Discover the National Award-Winning Sweetgrass Golf Club
Guest writer Tom Lang, publisher and managing editor of MI Golf Journal, explores this Upper Peninsula golf course and how it was created.
Found in the central region of Michigan’s ruggedly beautiful Upper Peninsula, the Sweetgrass Golf Club earned the highly acclaimed award of 2022 National Golf Course of the Year. What’s amazing is the fact the course was only 14 years old at the time. Imagine that feat for a minute: only little over a dozen years from the first time a tee peg went into the ground, to Sweetgrass earning a coveted national award from their peers at the National Golf Course Owners Association—beating out Florida’s Streamsong Red among others.
And for good reason.
The course is an annual favorite stop on the EPSON feeder tour of the LPGA Tour, and it’s won numerous golf awards from national media for design, beauty and playability. Owned by the Hannahville Indian Community just north of Escanaba, Sweetgrass is also a huge supporter of the greater community surrounding the site.
The Hannahville Indian Community became a federally-recognized tribe in 1913, about 80 years after their ancestors, who escaped the forced relocation of the Potawatomi people to Kansas, first settled in the U.P.’s Cedar River region. After decades of struggles and as late as 1965, members of the community still had little money, had no running water and no electricity. If you said, ‘wow, what a change since then,’ it’s also incredible that as late as 1984, what is now the large, financially successful and philanthropic resort earning national awards, was humbly referred to as a simple bingo hall.
In 1985, the Hannahville Casino opened near the Tribal Administration Center. It offered bingo and a couple of card games in a pole barn. In 1987 the name was changed to Chip-In Casino, possibly foretelling of the future the game of golf would play in the resort’s special development. Since then, the resort created the very successful sister golf course, Sage Run in 2008. The Tribe also added an RV Park and expanded their on-site hotel towers to 454 rooms, the most in the Upper Peninsula and Wisconsin region north of Milwaukee.
Designed by Paul Albanese, Sweetgrass features an open layout with some of golf’s most fun greens to putt (Redan, Biarritz, Island and Double-Green). Throughout the course, golfers will also come across a rich history of the Hannahville Indian Community, with holes named after traditional Potawatomi clans, villages, allies, medicines and symbols. The dedication to nature, the area’s heritage and unique wooden bridges makes for an exceptional golf experience.
“The golf course rewards good play,” General Manager Tony Mancilla said. “There’s nothing tricky about it. Some might say they played well, but they didn’t get any bounces. On this course, if you’re playing well, you’ll score. I think it’s fair.”
When not playing golf, or testing your luck at the casino, good food is on the menu. Options range from the premium Horizons Steakhouse sitting atop the newest 14-story hotel wing, to the 5 Bridges Bar, which serves mixed drinks and almost 50 different bottled and draft beers, including a selection of Michigan craft beers. Also available is the T. McC’s Sports Bar and Grill featuring classic bar fare and sportsbook betting, plus the Firekeeper’s restaurant provides a sit-down casual dining experience for families and friends. The breakfast offerings are one of the finest in the U.P.
More information can be found at islandresortandcasino.com/island-golf
About the Author: Tom Lang is a 30-year veteran sports contributor to the Detroit Free Press, during which he has covered the golf scene and more in Michigan. Since 2018, Lang has produced the monthly MI Golf Journal, Michigan's No. 1 voted golf media outlet and is free online at migolfjournal.com.