Photo courtesy of The Grand Hotel

Touted as “America’s Summer Golf Capital,” northern Michigan is an even better golf destination in autumn as the air turns cooler, crowds thin and rates drop. It appeals to non-golfers too, thanks to spectacular fall colors, charming harbor towns, hiking and biking trails, first-rate wineries and world-class resorts.

Northern Michigan’s rolling, glacier-carved terrain offers stunning vistas of sapphire lakes and rivers surrounded by hardwoods ablaze in shades of scarlet, orange and gold. Golfers will think they’ve died and gone to heaven as they navigate undulating emerald fairways with manicured tees and challenging greens on some two dozen high-caliber courses. Deer sightings are practically guaranteed even if birdies and eagles prove elusive.

Beyond the northern corner of the Mitten, Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and Mackinac Island boast several highlyrated golf courses as well. The Jewel, at the island’s Grand Hotel, is a lush, one-of-a-kind layout with views of the Straits of Mackinac and Mackinac Bridge. And it’s the only course in the nation where golfers travel one-and-a-half miles by horse-drawn carriage to get from the front nine to the back nine.

Among the Upper Peninsula’s scenic courses, Greywalls at Marquette Golf Club is a standout with dramatic elevation changes, other-worldly rock formations and breathtaking views of Lake Superior. It’s a wild cart ride to the top.

Sweetgrass Golf Club in Harris, near Escanaba, is another U.P. favorite. Located at the Hannahville Indian Community’s Island Resort & Casino, the championship course highlights Native American culture; the signature 15th hole island green for example resembles a turtle, esteemed for its wisdom. Sweetgrass hosts an annual tournament for women golf pros competing in the Road to the LPGA Symetra Tour. And a new resort-style course, Sage Run, is in the works, with a grand opening planned for 2018.

In the Lower Peninsula, golfers are buzzing about the debut of The Loop at Forest Dunes Golf Club in Roscommon. It’s an innovative design described as America’s first 18-hole “reversible” golf course. Golfers walk the Tom Doak layout in one direction one day, then play in the opposite direction the next day for a completely different experience. Lauded by both Golf Digest and GOLF Magazine, it’s a walking-only course, and caddies are available.

The Loop complements the original 18hole Forest Dunes course, a Tom Weiskopf design featuring rugged native sand dunes, red and jack pine forest and water elements. Anchored by the beautiful, Adirondackstyle clubhouse, the resort offers new golf villas in addition to the 14-room Lake AuSable Lodge and golf cottages.

An $11-million expansion is scheduled to open this fall at Crystal Mountain in Thompsonville. Beyond championship golf and skiing, the family-friendly resort offers an Alpine slide, outdoor water playground, climbing wall, zip-line and ropes course plus the Crystal Spa and the Legacy Art Park.

With major elevation changes and sweeping vistas, Crystal’s meticulously manicured Mountain Ridge course hosts the Michigan PGA Women’s Open each June. Betsie Valley, the companion course, tests golfers with lots of water, tree lined fairways, challenging bunkers and protected greens.

Crooked Tree Golf Club in Petoskey, one of the lesser-known of Boyne Resorts’ acclaimed collection of 10 championship courses, is among my personal favorites. Calming views of Little Traverse Bay combined with generous forward tees helped me out-score my husband.

Across the way, Boyne’s Bay Harbor Golf Club offers three, nine-hole Arthur Hills’ designs stretching along two-and-a-half miles of prime Lake Michigan coastline. Reminiscent of an Irish seaside golf course, The Links showcases six holes on the water, with 140-foot bluffs and rolling sand dunes. The Quarry, carved through an abandoned limestone quarry, has dramatic ups and downs, complete with a 40-foot gorge, bridge, natural ponds and waterfall. And The Preserve winds through stately hardwoods, grassy meadows and wetlands before opening to a breathtaking view of the shimmering blue lake.

After a memorable round, golfers relax in the clubhouse or the Victorian-style Inn at Bay Harbor, one of Marriott’s Autograph Collection Hotels, with a clubby bar, restaurants, pool and spa, plus a life-size chessboard and hammocks near the beach.

Offering a new way to experience golf, Boyne Highlands Resort in Harbor Springs rents skateboard-style, motorized GolfBoards on three of its acclaimed courses: The Moor, The Heather and Donald Ross Memorial. Fall resort activities there and at Boyne Mountain include zip-lining, horseback trail riding, family movie nights and spa treatments.

Golfers at The Legend, Arnold Palmer’s timeless design at Shanty Creek Resort, north of Traverse City, are treated to stunning views of Lake Bellaire from the third tee and fourth green. And Tom Weiskopf’s challenging Cedar River course closely follows the land’s natural contours. Afterward, a wide selection of beer is on tap in the River Bistro in Cedar River Lodge and there’s complimentary shuttle service to Short’s Brewing Company Pub in neighboring downtown Bellaire.

Of Grand Traverse Resort’s 54 holes of championship golf, The Bear, Jack Nicklaus’s signature design, is the best-known. Replete with Scottish terraced fairways, tiered greens, deep grassy roughs, very deep pot bunkers, mounds and moguls, it was ranked by Golf Digest as the 18th toughest course in America. The Bear is joined by the pleasantly playable Wolverine and Spruce Run courses, all on rolling land dotted with water hazards, stands of trees and fruit orchards. Naturally, there are activities galore, including fine dining, a full-service spa and nearby casino, at the upscale contemporary resort in Acme, just outside Traverse City.

Treetops Resort, with its freshly-renovated rooms, and Otsego Club & Resort are stars of the Gaylord Golf Mecca, a collection of 15 destination golf courses with more than a dozen lodging partners; options range from motels and cabins to lakefront homes and resorts.

Treetops’ name was inspired by the sixth hole on Robert Trent Jones Sr.’s Masterpiece course. It’s a par-three with a 120-foot vertical drop and gorgeous panorama of the Pigeon River Valley. Also popular is Threetops, whose sharply elevated greens and sloping tees explain its consistent ranking by leading golf publications as America’s best par three course. Three additional premium courses keep golfers playing at Treetops for days on end.

Meandering in and around its ski hills, Otsego Club’s sprawling, meticulously-groomed Tribute course takes golfers on a winding, roller-coaster-style ride with unforgettable vistas of the Sturgeon River Valley. The parkland-style Classic course is a treat, as well.

Hit the Links

Here are some of the best websites for stay-and-play packages

This article originally appeared in the 2017 fall/winter issue of Experience Michigan magazine. The contents of this article were checked for accuracy when it was published; however, it’s possible some of the information has changed. We recommend you call first if you have specific questions for the destinations, attractions or restaurants mentioned in this article.

No portion of this article or magazine may be reproduced without prior written permission by the publisher.


Susan R. Pollack is an award-winning travel writer in suburban Detroit.