It seems only natural that water and water features have become such a big part of the American game. Ever since golf course design moved inland from its roots as coastal links courses in Scotland where the game originated, designers have looked to add aesthetic value and drama often associated with water.
“Water,” said golf course architect Gary Panks, “can enhance the golfer’s experience.” But while wonderfully pleasing to the eye, water can be hazardous to your score. Witness people employed in the golf ball recovery business: $200 million in annual sales based on 200 million reclaimed golf balls resurrected from watery graves. One can only suspect that the peninsula state of Michigan, with more public golfing facilities than any single state in the Union (and more water) contributes considerably to this total.
Michigan is indeed blessed with a lot of great golf courses. And the most dramatic — Arcadia Bluffs, Bay Harbor, Eagle Eye, The Bear — are made more so by their water features. I can shoot a lousy score on these courses but I’m more enriched by just standing on the verdant grass, the environs washing over me like a baptism. You can find religion on such holes.
Like number 18 at Pilgrim’s Run (the hole is named “Entice”) where golfers stand on the tee, look to the sky and pray that their typical 240-yard drive will gain enough distance to clear the lake leaving them a short, uphill wedge shot to the green. And regardless of the score reflected on your card, the moment is crowned with “You da man.”
For it is moments, not scores, that we carry to our next round.
Sweetgrass Golf Club, Harris
Hole 15 — 168-yard Par 3
I don’t know about Escanaba in da moonlight, but Sweetgrass in the daylight is as good as golfing gets in the U.P., or pretty near anywhere in the Great Lakes region. Pick an accolade and it’s probably been said of Sweetgrass. Hole 15 is unadulterated fun, providing you don’t chuck a sleeve of balls in the water attempting to hit the island green. Sweetgrass is associated with Island Resort and Casino in Harris, Mich. Motoring U.S. Highway 2 along Lake Michigan’s northern shore is a joy ride any time of year, but doing so in late September into early October is especially sweet.
Forest Dunes Golf Club, Roscommon
Hole 9 — 203-yard par 3
What Tom Weiskoph unearthed in Roscommon is as natural a golf course as you’ll likely ever play in Michigan. One hundred percent satisfying, nothing forced, other than the par-3 9th where your tee shot needs to sail several hundred yards over water to find the putting surface. Forest Dunes is surrounded by the Huron National Forest and is about 30 minutes south of Garland Resort. Seeing how you’re not far from the Au Sable River where Trout Unlimited was founded, you better stow the fly rod with your clubs.
Bay Harbor Links Course, Petoskey
Hole 7 — 500-yard Par 5
From the tee, with nothing but Lake Michigan as far as you can see to the northwest, depth of field plays tricks on the distance. More times than not, unabated winds will make this shortish par 5 play longer than its stated length. Regardless of your score, the “oh wow” sensation is nearly enough to transport you to the coast of Ireland. Bay Harbor is part of the Boyne golf consortium which can boast of many dramatic water holes, found at the Alpine Course or the Heather or the Monument. And now that Boyne has taken over management at Hidden River Golf and Casting Club, you can add fish to your chips.
Tullymore Golf Club, Stanwood
Hole 18 — 535-yard Par 5
Hole 18 at Tullymore is so perfectly sculpted you’ll wonder if you’ve ever laid eyes on a more aesthetically-pleasing golf hole. But it can be beastly, for first you have to cross the lake that does a lazy bend along the hole’s entire left side. Tullymore is part of the Tullymore-St. Ives Golf Resort in the Canadian Lakes region. As the name implies, there’s an abundance of water recreation surrounding the resort, which invites fishing, boating, skiing and respite born to time on water.
Shepherd’s Hollow Golf Club, Clarkston
Hole 18 — 574-yard Par 5
Art Hills has designed many a golf course in Michigan, but legions of golfers and pundits alike attest Shepherd’s Hollow to be his finest compilation of 18 holes. The crescendo is hole 18, which whets the appetite for more. No need to push the envelope here. Keep the ball left so you can get safely home in three and two-putt for par. Clarkston is in Oakland County, home to more inland lakes than anywhere in Michigan — nearly 400 of them. And here’s a bit of trivia. The pilot episode of the HBO show, “Hung,” was filmed at Clarkston Junior High in 2008.
Eagle Eye Golf Club, Bath
Hole 17—146-yard Par 3
The stark contrast of Eagle Eye to most golf courses you’ll play is nothing short of dramatic. Hole 17 is purely invigorating. It is said that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. While working with renowned course architect Pete Dye, designer Chris Lutzke created this 17th hole to mirror Dye’s famed par 3 at the TPC of Sawgrass course in Florida. The surrounding water may dine on as many balls, also. Eagle Eye isn’t the only golf to be had in Bath. Part of the Hawk Hollow golf community, Little Hawk is one of only three natural bentgrass, 18-hole putting courses in the state. The Falcon affords enjoyment as an 18-hole par 3 course. Bath is near Lansing, where a weekend golf adventure may include a Lugnuts game or a tour of the state capital.
Black Lake Golf Club, Onaway
Hole 6 — 515-yard Par 5
This Black beauty is a monument to designer Rees Jones, known in the golf industry as the Open Doctor for his design work at U.S. Open golf venues. This par 5 isn’t brutish, but it does court trouble for the big hitter who envisions being on the green in two strokes putting for eagle. So where’s Onaway? Not too far from Ocqueoc Falls, the Lower Peninsula’s largest waterfall on a river that flows south to north. The nearby Black River is a bona fide Blue Ribbon Trout Stream, so designated by Michigan’s Department of Natural Resources.
Arcadia Bluffs Golf Club, Arcadia
Hole 12 — 431-yard Par 4
Vistas of Lake Michigan on this links-style marvel can be viewed from anywhere on the course. The par-4 Hole 12 hugs a bluff, forcing players to carry a vast sand hazard, ever mindful of the water lapping at the beach 90 feet below. Arcadia Bluffs’ restaurant and Nantucket-style lodge has become every much the equal in attracting visitors. Some folks go to great lengths just to witness the sunset from the Adirondack chairs. Nearby Manistee offers 35 miles of beachfront, lodging, shopping, boating, charter fishing and most anything you desire of a Lake Michigan coastal community.
Cedar River Golf Club/Shanty Creek Resort, Bellaire
Hole 7 — 425-yard Par 4
Arnold Palmer and his Legend course made Shanty Creek a golf destination in 1985. Tom Weiskoph’s Cedar River put the resort’s golf experience on another rung. Hole 7 plays as a left dog leg over water, which you have to negotiate all the way to the green, which is tucked behind the lake at the hole’s southern end. In Bellaire you’re less than an hour from Petoskey or Charlevoix or Traverse City. While there, plan time to see the “most beautiful lake in the world” — Torch Lake, derived from a time when Native American Indians lighted the lake at night with torches to take whitefish and trout. Visit michigangolfjournal.com.
Randy D. Prichard is the associate publisher of Michigan BLUE Magazine and Michigan GOLF.