professional at Grand Traverse Resort & Spa in Acme, and he was asking people to give testimonials on film regarding “The Bear,” one Michigan’s most famous golf courses. See, the Bear is 25 years old this summer. Amazing. It doesn’t seem like 25 years since then-owner Paul Nine had Jack Nicklaus build the beast that has always been a Michigan must-play destination. Grand Traverse has events and special promotions tied to the anniversary through the upcoming golf season. Stop in and meet Hebert and “The Bear.”

Treetops Resort in Gaylord was among the sponsors of the show, and in a perfect way. The Treetops Par 3 Contest included an actual par 3 golf hall erected inside the arena complete with green, bunkering, grass and even a water hazard. It was a short half wedge shot of about 65 yards or so, and popular as always. Treetops was a fitting sponsor for the contest, which also benefited charity. Treetops North is home to the Rick Smith-designed par 3 course called ThreeTops. It’s a par 3 course golfers have to play to believe. It combines beauty, course design, fun and challenge.

Resort news was everywhere. Garland Resort near Gaylord is under new ownership.  The new leadership is dedicated to remaining a major resort destination in Michigan. Various projects to match its product with its market are underway.

Egypt Valley Country Club near Grand Rapids, a private golf club, is hosting a very public event this summer — the U.S. Junior Amateur. It’s the first ever United States Golf Association national championship ever presented in Grand Rapids, and it’s set for July 19-24. The club has launched its efforts, the Western Michigan Junior Golf Foundation was formed to fund and direct the event. Amway Corp, Foremost Insurance and Huntington Bank are among the early sponsors. Junior golf in West Michigan will also benefit from charity dollars raised. Volunteers are needed. Be a part of it. It will be incredible golf. You will not believe the talent levels. Also, the ticket prices are great. It’s FREE to the gallery. Mark it on your calendars golf fans.

The Michigan PGA was represented in several ways by several members doing what they do best. Several of the golf professionals offered free golf lessons in a netted hitting area. Michigan has some major talent among its teaching golf professionals – consider national PGA Teacher of the Year Mike Bender.  Mike was a headline guest, and he works directly with four-time Michigan PGA Teacher of the Year Charley Vandenberg. Vandenberg, by the way, has one of the state’s top teaching facilities at Thousand Oaks Golf Club in Grand Rapids. And Thousand Oaks is one of the state’s top public golf venues. Rees Jones was the designer.

Start the 2010 golf season at the Michigan Golf Show, this weekend (March 5-7) at the Rock Financial Showplace in Novi.

Greg Johnson has been writing about Michigan golf since 1982 primarily as the golf writer for The Grand Rapids Press and Booth Newspapers. He is a native of Three Rivers, grew up in St. Joseph, a graduate of Lake Michigan College in Benton Harbor and Michigan State University in East Lansing. An award-winning writer, he has lived in Hudsonville for the last 20 years and worked in Grand Rapids for the last 27 years.