With dozens of courses dropped into glacier-carved terrain in the state’s northwest corner near Traverse City, golf has transformed a region known for cherry orchards, fudge stores, and taxidermists into the heartland’s best getaway. Players can mix and match multi-course resorts (Boyne Highlands, Shanty Creek, Treetops, Grand Traverse, etc.) with stand-alone 18s while enjoying excellent value, genuine hospitality, and extended daylight (a second round, anyone?).
The Heather at Boyne Highlands, a Robert Trent Jones design, is the pioneer venue that put the area’s ski hills in the shade when it opened in 1968. Glossier courses have been built since, but none has aged as gracefully as this elegant test woven through the woods by Jones at the height of his powers.
Bay Harbor, a 27-hole facility routed along bluffs high above Little Traverse Bay, has five holes set in a defunct shale quarry. The land looked like hell until Arthur Hills arrived to turn the cement and cinders into fairways. The Links/Quarry combo, with its stirring lake views and stark stone cliffs, is the standout 18. The Inn at Bay Harbor offers superb lakeside accommodations and a first-rate spa.
Belvedere, a storied club where Tom Watson spent his boyhood summers, is now semi-private and offers golf packages. A subtle parkland spread laid out in 1925 by William Watson, the man behind the Olympic Club in San Francisco, Belvedere—which hosts the Michigan Amateur for the 40th time this June—is a traditionalist’s delight.
At Forest Dunes, carved into land cleared for farming in the 1930s, Tom Weiskopf redistributed sand to fabricate rolling “dunes” and other seaside links features. Framed by bracken, wildflowers, and tall red pines, this firm, fast course welcomes walkers. The 14-room Lake Ausable Lodge opened last year to complement its Adirondack-style clubhouse.
Hidden at the end of an unmarked dirt road outside Traverse City, the Kingsley Club is worth finding. Designed by Mike DeVries, an Alister MacKenzie devotee, this bold layout rambles across billowing hills, its holes melded to sandy ridges, knobs, kettles, and other glacial footprints. Exposed to the wind and gouged with bunkers, this 6,956-yard knockout—resembling a British heathland course on steroids—is private but permits limited outside play. (Have your home club pro call ahead.)