Michigan golf trips can be about so much more than just great golf. Here are five adventure-filled itineraries to consider for the ultimate, well-rounded vacation.
1) Golf, gaming, and sports in Motown
Hankering for a long-weekend buddies trip that combines golf, gaming and pro ball? Detroit’s a sure bet. The golf and MLB seasons run at roughly the same time, from April to October (depending on the weather and Tigers’ post-season playoff scenario). Make home base the MGM Grand Detroit (mgmgranddetroit), an upscale casino hotel on the fringes of Corktown, Detroit’s oldest neighborhood with a growing, vibrant food scene, and minutes from the Detroit Tigers (mlb.com/tigers) home field, Comerica Park. The MGM Grand has a lively sports bar, a Wolfgang Puck Steakhouse, a Top Golf Suite, headline entertainers and gaming room. When you’re ready to hit the links, Metro Detroit’s Shepherd’s Hollow Golf Club ranks as the golf course to play when you can’t make it to northern Michigan. Designed by Michigan native Arthur Hills, the 27-hole facility can play a brawny, 7200 yards from the back. Another standout option north of town is The Orchards Golf Club, an 18-hole Robert Trent Jones Jr. design.
Note: If gaming is your focus, become a “Yooper,” as Upper Peninsula residents are known. The UP, about a four-hour drive from Detroit, has 10 casinos and top-notch golf set amidst a five-star wilderness. The Island Resort & Casino has two courses: Sweet Grass, consistently ranked in the top 20 public courses in the state, and Sage Run, which opens in 2018. Bay Mill Resorts & Casino’s Wild Bluff Golf Course sits on waterfront property and hosts an LPGA Symetra tour event every June.
2) Golf and fly-fishing in and around Gaylord
Although golf is the No. 1 draw in the Gaylord area (gaylordgolfmecca.com), this heart of Northern Michigan is also a fly-fishing mecca, boasting more than 90 lakes and some of the best trout streams and rivers in the region. A stay at Treetops Resort (treetops.com), with five golf courses, puts you in the perfect spot to fish some of these waters. The resort can hook you up with local expert guides to take you out on any of the six rivers whose headwaters are in the county, including the well-stocked Au Sable, Pigeon, and Sturgeon. For a more rustic excursion, consider a day or overnight trip to Gates Au Sable Lodge (gateslodge.com), 30 minutes south of Gaylord, in Grayling. Here, there’s outstanding fly-fishing, and experienced guides at this 16-room family-owned lodge will take you to some of the most prolific stretches of Au Sable River on half-day, full-day, and evening outings. Gates Lodge also offers a variety of classes and schools for every skill level. Another golf-rich destination within casting distance of great waters is the Boyne area, about 50 miles north of Gaylord. Boyne Highlands and Boyne Mountain Resort (boyne.com) offer eight designer courses between them, and Boyne Outfitters (boyneoutfitters.com) offers guided fishing trips to area streams and rivers plus private access waters like the Everett Kircher Preserve.
3) Golf school getaway
Forest Dunes (forestdunesgolf.com), in Roscommon, has quickly become one of the most-talked about golf destinations, not just in Michigan, but in the country. That’s partly due to the innovative Tom Doak-designed Loop course, which opened to rave reviews in June of 2016, including the honor of being named Golf Digest’s Best New Public Course of 2016. (The Forest Dunes resort also has a Tom Weiskopf-designed layout that won a Best New award in 2003 and is ranked No. 118 on Golf Digest’s ranking of America’s Second 100 Greatest.) In case you haven’t heard about it, The Loop is a reversible design inspired by the Old Course at St. Andrews. It features two distinct layouts using the same 18 greens and fairways playing clockwise (Black) one day and counterclockwise (Red) the next. The other main draw making this spot worthy of an overnight (or two) stopover is The Rick Smith Golf Academy at Forest Dunes. Smith, a Michigan native, highly respected golf course architect, Michigan Golf Hall of Famer, and award-winning golf instructor to the pros, has set up shop at Forest Dunes (he had been a fixture at Treetops for years and helped launch northern Michigan as a premier golf hub). The academy offers a variety of programs, including full-swing instruction by Henry Young and Rick Smith (ricksmith.com). Adding to the allure of this golf-school getaway is the resort’s intimate Lake Au Sable Lodge (11 rooms, two suites) and two- and four-room cottages.
4) Golf, wines and nines
Wine and golf country have long been a classic pairing, and now you can add Michigan to the short list, with its easy access to good golf and good wine. The state has burst onto the wine scene over the past few decades and now has 100 wineries, making it the fifth-largest wine producing state in the U.S. (michiganwines.com, drinkmichigan.com, mbtbtasting.com). Though the vineyards are sprinkled throughout the Mitt, Traverse City is the gateway to its flourishing wine region. The town sits just a mile from the base of the Old Mission Peninsula, which has nine wineries along an 18-mile trail, making it an easy day trip. Most wineries offer tastings and tours, and some even have food (wineriesofomp.com). To the west is the bigger Leelanau Peninsula with 22 wineries and three different loops to explore: the Sleeping Bear Loop, the Northern Loop and the Grand Traverse Bay Loop (lpwines.com). Use Grand Traverse Resort (grandtraverseresort.com) as a base to explore the region when you’re not playing golf on The Bear, its award-winning Jack Nicklaus layout. Not only is The Bear No. 68 on Golf Digest’s list of Best Public Courses in America, it’s also been rated the toughest 18 holes in Michigan and the 18th toughest course in America by Golf Digest. For a deeper immersion in wine country, stay at Chateau Grand Traverse (cgtwines.com), the region’s oldest and biggest winery.
5) Golf on historic Mackinac Island
There are a number of bucket-list destinations in Michigan, from Arcadia Bluffs to the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore (sleepingbeardunes.com), but car-free Mackinac Island, with the magnificent historic Grand Hotel (grandhotel.com), an abundance of natural beauty, vintage golf, fudge shops and old-world charm is hard to top. The 18-hole Jewel is a beautiful course, meticulously cared for, fun to play and easy to score on, making for a fantastic golf resort experience. The Jewel’s original nine holes, dubbed Grand, are located across the street from the hotel, with views of Lake Huron and Round Island. The Woods back nine is set in the interior of Mackinac Island, with views of the Mackinac Bridge and the Upper Peninsula. The two nines are a mile and a half apart, and golfers are taken by horse-drawn carriage between the two. Although you can make a day of it—early afternoon round, dinner and ferry back to Mackinac by 7 or 8 p.m.—you’re better off splurging on a night at the Grand Hotel. Then you’ll have time to tool around the island on bike or foot, eat too much fudge and soak in the overall charm of the place.