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Grand Traverse Resort

Traverse City is the Taj Mahal of Michigan Golf

17 Championship Tracks Found Near Michigan's Northwest Coast

By Glen Turk

I have found that the older I get the less my opinions seem to matter. And if I ever need someone to second that motion, my wife is more than happy to oblige. But there is one area even she believes I have some expertise in and that's picking out thrilling golf destinations. Less than two years ago we drove to the Port of Milwaukee and embarked on a 2 1/2 hour high-speed ferry ride to Muskegon, MI. From there we enjoyed a relaxing 2 1/2 hour car ride to our destination of choice - Traverse City, Michigan.

Dubbed "The Pebble Beach of The Midwest" by numerous golf pundits, Traverse City, Michigan is home to a four county area spread over 60 miles that feature no less than 17 championship golf courses. Combine that with four prestigious resorts and countless non-golf diversions, and is it any wonder why Traverse City is on our have-to-get-back-to list for 2012. Below is a summary of the key properties within the Traverse City area. It is highly debatable which property is the Taj Mahal of Traverse, so we'll do this list alphabetically.

A-Ga-Ming Golf Resort - Kewadin, Michigan

Let's get the number-one asked question about A-Ga-Ming Golf Resort out of the way first - "What exactly does A-Ga-Ming mean?" According to co-owner Mike Brown, A-Ga-Ming is a Native American Indian phrase that stands for "on the water" or "on the shore." Now that that's cleared up, it's important to recount A-Ga-Ming's very prosperous history. When Mike and head golf professional Larry Lavely purchased A-Ga-Ming in 1996 it was only a stand-alone 18 hole golf course with beautiful views of nearby Torch Lake. Now, only 16 years later, the complex features three championship courses, a resort that can accommodate up to 170 golfers, and indoor and outdoor dining options.

As mentioned before, A-Ga-Ming Golf Resort houses 54 holes of great golf, divided into three 18's - the Torch Course, the Sundance Course, and the Antrim Dells Course. The three courses are quite different, as Sundance is a links style course with 118 bunkers throughout juxtaposed with super wide fairways. Sundance, which opened in 2005, was rated the 3rd best new course in the country by Golf Digest. The Torch is more of a typical Northern Michigan course, as the 6530 yard track is hilly and cut through the trees with water coming into play on half the holes. Antrim Dells is 10 miles north of the other two courses and is the tale of two nines - parkland on the front nine and wooded on the back. While there, make sure to appreciate the thrilling view of Lake Michigan from their clubhouse just off the 18th hole.

Grand Traverse Resort and Spa - Acme, Michigan

With three championship courses and a 17-story tower that can be seen for miles, Grand Traverse Resort and Spa is truly an impressive site to behold. The 900 acre property features three distinctive layouts designed by Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player, and William Newcomb. The Bear by Jack Nicklaus is the hallmark course on site highlighted by hardwood tree-lined fairways and wide open, links-style vistas on others. The par 72, 7078 yard track is loaded with trouble throughout; especially surrounding the greens, with player's being forced to hit many all-carry shots to well-protected putting surfaces.

Gary Player's The Wolverine, is much more playable and a great complement to The Bear. Player's design strategy is evident from the start, as the par 72, 7043 yard layout offers very wide and forgiving fairways, along with an opportunity to run the ball up and onto the greens. Gary's credo is to create a very enjoyable experience for golfers of all skill levels and its mission accomplished at The Wolverine. Spruce Run is the most mature of the three courses and is sneaky difficult, but often overlooked. The par 70, 6304 yard layout is much tighter off the tee than the other two courses, as the William Newcomb course requires a more accurate tee shot on several of the holes, especially on the outward nine.

And on top of that, Grand Traverse Resort and Spa has nearly 600 rooms with a variety of lodging options, along with multiple dining choices including three full-service restaurants on-property. The Turtle Creek Casino is just five minutes away with complimentary shuttles to and from the resort. When it's all said and done their aren't too many Midwestern properties where you don't need to leave your little world for that much-needed long weekend getaway.

Hawk's Eye & The Chief Golf Resort - Bellaire, Michigan

These sure are heady times at Hawk's Eye and The Chief golf courses, sister venues that combine to form Hawk's Eye Golf Resort. First of all, The Chief was just sold to restaurateur Chris Corbett, the owner of the Blue Pelican in Central Lake. Chris' first order of business is to turn the entire top floor of their existing clubhouse into a sports bar dubbed the "Pelican's Nest." As for Hawk's Eye, Jay Stanula has just been named the new Director of Golf Operations. Under his direction, Hawk's Eye will introduce its first-ever season memberships that start as low as $199. Also, Hawk's Eye is proud to announce their first ever public league. Two Wednesday leagues (one for retired and one for working golfers) are already forming for those looking to play two great courses on a weekly basis.

I had the chance to ask Jay Stanula the subtle differences between the two properties on site. "The Hawk's Eye and Chief Golf Course are very similar as they are maintained to the best of standards," explained Stanula. "They differ though from a playability standpoint; The Chief is designed for lower handicappers and placement shots. Hawk's Eye is a course ready for all types of players. The back tees (which measure out at a robust 7011 yards) provide an excellent challenge for the low handicappers while the white tees (6341 yards) provide a great round of golf for the average golfer with its wide fairways and huge greens," concluded Stanula.

The LeeLannau Club at Bahle Farms - Suttons Bay, Michigan

In the late 90s, Karl and Rich Bahle joined with a small group of partners to create a unique daily fee golf course on a tract of land they already owned. This was done with the vision of providing the owners and the community with a long-term asset by bringing quality, affordable, public golf to the Traverse City area. To this day LeeLannau Club at Bahle Farms still holds true to those ideals. When I asked co-owner Karl Bahle to discuss the most common comments he hears from patrons who have just played the course, his answer was all about the land. "We get tons of remarks on how pretty the course is with views from the high vistas out over meadows, orchards, and Lake Michigan. Everyone also comments that the greens are very good and the course is more challenging than they expected. For that reason we receive a lot of repeat play as we also provide such a great value," concluded Bahle.

2012 will be an exciting year for The Leelannua Club at Bahle Farms, as they are in the process of hiring a new pro and general manager who they expect to bring a wealth of new ideas and opportunities to explore. They are finishing up the completion of their expanded forward and senior tee program, while also looking to expand their driving range to include grass tees and bunkers. (Editor's Note - The view off the 11th tee is reason enough to give Bahle Farms a try - that and the chance to play two holes that are cut through working cherry orchards will definitely make your round complete!)

LochenHeath Golf Club - Willamsburg, Michigan

The enjoyment of playing a once-private golf course for the first time is always a thrill, especially when the course is as gorgeous as LochenHeath Golf Club. In order to complete a seamless transition, LochenHeath employed Michigan golf fixture Mike Husby, who is a remarkable designer in his own right with credits such as Wild Bluff and The Loon GC's. "LochenHeath is a dream come true for me. To restore such a wonderful property and then to sit back and listen to the overwhelming positive comments from the players made 2011 a very special year. As we move forward, I look to continuing the momentum that has been created. We will be making modifications to the course to increase player enjoyment and that is exciting," concluded Husby.

LochenHeath is filled with stunning golf holes from start to finish, and according to Husby the best of the best is found on the par-4 9th. "The 378 yard hole stands out above the rest because of the incredible view of Grand Traverse Bay from the tee. The hole requires you to perform two strategic shots to place your ball on the green. The fairway and the green complex are dotted with some of the most magnificent Scottish style bunkers that Northern Michigan has to offer," finished Husby. Mike stated that he and original architect Steve Smyers are making modifications during the off season to many of their green complexes, making them more forgiving to players of all abilities.

Shanty Creek Resorts - Bellaire, Michigan

Shanty Creek Resorts is such a powerful presence in Michigan it deserves double billing. For a complete review of SCR, please see our full feature staring on page 28 within this issue. Director of Golf Brian Kautz succinctly describes the property in four sentences instead of four pages. "Four courses at one location give our guests, whether a group of eight or an outing/tournament for 120, multiple options for everyone's events," stated Kautz. "The four courses play completely different with a variety of scenic views and hole designs. With their different rates, having a four-course property allows us to accommodate the budgets and skill levels of all players. To encourage the growth of the game, we added par-3 tees on all 18 holes of the Summit course to give juniors and beginners another option to enjoy themselves on the golf course."

2012 marks the first complete year after Shanty Creek's 10 million dollar renovation project. Chris Hale, Vice President of Sales & Marketing, discusses the reasons behind the rebirth. "Shanty Creek has long been an icon in Michigan's golf and ski resort industry, and the renovation of the Lakeview Hotel and Conference Center has given a new generation the opportunity to enjoy it as a fresh place to visit again and again. Every room and meeting space was transformed from yesteryear into a modern, comfortable setting without pretentions. Our guests and Club members have shown tremendous loyalty over nearly 50 years, and the renovated property is a testament to that loyalty."

For more information on all that Traverse City has to offer, visit or call 1-800-940-1120.

Revised: 03/18/2013 - Article Viewed 32,706 Times

About: Glen Turk

Glen Turk Glen Turk is a Wisconsin native and is the Senior Writer/Editor of Midwest Golfing Magazine. Midwest Golfing Magazine was formerly known as Pub-Links Golfer's Magazine and is a free publication distributed four times per year throughout Wisconsin, Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, Iowa, Indiana, and Ohio.

His duties at MGM include writing course features, facilitating product testing, and overseeing the overall content and look of the magazine. But clearly his most important task is playing as much golf as his wife allows. Fortunately for him, she plays also and loves out-driving him even with a 60 yard head start.

Glen plays to a 6 handicap but once set a record by having his ball retriever regripped 15 times in one calendar year. It was a December trip to Guam that ultimately did him in. Finally, if you haven't caught on by now, the two most worthy weapons in Glen's writing arsenal are self-deprecating humor and pithy one-liners.

My signature line, "Be A Force on The Course" and now more recently, "Hit 'Em Where They Mow!" can be reused at no charge.

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