Great Lakes: The Country’s Summer Golf Capital

Great Lakes

Great Lakes Whistling Straits
The 7th hole at Whistling Straits

Most golfers are slowly becoming aware of what is now one of America’s finest golfing venues: the Great Lakes, particularly Michigan and Wisconsin. In recent years, some of the most celebrated new courses in America opened in this region. The varied topography — everything from sand dunes to abandoned stone quarries  combined with perfect soils and abundant water — have made the area an ideal place for building exciting golf courses.

The result is a collection of high-end resort courses, the caliber of which can compete with any golf destination in America. You’ve probably heard of Michigan’s Bay Harbor and of Wisconsin’s Whistling Straits, but there really is a whole lot more.

Northern Michigan has long been the summer-time playground of the rich the famous. Ernest Hemingway, Walter Hagen, Tom Watson and former Augusta National and Masters Chairman Hord Hardin loved to visit the quaint towns of Petoskey, Harbor Springs, Boyne City, Charlevoix and Traverse City. Needless to say, golf courses were developed to accommodate them.

But here golf is not just for the wealthy. Michigan is known for having the most public golf courses per capita of any state and the tradition of public play goes deep. As a result, almost all of northern Michigan and Wisconsin resort courses are open for public play and at rates much below those in other resort areas.

Fall TreetopsAs a result, golfers from all over the eastern seaboard and the Midwest now come to Michigan and Wisconsin to play summer golf. From April through October, these courses are busy from early until late–very late, as in mid-summer the sun does not set until after 10 p.m.

The list of golf resorts is impressive: Bay Harbor Golf Club, Boyne USA, Garland, Treetops, Shanty Creek and Grand Traverse Resort all boast multiple golf courses, for every golfing level.

And vacationers don’t just come for golf, although there is plenty of it. They come to enjoy the shores of the Great Lakes (much of both states are surrounded by water), or to fish in the little lakes and streams, or to climb the sand dunes, or hike through the woods, or bike one of the state’s great trails.

Another big lure for northern Michigan is Mackinac Island, one of America’s most popular summer destinations. Once you arrive by ferry you go back to a time to when people traveled only by horse and bicycle (no motorized vehicles are allowed). It is a charming and magical. No fear, there is golf on Mackinac, as well.

All of this is why Michigan and Wisconsin are perfect for all types of golfers: the play-all-day golfing groups, golfing couples who want fine dining and superb accommodations and golfing families who want something to entertain everyone.

While midsummer is high season for Midwest golf, spring and fall are also excellent times to hit the links. Prices are even more favorable and the many hues of fall foliage on the hardwood trees are simply fabulous to behold.

Of course, there is wildlife, too. You rarely play a round without encountering nesting eagles, swift white-tailed deer, flocks of turkeys, rambunctious red-tailed squirrels and even a crafty fox or two. These courses have them all.

What To Bring & When To Go

What To Bring
Proper gear is crucial to enjoying a golf vacation, and in the Great Lakes region, this is particularly true. Known for brisk autumns and hot summers, the area requires golfers to keep warm or cool depending on the season.

When it comes to golf balls, the thing to remember when traveling to the Great Lakes area is to bring plenty of them. And since you’ll probably need more than a few pellets to make it through your trip, it’s best to choose a model that goes far, feels good and is reasonably priced.

When To Go
The best time to visit the Great Lakes region is from May 15 to September 15, although play may begin in mid-April and extend through mid-October. The best weather can be found in June through August, although September offers some of the prettiest golf
found anywhere.

How To Get There
There are many routes to arrive in the Summer Golf Capital. The part of Michigan featured in this story is in the northern Lower Peninsula, located approximately 3.5 hours driving time north of Detroit. The area is served by several airlines, each of which offers flights into the hub of Traverse City:

American Airlines (
Northwest Airlines (
United Air Lines (

Kohler is located two and a half hours north of Chicago’s O’Hare Airport and one hour north of Milwaukee. It’s also accessible from the Madison and Green Bay airports. Grand Geneva Resort is less than a 90-minute drive from Chicago and an hour’s drive from Milwaukee. Private planes can fly into Traverse City, Gaylord, Harbor Springs, Pellston and Sheboygan County (Kohler), and into the following resorts: Boyne Mountain, Garland and Grand Geneva Resort.

More Information

Gaylord, Mich. Golf Information

Official Michigan Travel Site

Official Wisconsin Travel Site

Petosky, Harbor Springs, Boyne Country Visitor’s Bureau

Kohler, Wisc. Visitor’s Site


Arcadia Bluffs Golf Club
Great Lakes Arcadia Bluffs Golf Club

The dynamic course is built on the bluffs above the shore of Lake Michigan and sits on approximately 245 windswept acres of lakefront property. The course drops 225 feet from its highest point down to the bluff, 180 feet above sea level,

and has 3,100 feet of Lake Michigan shore frontage.
Par 72, 7300 yards

(800) 494-8666

Bay Harbor Golf Club
Great Lakes Bay Harbor

Bay Harbor, MI
Bay Harbor’s Links nine flows along the bluffs above Little Traverse Bay. The Quarry nine cuts through sand dunes and onto the floor of a giant rock quarry carved out by a cement company that once occupied the site. The Preserve nine runs through much water and a hardwood forest. Bay Harbor is an awesome golf experience. (Arthur Hills)

(800) GO-BOYNE

Black Forest Golf Club
Mancelona, MI
Great Lakes Black Forest Golf Club

Anyone lucky enough to have seen or played Tom Doak’s magnificent design of the Pacific Dunes Course in Bandon, Ore., will certainly want to play Black Forest. Black Forest is a tour de force through rolling land and hills covered wi

th a thick variety of pine and other hardwood trees. The greens here will get your attention with some of the most severe undulations this side of the Masters. The shaggy, deep white bunkers are works of art.
Par 73, 7044 yards (Tom Doak)

(231) 585-7090

Black Lake Golf Club
Onaway, MI
Great Lakes Black Lake Golf Club

The Black Lake Golf Club is owned and operated by the United Auto Workers (UAW) at its Black Lake retreat near Onaway. It has won a number of awards, and many critics agree that this course is one of the best designs Rees Jones has created.
Par 72, 7046 yards (74.3/140) (Rees Jones)

(866) UAW-GOLF

Forest Dunes Golf Club
Roscommon, MI
Great Lakes Forest Dunes Golf Club

Designed by Tom Weiskopf, Forest Dunes is a treat for any golf purist. Forest Dunes is reminiscent of Pine Valley or Weiskopf’s Arizona courses, with natural sand dunes highlighted by native grasses, flora and century-old jack pines. The latest addition is Tom Doak’s unique reversible course.
Par 72, 7104 yards (Tom Wesikopf)

(989) 275-0700

Shanty Creek Resort–Cedar River Golf Club
Bellaire, MI
Cedar River

Tom Weiskopf’s first design in Michigan. Named to the “Top 10 You Can Play” list in 2000, Cedar River features wide landing areas, huge bunkers and large approachable greens.
Par 72, 6989 yards (73.6/144) (Tom Weiskopf)

(800) 678-4111

Shanty Creek Resort–The Legend Course
Bellaire, MI
The Legend

The Legend layout is consistently rated one of the state’s most popular courses. The Legend is cut through the rolling hills of Northern Michigan and offers stunning views of Lake Bellaire.
(Arnold Palmer)

(800) 678-4111

Treetops Resort–Jones Masterpiece
Treetops Village, MI
Jones Masterpiece

The Masterpiece course features dramatic elevation changes, a wide diversity of design and breathtaking views of the Pigeon River Valley. The view from the par-3 sixth hole inspired architect Robert Trent Jones, Sr. to coin the name “Treetops.”
Par 72, 7060 yards (75.5/144) (Robert Trent Jones, Sr.)




Whistling Straits–Irish Course
Kohler, WI
Irish Course

The Irish Course continues the same theme as the Straits Course, but inland. Large greens, wide fairways, and four meandering streams, along with the rugged waste and fescue areas will give golfers of all levels a challenge.
Par 72, 7201 yards (75.6/146) (Pete Dye)

(866) 847-4856

Whistling Straits–Straits Course
Kohler, WI
Straits Course

Kohler Resort offers four great courses, but this is the best. The Straits Course was sculpted by Pete Dye to give golfers a rendition of Ireland and Scotland along two miles of Lake Michigan shoreline. With lake views on most of the holes, tough greens, waste areas, pot bunkers and rugged fescue areas, the Straits is one of the most spectacular courses found anywhere (host to the 2004 PGA Championship. Walking only, caddies required (most are from Ireland!).
Par 72, 7362 yards (76.7/151) (Pete Dye)

(866) 847-4856

Great Lakes Must-Plays
Blackwolf Run–River Course
Blackwolf Run

The River Course is a commanding layout that offers a dynamic golf challenge with sweeping panoramic views of the Sheboygan River valley. A glacier carved the original site, sculpting river valleys with deep ravines, meadow plains, gentle rolling hills and abundant lakes. Its sister course, Meadow Valleys, is also well worth playing.
Par 72, 6991 yards (74.4/148) (Pete Dye)

(866) 847-4856

The Bull at Pinehurst Farms
Sheboygan Falls, WI
The Bull

It takes guts to build a new golf course just a few miles down the road from Whistling Straits, but Jack Nicklaus didn’t hesitate. The fact that The Bull is a Nicklaus Signature Course–the only one in Wisconsin–speaks volumes about its quality. The owners basically gave Nicklaus a 418-acre expanse and said, “You find the best course on it.”
Par 72, 7332 yards (76.4/146) (Jack Nicklaus)

(800) 5-THE-BULL

Boyne Highlands Resort–The Donald Ross Memorial
Boyne, MI
The Donald Ross Memorial

The Ross is a collection of famous Ross holes from clubs around the country. Do not look at these holes as replicas, but rather a clever rendition of Ross holes complete with a good routing. A fun golf experience.
Par 72, 6814 yards (75.5/136)

(800) GO-BOYNE

Boyne Highlands Resort–Heather Course
Boyne, MI
Heather Course

The Heather is a classic design that pioneered the start of the northern Michigan golf boom in the 1970s. It remains one of the most impressive courses in the Midwest.
Par 72, 6890 yards (74.0/136) (Robert Trent Jones, Sr.)

(800) GO-BOYNE

Boyne Highlands Resort–The Hills Course
Boyne, MI
Hills Course


The massive, heavily wooded Hills course is named after its designer Arthur Hills. The routing combines waste areas, hardwoods and strong elevation changes. The 13th tee offers a 25-mile view.
Par 73, 7312 yards (76.4/144) (Arthur Hills)

(800) GO-BOYNE

Garland Resort–Swampfire
Lewiston, MI

It’s water, water everywhere on Swampfire. Golfers will find wet hazards on 16 holes. The fun starts on No. 2, a 553-yard par-5 with water dangerously lurking along the entire left side to the green.
Par 72, 6854 yards (73.9/138) (Ron Otto)



Must-Plays (cont.)
Grand Traverse Resort–The Bear
Traverse City, MI
The Bear

One of Jack Nicklaus’ early designs, The Bear is almost universally regarded as the toughest course in the state. This links-style course features Scottish terraced fairways, tiered greens, deep grassy roughs, moguls, mounds and deep pot bunkers.
Par 72, 7065 yards (76.8/146) (Jack Nicklaus)

(800) 236-1577

Grand Traverse Resort–Wolverine
Traverse City, MI
Water and wetlands on the front and highland terrain with forests on the back mark this beautiful and challenging course.
Par 72, 7038 yards (73.9/144) (Gary Player)(800) 236-1577

Treetops Resort–Fazio Premier
Treetops Village, MI
Fazio Premier

The Fazio Premier blends in perfectly with the undulating terrain in northern Michigan. The only Tom Fazio-designed course in Michigan, it has been described as user-friendly because many of its wide fairways feed the ball back to the center. It’s also considered to be one of the best collections of short par-4s on one course anywhere.
Par 72, 6832 yards (73.6/136) (Tom Fazio)


Treetops Resort–Smith Signature
Treetops Village, MI
The Smith Signature

Designed by the teaching guru Rick Smith (who is the managing partner at Treetops), this course combines northern Michigan terrain with some unique design features from Ireland. The stunning layout travels up and down, and its elevated greens offer views of up to 30 miles.
Par 72, 6653 yards (72.8/140) (Rick Smith)


Treetops Resort–Tradition
Treetops Village, MI

Although Tradition is the most recent addition to the Treetops rota of courses, its gently rolling layout instills the sense it’s been there for decades. Designed by the teaching guru Rick Smith (who is the managing partner at Treetops), this course combines northern Michigan terrain with some unique design features from Ireland. The stunning layout travels up and down, and its elevated greens offer views of up to 30 miles.
Par 72, 6467 yards (70.3/122) (Rick Smith)




Where To Stay:
Northern Michigan
The Inn at Bay Harbor
On the Lake Michigan shoreline, west of Petoskey, the Inn at Bay Harbor, A Renaissance Golf Resort is a luxurious property now affiliated with Marriott’s luxury division. The Victorian-style condominium hotel borrows its elegant style from San Diego’s Hotel Del Coronado. It has 152 units, two restaurants and a lovely spa. Guests may play any of Boyne USA’s 153 holes in the area. Rates range from $129 to $1,300.
(800) GO-BOYNE
The Lodge at Cedar River
The Lodge at Cedar River at Shanty Creek Resort features 84 elegant suites. Picture windows on every floor of the four-story building giving clear views of the18th green of the Cedar River course. The golf shop and Weiskopf’s Grill are conveniently located in the lower level of the Lodge. Rates range from $90 to $270.
(800) 678-4111
Garland Resort
Garland resort near Lewiston is the only AAA Four-Diamond property in northern Michigan. The impressive main lodge is the largest log lodge east of the Mississippi River. Complementing the beautiful lodge is a collection of charming cabins and golf villas. Four golf courses are just outside your door.
(877) 4-GARLAND

Boyne Highlands
Variety is the key here. The main lodge has the feel of an old English manor house and is located across from the Heather golf course. On a slightly more intimate scale, the Bartley House provides a traditional setting of fieldstone and wood accents. Pleasantly secluded, the Bartley House is the home of the Midwest’s largest hot tub. There are also the Donald Ross golf villas. Rates range from $67 to $244.
(800) GO-BOYNE
Homestead Resort
Located on the Leelanau peninsula, The Homestead calls itself “America’s Freshwater Resort.” It is located right on Lake Michigan, next to the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. The property has several lodges, as well as condos and houses for rent. The Inn operates as a luxurious bed and breakfast, while the Stony Brook Lodge is located right next to the Dave Pelz Golf School. There is also is a clever nine-hole par-3 course on the property. Just eight miles away is King’s Challenge, a lovely design by Arnold Palmer. Rates range from $86 to $272.
(231) 334-5100
Grand Traverse Resort
The largest resort in northern Michigan, Grand Traverse boasts 238 hotel rooms, another 186 rooms in its 17-story glass tower and 236 condominiums. It has a beach club, shops, a large health club and a spa. It is home to the Jim McLean Golf Academy and three golf courses. Rates begin at $139 per night.
(800) 236-1577

Treetops Resort
The renovated lodge features an expanded lobby with a fireplace and cozy furniture, a gathering space with a large television and an area for children. There are also a number of houses and condo available for rental. There are two golf courses on the main site, and three others just a few miles away at Treetops North where the Rick Smith Golf Academy is also located. Rates for lodge rooms begin at $129.

Where To Stay:

The American Club
The historic American Club, in the village of Kohler, is the Midwest’s only AAA Five-Diamond resort hotel. One fun thing is that all of the bathrooms are furnished with the latest in Kohler fixtures. The hotel is part of a much larger complex. There is great spa (Kohler is in the plumbing business, remember) fitness center, several restaurants and, of course, the famous Kohler golf courses. The Blackwolf Run complex is near the hotel. Whistling Straits is about ten miles away.
Rates range from $147 to $790.
(800) 344-2838, ext. 700
The Inn on Woodlake
The more economical choice in the village of Kohler, The Inn on Woodlake overlooks an 11-acre spring-fed lake with a private beach and putting green. This 121-room hotel combines tasteful accommodations with a relaxed atmosphere.
Rates range from $155-$327.
(800) 919-3600


Although the lure of the links pulls strong in the Great Lakes, there’s much more to do than play golf. Check out some of the more popular nongolf activities the area has to offer. Of course, the Great Lakes offers some of the best hiking, biking and fishing in the world.

Local Knowledge

433 East Mitchell Street, Petoskey (231) 348-7577
Walk right in and explore your creative side! Paint your own pottery and have fun with kid’s crafts, too! This is a great place for “tweens” and kids of all ages. No appointment necessary.

Petoskey (231) 347-6225
Historic Victorian community of nearly 500 public and private buildings is on the National Register of Historic Places. It offers light classical music concerts, recreational programs, lectures and recitals. Call for pricing & schedules.

518 West Townline, Harbor Springs (231) 526-2868
Situated on 350 acres, this Equestrian Center has everything the horse lover could want! Scenic guided trail rides are offered ($45.00 for adults; $35.00 for children – must be 10 years or older to ride). Lessons may also be arranged. Carriage rides, hay rides and sleigh rides available seasonally. Call in advance for pricing and reservations.

This unique 38-mile passa

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