Discover some of the resort destinations in
Michigan offering more than a tee time.
By Janina Parrott Jacobs
Michigan’s designation as the second-most popular state for golf by a national golf lifestyle publication might have non-golfers contemplating its relevance. Truth is, sometimes it’s all about the golf, but there are a number of multi-faceted resorts that cater to both golfers and visitors looking for their next vacation destination.
While Michigan may not have historically been regarded among the top destinations, as celebrities like Chef Mario Batali, Tim Allen, Madonna, and Kid Rock make the pleasant peninsulas home, curious fun-seekers are taking notice. Michigan vacations can be molded into whatever it needs to be: family-oriented, guys’ or gals’ trips, solo journeys, an exploration, historical exhibition, or a romantic getaway. Factor in the state’s long-appreciated outdoor wonderland, and newly discovered craft beer and wine industries; the formula for fun is obvious.
Northwest Michigan has been christened the Gold Coast for good reason. At its heart lies Leelanau County’s Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, which ABC’s Good Morning America once named the Most Beautiful Place in America. There, the monumental dunes play starring roles along with 64 miles of beaches on Lake Michigan, two islands, 26 inland lakes, and more than 50,000 acres of land.
The television survey revealed nothing the young St. Louis couple of William and Cora Beals didn’t already know when they stumbled upon this extraordinary place in the 1920s. After purchasing property where the Crystal River flowed into Lake Michigan, the homestead prospered along with their camp offering “wholesome outdoor experiences.” Almost one-hundred years later, The Homestead is sought after by those who want the best recreation, natural environment, top-shelf amenities, dining, adventure, community life, and priceless views of Lake Michigan and the Crystal River Valley
The Ojibway language translates Leelanau as “Land of Delight” and The Homestead has delighted many. Completely surrounded by the national park, four unique hotels and condominiums offer vast water and forest views from five separate sections. Beach Club pools, hot tubs and clay-surfaced stadium-style tennis courts are located lakeside. Challenge the intimate Spa Amira’s labyrinth; relax with an outdoor massage and other services while contemplating unencumbered vistas of Sleeping Bear. Even Lillyjade salon is earth-friendly with a series of waterfalls, ponds, and creeks among the shops, retail stores, and boutiques at its location in the Homestead Village.
Family gatherings can utilize corporate meeting rooms for private affairs after dune climbing, or hiking Sleeping Bear’s meandering Heritage or Empire Bluff Trails. Visitors can survey an ancient ghost town, giant sand cliffs, and groves of white cedar marking the Manitou Islands from a 400-foot-boardwalk vantage point. Drive the 7.4-mile Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive or visit Glen Haven to retreat into history and see an old-fashioned general store, cannery, and blacksmith shop. Ferry rides can transport the more inquisitive explorers to observe nearby shipwrecks and lighthouses.
If the fairways are calling, guests can tee-off on the par-3 Mountain Flowers golf course among a backdrop of natural beauty. Players can sign up for one-to-three day classes at the Midwest’s Dave Pelz Scoring Game School. After graduation, golfers can tackle Arnold Palmer’s signature Manitou Passage Golf Club.
Couples seeking to create memories should note a premier wedding resource known as The Knot selected The Homestead as its top pick for Best of Weddings in 2011 and Most Adventurous Honeymoon in 2013. What could be more romantic than a slow-roll up scenic highway M-22 through the tunnel of trees?
Travelling east toward Acme, the Tower at Grand Traverse Resort is visible rising boldly among the landscape. The resort is primarily known for its golf course known as The Bear, which is one of Jack Nicklaus’ most difficult designs and now softened in appearance after nearly 30 years. A testament for its toughness, The Bear remains a must-play. Now there are two other engaging courses rising in popularity: Gary Player’s Wolverine, with drive-for-dough, 100-yard-wide fairways; and the Spruce, a sneakily-robust, but enjoyable alternative.
However, golf is not the area’s sole attraction. The hotel itself is resplendent with upscale retail shops and fine dining restaurants; and downtown Traverse City is a shopper’s and gastronome’s paradise where craft beer lovers can taste-test19 microbreweries. Due to the popularity of the burgeoning film festivals, theaters such as the State Street with indie films and Saturday 25-cent kids’ movies, and Bijou by the Bay, offer entertainment for all ages. Budding authors and screenwriters can also attend the National Writers Series.
Northwest Michigan—not unlike France’s Bordeaux and Cotes du Rhone, Italy’s Piedmont, and Oregon’s Willamette Valley regions—is located on the 45th parallel and home to some of the finest grape-growing conditions in the world. With Grand Traverse Bay’s subtle climate temperament, Michigan’s wine offerings are being elevated to an international status. Between Leelanau and Old Mission Peninsulas, 43 winery and tasting room locations beg exploration through wine-trail visits or bicycle tours.
Michigan festivals are always in fashion, and the National Cherry Festival pays homage to the real rock stars here: four million trees. Celebrate everything cherry during the red-white-and-blue Fourth of July holiday with highlights such as the legendary U.S. Navy Blue Angels with engines screaming over Open Space on the bay, and fireworks along the lakeshore.
Boyne City celebrates the National Morel Mushroom Festival in the spring during May 17-21, and experts will reveal how and where to find these elusive gems. Crystal Falls’ Fungus Festival later in the year on August 11-13 may have a unique ring to it, but the world’s largest fungus colony produces enough mushrooms for a 10-by-10 foot pizza. In Kalkaska, April 26-30 welcomes Trout Fest and its visitors as trucks and cars line the streets to seek out revered fishing spots.
At Crystal Mountain Resort and Spa in Thompsonville, owners Chris and Jim MacInnes have created a family haven and handily solved the age-old question: “What to do with the kids?” Activity-based educational, artistic, healthy, and sporting offerings like Water’s Edge and Michigan Legacy Art Park are all components of this nearly multi-acre, master-planned lifestyle community. Adults are pampered here too: truly a year-round resort, environmentally and energy certified Crystal Spa celebrates all seasons with treatments embodying nature’s transient elements while attuning clients—body, mind, and spirit—to earth’s rhythms and cycles. Services are extraordinary and housed in facilities boasting heated floors, infrared saunas, and even an outdoor hot tub amid a Mosaic garden. Guests are welcome to use the Peak Pool and Fitness Center, or partake in classes such as Yoga, Balance Exercises, and Aerobics.
Golf is special here and due to a firm commitment made years ago to create a learning environment appealing to women golfers; it’s blossoming. The Michigan PGA also supported this effort and the 14th Michigan Women’s Open will be played on the acclaimed Mountain Ridge Course this summer on June 26-28. Compete in the two-day, Pro-Am Scramble prior to the event; or simply enjoy the original Betsie Valley course with its $1 million renovation.
“It’s a beautiful day at Shanty Creek:” it’s the greeting by the receptionist, which is an appropriate phrase no matter the weather. Three lodging villages and four championship golf courses sprawl along nearly 4,500 acres of woodlands, marshes, wetlands. Two of the golf courses are named after well-known designers: The Legend, Arnold Palmer; and Cedar River, Tom Weiskopf. Family-centered fun, even while learning the game of golf, reign here and the PGA of America’s Golf 2.0 initiative is in full swing. The Tee It Forward movement, with shorter yardages, 15-inch-cups, and short tees under 125-yards, has been implemented with the idea that “anyone can do this.” Add DiscGolf and FootGolf, a soccer-styled method of playing, and suddenly, kids are tackling the game too.
There are a number of other activities and amenities offered at Shanty Creek off the fairway as well. Indoor and heated outdoor pools, badminton, shuffleboard, lawn Yahtzee, bike rentals, tennis, horseshoes, croquet, beanbag-toss, giant checkers, dominoes, and Jenga are just a few of the options. In the evenings, enjoy family movies under the stars. Swim, boat, or fish in the turquoise and surreal hues of nearby Torch Lake; or dine at Murphy’s Lamplight Inn in Bellaire while admiring eclectic artwork and stained glass.
The Gaylord Golf Mecca’s Treetops is a popular golf and ski resort made famous by Lee Trevino’s million-dollar ace during a Threetops Shootout. Prepare for a different look: Phase 1 of a $4.5-million USDA loan earmarked for resort renovations will be completed this year. A majority of lodging will be updated, including its I.T. services, spa, and licensed daycare center.
Treetops is central to Mecca offerings and golf is still king. Five 18-hole, A-List courses designed by Robert Trent Jones, Tom Fazio and Rick Smith, as well as the devilish Threetops par-3 attract golfers, primarily buddies’ trips, nationwide. Veterans flock to the Patriot Day Shootout, which supports Folds of Honor. The Pepsi Charity Pro-Am in early October attracts hardy souls playing 45 holes over two days in rain, snow, sleet, or in rare occasions, heat.
Stroll the streets of Bavarian-style Gaylord during mid-July’s Alpenfest, when restaurants like the Sugar Bowl and prolific Diana’s Delights—offering real homemade pies—boutiques, and shops exert supreme Tyrolean efforts. Thousands of flowers throughout the old-world downtown create an atmosphere reminiscent of mountain towns in the Alps. Head east to Thunder Bay and turn back time as horse-drawn carriages transport guests through deep woods, past an elk preserve, and into another century to enjoy an appetizing homemade repast prepared on a 100-year-old cast-iron cookstove.
Boyne: one word, three locales, and numerous awards. South of Petoskey in Boyne Falls, Boyne Mountain at unruffled Deer Lake is home to the Alpine and Monument golf courses, which is where the Michigan PGA’s Tournament of Champions is held annually. Bay Harbor’s three spectacular lakefront nine holes are of the country club class, along with the stylish Village at Bay Harbor, Yacht Club, Equestrian Center, and picture postcard Martha’s Vineyard homes.
Across U.S. 31, Crooked Tree GC generously supplies jaw-dropping lake views via undulating landscapes. Harbor Springs is for purists who live and breathe first-rate golf. Here, Boyne Highlands’ four pastoral top-rated courses are always in prime condition. A superb value, BOYNE’s Great Escape All Inclusive Golf Vacation can be customized to include all sporting activities, ziplines, workout center access, spa treatments, Young Americans Dinner Theatre, and Odawa casino shuttle with gaming voucher. If you seek a better game, Boyne conducts Nike Junior Golf Camps, FORE Ladies Only, and customized programs in addition to its Signature BOYNE Golf Performance Experience.
To slightly rephrase Michigan’s state motto: If you seek a great resort vacation on a pleasant peninsula, look about you.
As printed in The Golf Explorer Magazine, Volume 1, Issue 1