From birdies to blackjack

From birdies to blackjack

Golf and gambling go hand-in-hand, or perhaps grip-to-one-arm-bandit. Every shot is a gamble, every Nassau is a speculation, and every pull of the handle is a possibility. Will it yield a birdie, an ace, or the Big Jackpot? 

By Janina Parrott Jacobs

The odds of making a hole-in-one are 12,500-to-one and winning the jackpot is astronomical. Yet, it is the entertainment, fun, time with friends, and casino perks that often drive people to it—plus there is one other advantage: it’s not work.

Michigan boasts of having dozens of casinos spread throughout the state, along with several of the best golf facilities in the nation within a short drive. Playing golf during the day and hitting the slots at night is quite feasible. If taking time off from both is in the cards, there are a number of sightseeing opportunities, such as touring the numerous wine country trails, microbreweries, and distilleries now dotting the region’s “amber” coastal and inland areas. 


Here the lake effect’s temperament contributes to the growing environment; the fertile soil is quickly soaked up by the fruit farms and orchards. There are approximately 15 facilities alone based in Harbor Country, and one of which is the popular destination of St. Julian near Paw Paw. 

The region is also home to Four Winds Casinos, which is owned and operated by the Pokagon Band of Potawatomi Indians. The premier gaming destination brand currently has three locations in New Buffalo, Hartford, and Dowagiac; and broke ground on construction of a fourth location in South Bend in late 2016. 

Four Winds Casinos originally opened the doors to its flagship casino in New Buffalo in 2007, which offers 415 standard-to-celebrity suite rooms, five diverse dining options, sleek bars, top-notch entertainment, retail venues, 60 tables games, a high-stakes room, and about 3,000 slot machines, such as: Wheel of Fortune, Game of Thrones, and Sons of Anarchy. The gaming floor alone totals nearly 130,000 square-feet and since the location opened nearly a decade ago, it has received more than 300 local and national awards, according to Frank Freedman, chief operating officer of Four Winds Casinos in a press release. 

“When Four Winds New Buffalo opened nine years ago, it set a new standard for gaming in the Midwest,” stated Freedman in the press release. 

It wasn’t long before the Pokagon Band of Potawatomi Indians expanded their portfolio to include the Four Winds Hartford and Four Winds Dowagiac casino resorts in 2011 and 2013, respectively. While slightly smaller than the signature New Buffalo location, both Hartford and Dowiagiac offer slots, table games, and dining opportunities for guests. All three locations also feature Native American art galleries in the facilities. 

Located a short drive away and poised along the bluffs of Lake Michigan, sits the non-profit Harbor Shores Golf Course. The 530-acre golf course was originally built as a public-private partnership to support the nearby community and was sculpted by the well-known Jack Nicklaus. 

The transformation of 140,000 tons of waste materials and nearly three million square-feet of dirt along the Paw Paw River prompted the PGA to move its Senior Tour Championship to the awe-inspiring property. Artwork, again, is noteworthy with metal sculptures and hand-blown glass displayed at each hole. 

After a round of golf, tour the Arts District in Benton Harbor or the New Buffalo Lakefront Park and Beach; visit the Galien River County Park, or hike a portion of the 12-mile Jean Klock Park walking trail, which is a direct beneficiary from course green fees. 

Courtesy Whittaker Woods Golf Course

If the port city calls to the sea in the blood, visit the Michigan Maritime Museum in South Haven, which displays several historic vessels; or consider the Lakeshore Lighthouse Tour.  Or perhaps, if the combination of history and architecture sparks the fire of curiosity within, stop by Whittaker Woods Golf Course. The course was named after Captain Wessel Whittaker, who ran his ship aground near New Buffalo’s natural harbor in 1834. Ken Killian—Kemper Lakes designer—crafted the impressive layout and the substantial stone-and-wood clubhouse is an architectural masterpiece. 

In Benton Harbor, nearly thirty miles to the north of Whittaker Woods, Lake Michigan Hills Golf Club has been recognized as a top public golf course in the southwest region and has received a four-star rating from Golf Digest as one of the best places to play. With the elevation changes and classic tree-lined fairways, the Charles Maddox Sr. design offers par-3, par-4, and par-5 holes with five sets of tees. From its lofty and advantageous position, the Hills Grille restaurant not only provides a spectacular view of the wooded course, but also a not-to-be-missed Blood Mary. 

In nearby Battle Creek, Firekeepers Casino Hotel has accumulated a number of awards and accolades to its name, such as: best overall gaming resort and best casinos to work for by Casino Player Magazine, and a Wine Spectator Award of Excellence for its signature restaurant Nibi. Since opening in 2009, the Nottawaseppi Huron Band of Potawatomi Indians has reinvested not only in its resort—which features 2,900 slots machines, 70 table games, a live poker room, 243 luxury rooms, six distinctive restaurants, and an event center for live entertainment—but also in the community it serves. 

Tribe visionaries have partnered with community leaders to create The Fire Hub, which is an innovative non-profit, hands-on investment by a casino operator. The Fire Hub initiative comprises a restaurant, food pantry, meeting space, and the creation of a fund to support local charities. Certainly, gamblers never lose, but if it happens, take solace in knowing house profits are earmarked toward benevolent endeavors. 

Golfers exploring a professional tournament experience may wish to attend the Symetra Tour’s Firekeepers Casino Hotel Pro-Am and Championship July 25-30 at Battle Creek Country Club where LPGA hopefuls share tour dreams and playing tips. 


Homegrown architect Ray Hearn’s Grande Golf Club in golf-rich Jackson will impress scratch golfers and beginners alike. Spend time at one of the best practice facilities in the state. Tour professionals and Long Drive hopefuls utilize this range, which has hosted the Remax Long Drive competition. Since golfers sometimes land themselves “in jail” on the course, consider touring Historic Jackson Prison or Cell Block 7 Museum for a different twist.

Travelling north into the mid-Michigan epicenter of Mt. Pleasant, there is no shortage of daytime fun or nightlife for individuals of all ages; whether the activity of choice is related to music, festivals, comedy, sports, or the great outdoors. Mt. Pleasant is home to not only Soaring Eagle Casino, which is the state’s largest casino, but also Central Michigan University Theatre, which features more than 500 events on an annual basis.  

Soaring Eagle Casino’s 210,000-square-foot gaming floor offers slot machines, table games, poker, and bingo; while also offering star-studded entertainment, a water park, the Soaring Eagle Spa & Salon, and lush accommodations for guests. 

While strolling downtown Mt. Pleasant to CMU’s University Theatre, take a moment to enjoy neighboring hotspots, such as: Marty’s Bar, The Bird, and Max and Emily’s Eatery. The walkable community has more than 135 businesses ranging from specialty shops and art galleries, to eclectic dining and bistros. The rushing sounds of the Chippewa River can be heard as it meanders through the city, and outdoor activities are just a step off the beaten trail.  

Buck’s Run, photo by Nile Young

Outstanding golf by nationally renowned Michigan architects is a couple par-5’s away: Jerry Matthews highly acclaimed Buck’s Run, complete with awe-inspiring lakefront finishing holes and bet-settling putting course; and the crafty Pohl Cat, designed by PGA Tour professional Dan Pohl.


Heading north toward the booming micropolis of Traverse City, Turtle Creek Casino and Hotel welcomes guests with a wealth of entertainment and dining options in nearby Williamsburg. Not only does the gaming destination offer approximately 56,000 square-feet of gaming floor, slot machines, and table games, but also a high-limit room with a more private setting. 

Whether it is the recently renovated Bourbons 72, the excitement of roulette, or the lush atmosphere of a balcony suite room, Turtle Creek Casino and Hotel offers as rich an experience as the view from its 2,400-square-foot green roof. 

Courtesy Turtle Creek Casino and Hotel

If a trip to the spa or the golf course piques the curiosity, guests can rest assured knowing the Grand Traverse Resort and Spa is only minutes away from the casino. Well-known golf course architects—Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player—have left their mark on the sweeping terrain at the resort to provide the avid and recreational golfer alike complementing course designs and challenges. 

While Lochenheath Golf Club—only a short chip away—may be a private golf course, it still welcomes a limited amount of outside play. Carved into a nearly 300-acre cherry orchard along Grand Traverse Bay, the Steve Smyers-designed golf course offers a rich, Scottish links-style setting among a breathtaking vista. A great view is also a claim-to-fame for another nearby golfing destination known as A-Ga-Ming Golf Resort. Located in Kewadin on a bluff high above Torch Lake, the 54-hole resort’s original Torch Course unfolds to present the golfer with an aerial view of the shoreline below. 

Travelling northeast from Kewadin toward Odawa Casino, which is located near Petoskey, stop at Shanty Creek Resorts in Bellaire where there are four courses and layouts to choose from, such as the Arnold Palmer-designed The Legend, and the Tom Weiskopf-designed Cedar River. 

Odawa Casino offers nearly 1,300 slot machines, table games, and a poker room located throughout the 50,000-square foot architecturally rich and spacious facility. Live entertainment on weekends and three on-site restaurants can distract from golf, but missing the state’s golf-track stars is unthinkable.

Courtesy Odawa Casino

Dunmaglas Golf Course debuted in 1991, nestled in the landscape rich region near Charlevoix. Considered a par-72 or par-73 course, Dunmaglas has attracted golfers seeking a challenge and it has proven to live up to its promise. Friendlier tees have been added to the idyllic course, so while the back tees have a yardage of 6,901 for the course, the front tees have been shortened to 5,175 yards in total. 

Little Traverse Bay is known for panoramic water views, and numerous golfer-embraced downhill tee shots. Late afternoon rounds reap rewards with million-dollar sunsets; and dine al fresco at their quality restaurant where local walleye and whitefish delectably rule.

Nationally-acclaimed Boyne Mountain and Boyne Highlands’ nine world-class facilities provide excellent golf, with Bay Harbor and Crooked Tree highlighting unobstructed views of cerulean Lake Michigan. Time slows down at Cape Cod-inspired Harbor Springs. The quiet harbor combines with old-fashioned shops, Harbor Springs Historical Museum, and Blackbird House of Indian artifacts for added enjoyment.

Bring the fly rod to navigate the trout stream traversing Architect Jerry Matthews’ dual-purpose Hidden River Golf and Casting Club. Better yet, add an appetite on Tuesdays when the top-rated Rainbow Room features Music on the Maple, pairing innovative fare and local entertainment in this soothing outdoor setting.

Take an unforgettable four-dollar-joyride across the mighty Mackinac Bridge, or on Labor Day run—or walk—the five-mile span. At rustic Bay Mills Casino in Brimley, eastern Lake Superior waterfront rooms are plentiful and cliff-top views from Wild Bluffs Golf Club are awe-inspiring. Prepare for nighttime gaming and poker by target practicing at greens shaped like a heart, club, diamond, and spade. Smaller than most casinos, Bay Mills still has wonderful amenities and hundreds of options for gaming and slots. 

Finally, a Pure Michigan choice: from Brimley, will it be the legendary Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, thundering, multi-colored Tahquamenon Falls, or haunting Whitefish Point Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum? All are within a leisurely two-hour drive, so don’t hurry: one gambling expert suggests if playing for fun, play slowly. It’ll save the wallet from shrinking. Good advice for gaming and life experiences, but maybe not the best for golf.

As printed in The Golf Explorer Magazine, Volume 1, Issue 1