Michigan’s location in the northern tier of states and at the northwestern edge of the Eastern Time Zone is a big-time bonanza for summertime golfers: Its long-lingering daylight hours extend the window for tee-times.
“It seems like summer days last forever in Michigan,” says Jon Scott, president of Gull Lake View Golf Club & Resort in Augusta, near Kalamazoo. “You get an additional hour each day here, all summer long, to play golf. It gets light at six in the morning and you can play golf until 10 o’clock at night.”
That time bonus contributes to the popularity of his family-owned, third-generation golf club in Southwest Michigan, 2 1⁄2 hours northeast of Chicago. The resort’s success over nearly six decades inspired the addition in 2016 of a sixth course, Stoatin Brae, whose wide open, true-links layout is strikingly different f rom its other five parkland-style courses. Designed by Tom Doak’s Renaissance Golf, the new championship course rounds out the experience, cementing Gull Lake’s reputation as a multi-day destination getaway for golfers of all handicaps.
Stoatin Brae, or “grand hill” in Scottish Gaelic, is just one of several new developments on the Michigan golf scene, which boasts more than 650 public courses. Two other top-tier additions are the South Course at Arcadia Bluffs, which opened north of Manistee in fall 2018, and Sage Run Golf Club, entering its third season at Island Resort & Casino in the Upper Peninsula near Escanaba.
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“Rough and rugged” is how golf course architect Paul Albanese describes Sage Run, the second of two courses he designed at Island Resort & Casino. Others have called it intimidating, and everyone agrees it is challenging, thanks to dramatic elevation changes; bunkers edged with long grasses; and firm, undulating greens, including several with blind approaches. The course, stretching 7,375 yards f rom the tips, made Golf Digest’s list of “Best New Courses” in 2019.
Inspired by Northern Ireland’s Royal County Down, the tree-lined, sometimes windy par-72 track is defined by its drumlin, the long sloping glacial ridge that runs through the property. “The holes go around, over and through it,” Albanese says.
Located eight country miles from the resort, with no houses around, Sage Run is serene—so quiet it’s almost other- worldly. It hosted last fall’s inaugural intercollegiate NCAA Invitational, and is a fine complement to its manicured, Native American-themed sister course, Sweetgrass, annual host of the Symetra Tour for LPGA-aspiring golfers.
Off the golf courses, there’s plenty of excitement at Island Resort casino, owned by the Hannahville Indian Community. The complex features a high-rise hotel with 326 rooms and suites, a 42-site RV park, a contemporary spa, and concert space for headliners such as The Guess Who and The Marshall Tucker Band. Among several bars and restaurants, 5 Bridges Pub serves a memorable prime rib sandwich with bacon, melted cheese and onion tangles. islandresortandcasino.com
SOUTH COURSE AT ARCADIA BLUFFS
“Complexity veiled by simplicity” is what designers envisioned when creating this flat, wide open and virtually treeless par-72 layout reminiscent of the private Chicago Golf Club, an old-style classic. Located a mile inland with no water views, it complements Arcadia’s original Bluffs Course, which overlooks Lake Michigan and was deemed the state’s “best course you can play” by Golfweek magazine.
Backdrop-free on most holes, the South Course is a deceptively simple, links-style layout whose sharp angles, straight lines and frequent wind require a bump-and- run mentality. Stand-out features include wide fairways and huge, squared-off greens. Ribbon-like, rectangular bunkers with flat floors and steep walls add to the challenge. Five sets of tees range from 5,281 to 7,412 yards.
After a round, golfers may order walleye, perch or other specialties in the new, Nantucket-style clubhouse. No visit is complete without toasting the sunset at the original course with a Bluffs Bloody or Arcadia Lemonade, as a bagpiper plays on a lakeside bluff. Grab an Adirondack chair or adjourn to The Dining Room or deck, where gourmet specialties include Scottish salmon and tomahawk ribeye.
Reserve far in advance for one of three- dozen rooms in Arcadia’s two upscale lodges or its handful of family-friendly cottages. arcadiabluffs.com
With views extending for miles, this windy, elevated par-71 layout—an apple orchard in a previous life—features punishing heather in the rough, no forced carries or water hazards, and some of the most challenging greens around. It was ranked fifth in Golfweek’s 2019 list of Michigan’s “best courses you can play” and offers four sets of tees ranging from 6,764 to 4,943 yards.
The clubhouse restaurant, Blue Stem, is named for a native grass on the course. Good bets are the smoked fish chowder, shrimp and grits, smoked pork chop and peanut butter pie.
Gull Lake View’s accommodations include fairway villas, deluxe suites and cottages. Ask about golf-and-stay packages for various budgets.
The resort’s location about midway between Kalamazoo and Battle Creek is convenient to shopping, restaurants and theater; other area attractions include the Air Zoo Aerospace & Science Museum in Portage, Gilmore Car Museum in Hickory Corners, mountain biking trails at Fort Custer and wine tasting in Paw Paw, plus Gull Lake boating and other activities. gulllakeview.com
Photo courtesy Stoatin Brae