Text: R.J. Weick
Jackpot. Hole-in-one. There is a moment of delight, of satisfaction, when a player can walk away with that one-of-a-kind experience, whether on the fairway or at the blackjack table. There is both risk and reward in golf and gaming, and while each require vastly different skillsets and present different challenges, their entwined histories were made iconic when Las Vegas National Golf Club hosted the 1995 film “Casino,” directed by Martin Scorsese and produced by Barbara De Fina, on its course in the Las Vegas Valley less than 10 minutes from the Las Vegas Strip.
The club, which welcomed celebrity names like Robert DeNiro, Sharon Stone, and Joe Pesci in the mid-1990s, also hosted a number of other well-known individuals in the 1960s as the Rat Pack—Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Joey Bishop, Sammy Davis Jr., and Peter Lawford—lingered long after a match on the links.
Since the early days of gaming in the Valley, casino-golf courses have extended coast-to-coast to places like Washington, California, Hawaii, Minnesota, Wisconsin, New York, and Michigan with well-known designers at the helm, such as Tom Fazio, Donald Ross, and Paul Albanese. In this series, The Golf Explorer: Michigan’s Journal to Incredible Golf has compiled a list of a few of the casino and gaming destinations and their nearby golf courses throughout the state.
11386 West Lakeshore Drive | Brimley, Michigan
Located in the Upper Peninsula less than 20 miles west of Sault Sainte Marie, Michigan, Bay Mills Resort & Casinos is a golf and gaming destination featuring two casinos, a 143-room waterfront hotel, and an 18-hole, championship golf course along the shores of Waishkey Bay on Lake Superior. The resort not only offers more than 900 slots and video poker machines, roulette, and table games like Ultimate Texas Hold ‘Em and Blackjack, but also the Kings Club Casino, which is a Bay Mills’ Gaming Experience.
The Kings Club Casino, formerly Bay Mills Blackjack Casino, first opened its doors in July 1984 and is one of the first legal Native American casinos in the nation led by Wade Teeple, tribal chairman, and Andrew LeBlanc, general manager. The club now offers more than 280 slot machines, a full-service bar, and Chums Café—a dining venue known for its whitefish.
Bay Mills Resort & Casinos experience also extends to the fairways and greens with its 18-hole Wild Bluff Golf Course featuring championship layout and a view of the freshwater shoreline. Designed by Mike Husby and completed in 1998, the Wild Bluff Golf Course is a par-72, public course featuring five sets of tees and a yardage ranging from about 5,300 yards to nearly 7,100 yards. Its bluegrass fairways and bentgrass greens are carved into a breathtaking landscape of deep ravines, streams, and timbers on a natural bluff overlooking Waishkey Bay. The course also has a practice facility with a double-teed driving range, putting green, chipping area, and offers golf instruction under the leadership of Matthew Phipps, PGA, director of golf.
Bay Mills Resort & Casinos is owned and operated by the Bay Mills Indian Community and regulated by the Bay Mills Gaming Commission. The Bay Mills Indian Community is a sovereign, independent Tribal nation of Ojibwa or Chippewa people that was officially established in 1860 and became one of the four founding federal tribes of the Inter-Tribal Council of Michigan, Inc. in 1966. Bay Mills Resort & Casino also offers three restaurants, Sacy’s Restaurant, Back Bay Grill & Games, and The Loft; the 124-site Sunrise RV Park located across the street; and access to well-groomed snowmobile, ATV, and hiking trails in the region.
1123 129th Avenue | Wayland, Michigan
Sports betting has arrived at the Gun Lake Casino in Wayland, Michigan. Known as Stage 131 Sportsbook & Lounge, Gun Lake Casino has recently delivered a new way to bet for its patrons and guests on both professional and collegiate sports like football, basketball, racing, and boxing, among others. Stage 131 Sportsbook & Lounge offers a number of types of wagers such as single bets and over/unders, and plans to bring the sportsbook experience online in the future with BetGLC.com. The online experience will also extend to familiar gaming favorites like slots, table games, blackjack, poker, and roulette with live dealers.
While COVID-19 presented new challenges for the 2020 season, Gun Lake Casino’s Play It Safe initiative quickly adapted to the ever-changing needs of guest and employee health. Through the initiative, Plexiglass barriers and/or spacing was introduced for social distancing measures, enhanced thermal imaging systems have been put in place for scanning temperature, and new technology was secured to improve sanitation, such as the use of electrostatic sprayers. While indoor smoking is not permitted and masks are required, the Play It Safe initiative brought a new way to play table games such as with the Dynasty ETG Triple Zero Roulette, which provides personalized betting terminals to ensure a relaxed and safe environment for guests.
Located within a rich, golfing destination region in southwestern Michigan, Gun Lake Casino is located within roughly 30 miles of well-known golf courses and resorts such as the six-course, Gull Lake View Golf Club & Resort in Augusta; LYNX Golf Course in Otsego; and The Mines Golf Course and The Golf Club at Thornapple Pointe in Grand Rapids.
Gun Lake Casino is owned by the Match-E-Be-Nash-She-Wish Band of Pottawatomi Indians, which is part of the historic Three Fires Confederacy. The tribe was federally recognized in August 1999 and partnered with Station Casinos Inc. in 2003 to help manage its gaming project. The casino is operated by MPM Enterprises LLC, which is owned by an affiliate of Station Casinos and private investors from Michigan, and has since developed into a gaming destination featuring 47 table games—including Three Card Poker and Progressive Ultimate Texas Hold ‘Em—a 14-table poker room, and more than 2,000 slot machines. In 2016, the Gun Lake Tribe and Gun Lake Casino also announced and broke ground on a $76 million expansion that led to the creation of the Stage 131 entertainment lounge and the 300-seat Harvest Buffet. Gun Lake Casino also features a 225-seat Sandhill Café, bars, lounges, and live entertainment.
W 399 U.S. 2 & 41 | Harris, Michigan
Nestled along the northwestern shores of Lake Michigan near the Wisconsin border, Island Resort & Casino is a true casino-golf course destination in the Midwest. Its 18-hole, championship Sweetgrass Golf Club has not only been ranked among the Top 50 Casino Courses by Golfweek as 19th and 20th in 2019 and 2020, respectively, but also hosts the annual LPGA Symetra Tour’s Island Resort Championship, welcoming women golfers from around the world once again June 11-13, 2021.
Designed by Paul Albanese and opened in 2008, the 18-hole, championship course is in parkland style and features a signature, par-3 hole with an island green on hole No. 15. Each hole is named after traditional Potawatomi clans, villages, allies, medicines, and symbols in honor of the Hannahville Indian Community—the federally recognized Potawatomi Indian Tribe that wholly owns and operates the resort and casino—and its rich history.
Tony Mancilla, general manager of Island Resort & Casino, said the parkland-style course plays like a private golf course and offers a distinctive experience from the resort and casino’s second championship course, Sage Run. Also designed by Albanese and opened on the 10-year anniversary of Sweetgrass, Sage Run is a contrasting, sister course inspired by a trip to Royal County Down. The prairie, links-style course carves through hardwoods and features a natural drumlin or glacial ice-formed ridge as its primary feature. The 18-hole course is lined with fescue grasses and strategic bunkering.
“Sage Run is up and down the hills and it is more of a resort course,” Mancilla said. “It is a different turf, it plays different, has a lot of angles, and you have to play it smart.”
With 36-holes of championship golf—both recognized for its design and play—and its Vegas-style gaming, Island Resort & Casino brings a distinctive experience to the Upper Peninsula and Great Lakes region. Not only does the resort and casino feature an 11-story Palm Tower with roughly 326 existing guest rooms—including 14 guest suites—a 13,000-square-foot Convention Center with flexible meeting space, and a 42-site RV Park, but also a Drift Spa featuring nature-based treatments and skilled therapists for mind, body, and spirit renewal. From tranquility rooms, a co-ed sauna, separate steam rooms, and indoor saltwater pool and fitness center, to massages, salon services, and HydraFacial treatments, Drift Spa embraces the healing traditions of Native American healers and brings a refreshing, tranquil oasis within the resort and casino.
Island Resort & Casino also offers a number of dining venues, such as: 5 Bridges Steak & Seafood House, 5 Bridges Pub, Firekeeper’s Restaurant, Coral Reef Grille, Signature Subs & Pizza, T. McC’s Sports Bar, and the Coffee & Bakery Shop.
Mancilla said Island Resort & Casino is the second oldest, Tribal-owned casino in the country and since its establishment in 1985 continues to grow with the industry. Recently, the Hannahville Indian Community Tribal Council approved a nearly $33 million expansion that broke ground last year to add a new, high-end dining venue and convention space on the top floor, a waterpark, and approximately 138 hotel rooms—which should be completed in November or December 2021. Mancilla also noted the 200-seat, full-service restaurant will be very unique and the waterpark will draw new clientele to the resort that is often full most of the year—which in part prompted the expansion.
In terms of the gaming itself, Island Resort & Casino brings a breadth of play to its slot floor and poker rooms with table games like Blackjack, Craps, Spanish 21, and Three-Card Poker, as well as bingo and more than 1,200 slot machines. The casino has also teamed up with BetAmerica Sportsbook to bring a new sports betting experience to the resort. BetAmerica Sportsbook at Island Resort & Casino allows guests to bet on sports like football, hockey, baseball, and soccer from kiosks located conveniently in and outside of T. McC’s Sports Bar, or at the Island Cashier. The sports betting experience brings options like straight, parlay, teaser, live, futures, and proposition bets to the proverbial table.
“Our resort is always in top shape. We have the best games and we invest a lot into the casino in terms of gaming,” Mancilla said. “As far as a destination, there is no midwestern resort that has everything other than us and when I mean everything, I mean a big casino, large hotel, we have the spa, the championship golf courses attached, and the sports bar. We are the only resort that has everything attached.”
As the home of two, renowned championship golf courses, golfers are a familiar and frequent guest of Island Resort & Casino, which as Mancilla noted, also offers very competitive stay-and-play packages for players as well as a new option of sports betting.
“Sports betting goes hand-in-hand with golfers. By the first tee they are already figuring out what they are playing for,” Mancilla said. “What we found through analytics was when golfers stay at the resort, they like to play. Table games will triple and the bar will double. They love to drink beer and like to play games. They are a great clientele.”
2700 Orchard Highway | Manistee, Michigan
At the corner of U.S. 31 and M-22 in Manistee, Michigan, the striking silhouette of a northern lodge-inspired casino and hotel begins to take shape in respectful homage to its surrounding landscape. Materials like stone, timber, and glass are carried throughout the interior and intentional wayfinding elements draw upon tribal history, lore, and traditions. Initially launched in 1999 as a standalone casino, Little River Casino Resort has since established a resort destination that weaves the beauty of the natural landscape throughout the casino as well as beyond its doors to its outdoor courtyard featuring three fire pits.
Today, Little River Casino Resort has roughly 1,400 slot and video poker machines; dozens of table games like Poker, Blackjack, Craps, Roulette, and Mississippi Stud with limits reaching up to $5,000 for both the inaugural and veteran player; a high-limit room; and the newly launched River Rock Sportsbook & Grill in partnership with the Chicago-based Rush Street Interactive, or RSI.
“The Little River Band of Ottawa Indians has built an outstanding reputation and we are thrilled they have chosen RSI to be a part of that tradition,” said Richard Schwartz, president of RSI in a press release.
River Rock Sportsbook & Grill will feature betting windows in the restaurant as well as 12 new, 24-hour sportsbook kiosks in the dining venue and on the gaming floor. Through the partnership, Little River Casino’s retail sportsbook will offer moneyline, over/under, and point-spread wagering as well as parlay betting, teaser betting, and an online bet-slip builder allowing individuals to build bets in advance. The casino also plans to launch an Online Sportsbook & Online Casino platform in the future, known as BetRivers.com
“The successful track record of Rush Street Interactive as a provider of in-casino sportsbooks in Pennsylvania, New York, and Illinois was very significant to us when we chose them as our partner,” said Andrew Gentile, general manager of Little River Casino Resort, in a press release. “Rush Street’s ability to provide a road map of how they’ve enabled other land-based casinos to operate market-leading sportsbooks kept us from having to reinvent the wheel.”
Little River Casino Resort is owned and operated by the Little River Band of Ottawa Indians, a Native Sovereign Nation, and features a lodge-style, 292-room hotel; a 95-unit RV park; two indoor pools; an outdoor pool; a 1,600-seat event space; four conference rooms; Nectar Spa & Salon; boutique retail; and several dining venues, such as: Big Lake Buffet, Rapids Bistro, River Rock Sportsbook & Grill, and The Bar. In the wake of COVID-19, Little River Casino introduced new health and safety protocols to ensure the health and safety of guests, such as requiring masks, social distancing, and temporarily closing its buffet and space.
In 2018, the Little River Band of Ottawa Indians also acquired the nearby 18-hole golf course in Bear Lake, Michigan known as Bear Lake Highlands. The par-72 course features rolling terrain, natural ponds and timbers, and views inherent to northern Michigan.
1760 Lears Rd, Petoskey
Odawa Casino Mackinaw
1080 S Nicolet Street, Mackinaw City
1444 U.S. 131, Petoskey, Michigan
Near the shores of the Little Traverse Bay off Lake Michigan, Odawa Casino Resort and its nearby Odawa Hotel bring the thrill and glamour of Vegas-inspired gaming to the Petoskey, Michigan region. Featuring 50,000 square-feet, Odawa Casino Resort has nearly 1,000 slot machines and offers tables games like Roulette, Craps, Blackjack, Double Deck Blackjack, Ultimate Texas Hold ‘Em, and Three Card Poker—as well as high-limit games.
Odawa Casino Resort also offers dining venues such as Copper Café and Sage, which features a 16-foot tower of wines and dishes like blackened salmon served on a bed of lima beans, red and green peppers, onions and corn, and roasted potatoes; walleye fillet seasoned and sauteed in olive oil, topped with diced tomatoes, artichoke hearts and cilantro in a citrus reduction with garlic mashed potatoes; a roast prime rib of beef well-seasoned or slow roasted; and a 16-ounce bone in rib eye topped with roasted garlic demi.
Located less than a mile away from the casino, Odawa Hotel is a AAA-Diamond rated resort featuring guest rooms, suites, and amenities like an indoor pool and hot tub, and meeting rooms and banquet facilities. The hotel offers free shuttle service to Odawa Casino Resort for its guests.
Odawa Casino is also bringing sports betting to both its Petoskey and Mackinaw City locations with automated kiosks available at both sites. The sports betting will offer straight bets, parlay, futures, propositions, teaser bets, and round robin wages on a number of sports. Odawa Casino Sportsbook will also offer an on-site sportsbook in Petoskey.
Odawa Casino Resort, Odawa Hotel, and Odawa Casino Mackinaw City are owned and operated by the Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians. The Odawa Casino Mackinaw City also offers 220 slot machines and the Mukwa Bar & Grill—featuring a full-service bar and American cuisine—in addition to the new sports betting kiosks.
6800 Soaring Eagle Blvd | Mount Pleasant, Michigan
In 1998, Soaring Eagle Casino opened its doors to gaming, dining, and entertainment enthusiasts, visitors, and local residents alike at its Mt. Pleasant, Michigan location. It would only be a short two years later that the Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe, which owns and operates Soaring Eagle Casino, welcomed guests into its 516-room luxury resort hotel. The hotel, which features high-end rooms and suites, also features amenities like a 2,400-square-foot, free-form pool with nearly half-a-million glass tiles from Milan, Italy and Douglas fir ceiling and trim work.
Since then, Soaring Eagle Casino & Resort has continued to invest in its signature gaming and entertainment experience, bringing thousands of slot machines and progressives, poker, bingo, and table games—Blackjack, Craps, and Roulette, among others—to its 210,000-square-foot casino. In 2018, Soaring Eagle completed a $26.5 million investment project to integrate a new sports bar and night club known as ASCEND on the west end of the gaming floor, update the Entertainment Hall, enclose a non-smoking area, re-design the Kid’s Quest & Cyber Quest Arcade areas, enhance gaming experience with a new VIP Lounge & Poker Room, and re-brand the Central Deli & SLICE! venue.
ASCEND, which features a grand entrance with 12-foot-tall pivoting doors and a wing-shaped center bar, also has a stage for entertainers, a VIP seating area, and 59 bar-top slot machines. ASCEND will also be home to the casino’s new sports betting options and will undergo upgrades in phases to ultimately accommodate kiosks, a betting window, and additional television screens.
Soaring Eagle Casino & Resort also offers other dining options such as the Siniikaung Steak & Chop House, featuring hand-cut steaks, chops, and fresh seafood; Isabella’s, with Old World Italian-inspired cuisine; Legend’s Diner, featuring classic Americana with a contemporary twist; Aurora Buffet; Native Grind Coffee Shoppe; Little Eagle Café; and the Water Lily Lounge. Soaring Eagle Casino & Resort is also home to the Soaring Eagle Spa & Salon and nearly 70,000 square-feet of meeting space. In 2020, Soaring Eagle Casino & Resort also embarked on a multi-year, multi-phase construction and renovation project to upgrade the resort.
The gaming destination is located less than five miles from Bucks Run Golf Club in Mt. Pleasant, which features 290 acres of bentgrass, an award-winning golf course, the Putting Island, and an 18,000-square-foot clubhouse. The latter of which includes the golf shop, Quarry Grill Restaurant, patios, and a banquet facility. The course itself is an 18-hole, Jerry Matthews design featuring sculpted fairways, sand bunkers, river frontage, and natural wetlands.
7741 M-72 East | Williamsburg, Michigan
Turtle Creek Casino & Hotel, a well-known destination and sister property of the Grand Traverse Resort & Spa near Traverse City, Michigan, officially welcomed sports betting to its 74,000-square-foot casino and six-story hotel striking footprint with a grand opening ceremony in September 2020—and a ceremonial first bet placed by Rick Mahorn, NBA All-Star. The event, which celebrated Grand Traverse Resort & Casinos’ partnership with William Hill US, a Las Vegas-based leader in the race and sports book industry, marked the launch not only of Onyx Sports Book by William Hill at Turtle Creek Casino & Hotel, but also its satellite location at Leelanau Sands Casino in Peshawbestown.
“I’m excited to bring sports betting to northern Michigan. I am also excited we are able to create another revenue stream for our company and I am excited for our loyal guests, who will get to experience sports betting,” said Jonathon Idek, manager of Onyx Sports Book by William Hill.
“We are partnering with one of the biggest sports betting companies in the world—William Hill—and we are pretty excited about that. It is going to be a great partnership for years to come with a really well-known brand,” Idek added.
Located on the third floor off the atrium at Turtle Creek Casino & Hotel, Onyx Sports Book by William Hill features two ticket windows, two on-site kiosks as well as additional self-serve kiosks throughout the casino floor, more than 20 high-definition televisions, a full-service bar, complimentary games like billiards and bag toss, and an outdoor patio. The casino also plans to update the adjacent lounge area from Onyx Sports Book complete with a stadium-inspired concession stand to provide a true game-day experience on-site. This latest addition to the Turtle Creek Casino & Hotel gaming portfolio provides retail sports betting on sports like football, basketball, and baseball, among others, and Idek said the design and feel of the venue itself is meant to capture the essence of a sports bar vibe.
“I think it is about the experience, basically,” Idek said. “I think the industry is going toward the experience and that way of where people want to come in with a group, watch the game, have a couple beers, and eat some wings.”
Onyx Sports Book by William Hill at Turtle Creek will also feature daily food and drink specials, and featured events like the weekly Saturday and Sunday Football Watch Party within the contemporary-inspired space among the leather chairs, wood-inspired materials, and oversized, half-globe ceiling fixtures.
“We offer wagering on all sports and we also have a ‘how-to-bet’ pamphlet for anybody who is unsure of how to bet or intimidated,” Idek said. “We can help anyone who wants to come in and learn how to wager on sports.”
Michael Schrader, chief executive officer of Grand Traverse Resort & Casinos, also noted the staff is trained to assist customers with getting their bets down and is excited to align with William Hill US as the best in the business.
“That’s always what we strive to give our guests,” stated Schrader in a press release. “We want to provide the best destination for sports betting in the state and with William Hill as our partner, that’s a bet we’re happy to take. When Michigan regulations are permitted, we will be able to offer the best in online gaming and betting as well.”
Mobile sports betting and iCasino is expected to join the Onyx Sports Book by William Hill location at Turtle Creek and its satellite location at Leelanau Sands pending regulatory approvals and is part of a long-term partnership with the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians, which owns and operates Grand Traverse Resort & Casinos, and William Hill US.
“This is just the beginning of our partnership with the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians, with plans to launch mobile sports betting and iCasino gaming throughout Michigan as soon as permitted,” said Dan Shapiro, vice president of Strategy & Business Development for William Hill, in a press release. “We know the Onyx Sports Book by William Bill will be the new game-day location for sports fans in northern Michigan.”
Located about 10 miles from downtown Traverse City, Turtle Creek Casino & Hotel features about 54,000 square-feet of gaming floor with more than 1,000 slot machines and roughly 28 table games such as Blackjack, Roulette, and Craps. The casino also has a private, high-limit room; an underground VIP parking complete with car wash; fitness center; and two additional dining venues: The Deli and classic steakhouse-inspired Bourbons 72, which evokes a bygone era of jazz and luxury as it delivers an experience as lavish as its menu. Turtle Creek also features a six-story, contemporary-inspired hotel that not only integrates natural-inspired elements, dissolving boundaries between landscapes within its 130 guest rooms, 10 suites, and two hospitality parlors, but also has a Native American Cultural Corridor Display, a 4,000-square-foot ballroom, a 550-square-foot conference room, and 12 Champion Norway Maple Trees.
Turtle Creek Casino & Hotel also offers a complimentary shuttle to its sister property, Grand Traverse Resort and Spa, which is located less than five miles to the west of the gaming and entertainment destination. The 900-acre property of Grand Traverse Resort and Spa features three, 18-hole championship golf courses—The Bear by Jack Nicklaus, The Wolverine by Gary Player, and Spruce Run by William Newcomb—dining venues like Aerie Restaurant & Lounge, a 100,000-square-foot indoor-outdoor Health Club, tennis courts, and Spa Grand Traverse: the full-service, 7,000-square-foot resort spa and salon focused on de-stressing, detoxifying, and rebalancing the mind, body, and spirit.
Featured Turtle Creek Casino and Hotel