Text: Brenna Buckwald // Photography: Brian Walters Photography, Gaylord Area Convention & Tourism Bureau
PART I of III
Remote work combined with indoor restrictions has led to a great number of people trying new hobbies and expanding their leisure time outdoors. It has also resulted in more individuals picking up a golf club for the very first time alongside those reuniting with the sport or simply using their free time to play and grow their enthusiasm for golf as both a competitive sport and recreational activity.
The Golf Explorer: Michigan’s Journal to Incredible Golf Magazine has assembled a list of golf courses around Michigan, for both the beginner and experienced golfer alike to help them discover new ways to enjoy the game or simply reconnect with an old favorite.
Gaylord Golf Mecca
GREATER GAYLORD, MICHIGAN REGION
Just off Interstate-75, a collection of 17 golf courses and 21 lodging facilities awaits in the heart of the Northern Lower Peninsula, all within approximately a 45-minute radius. These facilities form the Gaylord Golf Mecca, a collection of courses and lodging that together, create the ideal golfing destination for those hoping to experience a variety of courses within one region.
“For such a small region, I would say we have the highest concentration of quality golf courses of any community literally in the United States,” said Paul Beachnau, executive director of the Gaylord Area Convention and Tourism Bureau.
“We are renowned for having a wide variety of terrain; we have the highest elevation in the lower peninsula. The views from all our courses are pretty spectacular,” Beachnau added.
The member courses in the Gaylord Golf Mecca are all public, 18-hole courses. The different golf clubs and resorts comprising the Gaylord Golf Mecca are Treetops Resort, The Natural at Beaver Creek Resort, Otsego Resort, Michaywé Pines Golf Course, Lakes of the North Golf Course, Indian River Golf Club, Gaylord Golf Club, Garland Lodge and Golf Resort, and Black Lake Golf Club.
“What makes Black Lake Golf Club so special is that it is carved out of northern Michigan woods, and there is no development on the golf course. It is just pure golf, the way nature intended golf to be played,” said Nick Aune, general manager of UAW Black Lake Conference Center and Black Lake Golf Club.
Due to its woodsy environment, people golfing at Black Lake Golf Club will often see wildlife on the course, such as deer and turkey milling around. As a warmup or wind down to playing the Rees Jones 18-hole design, groups can also enjoy the walking nine-hole, par-3 course that Black Lake offers.
“We are the headwaters for five major river systems, so all our courses have these really unique, interesting terrain that makes them really fun,” Beachnau said.
“If you are just starting to play, or you are fairly new and learning, Michaywé Pines Course, the Gaylord Country Club, Lakes of the North, and The Classic golf course at Otsego Resort would all be really fun courses that won’t make you hate the game. They all have forward tees so you can shorten them a bit,” Beachnau added.
The Gaylord Golf Mecca encompasses a variety of levels of difficulty, so both beginner and practiced golfers will find a course to play that will match their experience. Beachnau recommended pairing a more leisurely course with a more challenging course to create a rounded day of golf. The combination allows groups to put their skills to the test during the morning hours and then finish the day with a less demanding game, so they can socialize more and focus less on strategy. One of the benefits of golfing at the Gaylord Golf Mecca is all the courses are within driving distance, making it easy to combine different courses into one day’s activities.
“The Premier at Treetops Resort is the only Tom Fazio design in the Midwest, and it is just a really fun, scenic, playable golf course,” Beachnau said. “I love The Tribute at Otsego Resort; I think it doesn’t get enough recognition for what a high-quality course it is. It is in and around Sturgeon River Valley, so it has got these views that are just phenomenal, and there are various places where water literally just comes out of the ground to start the Sturgeon River.”
There are many lodging facilities that are partners of Gaylord Golf Mecca when it comes to booking a stay-and-play package. Through Gaylord Golf Mecca’s website, people can browse the different package deals that vary with member lodging facilities and member courses, choosing a package that allows them to play as many rounds as they’d like and stay in Gaylord for however long they choose.
Beachnau indicated that the mecca has seen record purchases of golf equipment within the past year or so, which is a good sign that people intend to return to the sport in upcoming seasons. When golfing in Gaylord, people not only have a choice between 17 different golf courses to play, but also are close to the area’s other northern Michigan activities, offering many entertainments for their downtime.
Forest Dunes Golf Club
6376 FOREST DUNES DR | ROSCOMMON, MICHIGAN
“More than anything, it is about the experience. We are a true getaway located within the Huron National Forest and like any good golf course, it is off the beaten path and away from a lot of the distractions of life. It is about enjoying our high-quality courses with the group of people that you’re with,” said Don Helinski, director of operations at Forest Dunes Golf Club.
Home to three championship-level courses, a putting course, and a 10-hole short course, Forest Dunes offers a variety of golf experiences paired with an overnight stay in one of their three lodging options.
First opened in 2002, the Forest Dunes course, designed by British Open Champion Tom Weiskopf, is highlighted by wide open meadows, hardwoods, rugged native dunes, scruffy sand areas, and water features. Two distinct nines provide their fair challenges—the front nine features parkland-style holes that wander through passages of red and jack pines, a path punctuated by elaborate bunkering and sandy waste areas on the sidelines. The back nine, however, features exposed native sand areas, scruffy underbrush, and is bordered by fairways and greens.
Measuring just 302-yards, the 17th hole on Forest Dunes course is a Tom Weiskopf trademark. The short par-four hole is high-risk, high-reward, flowing through dramatic native sand dunes and framed with fescue grasses, and offers several ways to be challenged. Helinski noted that trying to hit the ball onto the green runs the risk of putting it right in the bunker that nearly lines the entire left side of the fairway.
“Another unique aspect of the Forest Dunes course is the 19th ‘bye’ hole, which is kind of a Scottish tradition to settle bets. It is spelled B-Y-E, as in waving goodbye, but our joke is we like to call it the ‘buy hole, B-U-Y,’ as in who buys the drinks, because a lot of times people will have a closest-to-the-pin contest or something fun even if they’re not playing a match,” Helinski said.
“That hole is just a hundred-yard-shot over water, but there is a bunker right in the middle of the green that makes it interesting as well, so that is kind of a feature that a lot of people don’t see either. It is a 19th extra bonus hole for you to play at the end of your rounds,” Helinski added.
A two-in-one course, The Loop is a Tom Doak design that opened in 2016. This course has two routes available to play: the Red routing, which plays counter-clockwise around The Loop, and the Black routing, which plays clockwise. On even calendar days, the course follows the Red routing, and on odd calendar days, the Black route is available to play, offering two entirely different courses on back-to-back days for golfers staying at Forest Dunes.
“What makes The Loop unique is that it is more of an English Heathland style of course. It is very fast and firm and more brown than it is green. You will get a lot of extra rolls on your drives; when you’re approaching the greens you don’t want to fire right at the pins, you want to land it in front of the green and have it roll on,” Helinski said. “It is very similar to the experience that most of us are used to seeing when watching the British Open on TV. It is a different style of play and something you need to get used to.”
In 2018, Forest Dunes reopened the HillTop Putting Course, a feature of the original Forest Dunes development that had been closed for about nine years. HillTop is free to play for anyone, even those who aren’t golfing at Forest Dunes or staying onsite. Booked tee times are not required to play this course, although large groups may reserve HillTop for exclusive, special events through tournament services for an additional fee.
The most recent addition to Forest Dunes Golf Club, The Bootlegger, is a 10-hole short course that sits atop a hill between The Loop and Forest Dunes courses. The pavilion at Forest Dunes has been renamed Bootlegger Bar after the short course and is situated next to its first tee—the perfect place to grab a drink before or after heading out for a friendly competition.
“The Bootlegger is a really relaxed experience that throws out some of the old norms of golf,” Helinski said. “We allow groups of up to 12 to play together, there is music playing throughout, and rather than concentrating on our score it is more about playing different games and competitive contests with that larger group of people that you’re with.”
Helinski indicated that it only takes about an hour to play The Bootlegger on a regular day, but if the club isn’t as busy and someone is playing alone, they may be able to play the ten-hole course in about half-an-hour.
“Being in the middle of nowhere, you want to stay right onsite and be with us under the bowl of stars at night, and not have to worry about driving anywhere. We’ve got three different types of accommodations depending on what your group is looking for,” Helinski said.
The three lodging options at Forest Dunes include full home rentals available in a variety of areas around the property, villas positioned centrally near the clubhouse, and a quaint lodge with standard hotel-style rooms.
“2020 and 2021 have been our best two years in history, and 2022 is shaping up to surpass both of those years with the number of bookings that we’ve had this off-season,” Helinski said. “We’re looking forward to the season and, like most of the other resort courses throughout Michigan and particularly Northern Michigan, we are all expecting a tremendous year again and looking forward to it.”
Originally published in The Golf Explorer: Michigan’s Journal to Incredible Golf, Volume 6