Golf Course Review: Sweetgrass (MI)

You have probably seen Sweetgrass commercials on tv, and for good reason: A considerable portion of all of these courses’ clientele comes from Wisconsin, including the Milwaukee area.
I met with Dave Douglas, the Director of Golf at Sweetgrass, and was impressed with his passion for the course and was excited to check out their track. I was given a 2:15 tee time, and arrived at the practice facility shortly before.
Sweetgrass has a beautiful driving range with six target greens and interconnected fairways. The range was mats only during our trip, but there was a sizable natural grass area that had recently been treated that looked wonderful to hit off of.
To the right of the driving range is a chipping area with a large sand trap and three pins. To the left is a good sized putting green that is perfectly true to the course’s putting conditions. On Friday, when the rest of our group arrived, almost everyone commented on the great speed and flawless rolling surfaces. If I had to guess, they roll at a minimum of 10.5, maybe eleven. This was going to be good.
I finished up my round preparations and made my way to the tee boxes left of the starter office and snack shop. I put a tee in the ground and heard, “Hey Paul, that’s the tenth tee.” Typical me. I grabbed my tee, shrugged it off like I was just kidding around, and made my way right of the chipping facility to the first hole tee boxes.
Making the turn to these tees provides a welcomed site: A short par four with a wide open fairway. The railroad ties fortifying the greenside bunkers look really nice, and remind me a little of the same features found on the Irish at Whistling Straits. Keep your tee shot middle to right on this hole to leave a good approach. With a top-right hole location on Friday, this pin was nearly inaccessible from the right, as everything flows from the top-right down.
Hole 1: Par 4 (320/305/282/262/239)
The tee boxes at Sweetgrass are all perfectly squared and level. This is not like teeing up at Dretzka.
The second hole is a medium-length par four of 372 yards from the blue tees. The trouble is mostly out of reach, so feel free to wail away on your driver. The approach features a kettle on the right side, which leads upwards to a green that is heavily sloped upward from the day’s middle hole location.
Hole 2: Par 4 (400/372/361/334/273)
The third is a very tricky par three. Nicknamed “Wolf,” only a sliver of the green is shown to the tee boxes. A large mound resides on the right side, and hides the rest of this deep putting surface. The green is kidney shaped, and a five foot break separates the front from the back. With a front side pin location, err short, if anything.
Hole 3: Par 3 (200/173/158/143/127)
Hole 3: Par 3 (200/173/158/143/127)
Four is the first of three 450ish-yard par fours on the course. At 448 yards from the blue tees, the tee shot is almost entirely blind, but a prevailing wind from over the left shoulder will carry a long drive down the right side of the fairway. The approach is long and tricky, as anything left will carom off that side of the green and find a pitch up a 20 foot high hill.
Hole 4: Par 4 (469/448/425/371/328)
Five was one of the most intimidating tee shots on the course for me. With water on the right side, and sand leading up to it, the left side is populated with heavy fescue and influences a tee shot with less than driver. Hitting short on this hole leaves another long approach to a green that is long and runs downhill from front to back.
Hole 5: Par 4 (440/417/395/355/312)
Six is a whole ‘nother animal. Nicknamed the “Sacred White Deer,” this hole played straight into the wind on both days. At 599 yards from the blue tees, this is a long way to hit three straight shots! During my first round, I passed the only group I saw on this hole, and rushed myself straight in to a lost ball. My second time around, I put a drive in to the fescue on the right side of the water, then put a good swing on a three-hybrid and then a low trap-drawn six-iron to eight feet from the pin. I would miss this putt, but it was easily my best par of the weekend.
Hole 6: Par 5 (630/599/573/492/448)
The seventh is a brutally difficult par three! At 206 yards from the blue tees, it played directly in to a strong head wind and considerably uphill. With a back-left pin location, this made for a 234-yard tee shot – simple enough.
Hole 7: Par 3 (230/206/193/180/167)
The eighth has a long sand hazard running along the left side, and water left of that. The right side is heavily covered with fescue, but is safer than the alternative. A strong left-to-right wind brought all of my drives that direction, and I bogeyed all three times (Friday, Saturday and another nine-hole re-play). The green is risen above a deep sand trap on the front-right, again beautifully fortified by white railroad ties.
Hole 8: Par 4 (429/403/368/328/291)
Hole 8: Par 4 (429/403/368/328/291)
The ninth and eighteenth holes remind me of several other area golf courses: The National at Fox Hills, and Shepherd’s Crook, in Illinois. Each of these holes share a common water hazard, which separates the two layouts, and feature a shared green that must be hit on the fly in order to hold. The putting surface is slightly slanted from bottom to top, which helps hold approach shots on the green. I was happy to have played this hole on Friday, as the key to it was revealed to me quickly: Stay right. The second shot can be probably 75 yards right of the interior pond, and will actually leave an approach shot that will not have to carry the water.
Hole 9: Par 5 (547/518/493/436/391)
Hole 9: Par 5 (547/518/493/436/391)
The back nine begins with another great driving hole. With mounding on both sides, it’s bombs away on the tenth.
Hole 10: Par 4 (372/351/326/280/261)
Eleven is a mid-length par five that measures 528 yards from the blue tees. With a wandering fairway bunker that cuts in to the middle of the driving area, the hole runs slightly left and uphill. Stay away from the left side, and hit long on the second shot toward the trees that border the right side of the fairway to keep safe and leave a short approach.
Hole 11: Par 5 (565/528/501/446/389)
Twelve is one of the most visually beautiful, and intimidating par threes I have seen this year. With highly elevated tees, the front side of the green looks almost like an extension of the fairway, but runs slightly left and severely downhill to a middle hole location that is about ten feet below both the front and back green surfaces. A back pin location is considerably tougher, as the entire 200-plus yards must be carried and held for a legitimate chance at birdie.
Hole 12: Par 3 (214/193/173/148/121)
Hole 12: Par 3 (214/193/173/148/121)
A long par four, the thirteenth is nicknamed “Eagle” after the two bald eagles that defend the back side of the green. At 456 yards (blue tees), the drive has got to be long and in the fairway. The approach will be equally as long, and must carry or go left of the two greenside bunkers that reside on the right side of the approach area.
Hole 13: Par 4 (489/456/426/391/348)
Hole 13: Par 4 (489/456/426/391/348)
Making the turn to the par four fourteenth hole is refreshing: “Alright, a short par four – this should be scorable.” The fairway runs laterally from left to right, and will require about 200 yards to carry the wasteland and sand trap that fronts it all. The most challenging aspect of this hole is the green area. The course started shaving the “rough” around the green to a height barely longer than the green surface. Anything hit on the right side of the green is likely to run off, and down the hill. On my first time playing this hole, my second shot hit within feet of the pin (in the middle of the green), only to spin right and down the hill. I then played a 56-degree wedge out of the sand to the top of the hill, which subsequently rolled back to where it started. I tried again with the same result, then was equally disappointed in the result of a running nine-iron. From birdie putt to quadruple bogey – I learned my lesson quickly and instead chipped in during my second round (it was very lucky).
Hole 14: Par 4 (346/330/294/264/213)
Hole 14: Par 4 (346/330/294/264/213)
Fifteen is one of the signature holes at Sweetgrass. With a true island green, a picturesque steel and wooden bridge leads the way across the pond to a large green that should not be as difficult to hit as it is. At 152 yards from the blue tees, this is not a long shot, but did play in to the wind for both of my rounds. I hit a hard, drawn seven-iron my first time around, and found myself with a forty foot putt uphill that would take me three attempts to finally hole out. For our Friday round, the wind was even stronger and the green was hit by only one player in our group from the white tees… With a three-wood. My six-iron didn’t get close, and neither did anyone else’s. Fortunately, the drop zone is on the front of the island.
Hole 15: Par 3 (168/152/141/125/107)
Hole 15: Par 3 (168/152/141/125/107)
Hole 15: Par 3 (168/152/141/125/107)
Sixteen is a knee-knocker of a par four. Through woods, the driving area looks miniscule but is actually quite wide. The approach, though, is bound to be very long to an elevated green 456 yards from the tees.
Hole 16: Par 4 (479/456/443/414/366)
Finish up on sixteen and make your way through the woods to seventeen. The sign advises that the white, blue and black tees are across the bridge. Cross this long bridge and find elevated tee boxes looking out over a vast wasteland and a fairway that runs from left to right with an overabundance of hazards: Six huge sand traps, woods on both sides, a huge pond and wasteland, and a grand boulder that symbolizes a turtle to this hole nicknamed “Wisdom.” The biggest wow-factor of the course is beheld on the seventeenth at Sweetgrass. This is a beautiful golf hole, and if the drive is not challenging enough, the green area is. Highly elevated, two deep sand traps front the left side of the green complex. This was one of my favorite holes of our entire U.P. trip.
Hole 17: Par 4 (427/392/381/337/325)
Hole 17: Par 4 (427/392/381/337/325)
Hole 17: Par 4 (427/392/381/337/325)
Hole 17: Par 4 (427/392/381/337/325)
Eighteen plays almost exactly opposite of the ninth, and runs parallel to its counterpart. A huge pond and picturesque waterfalls border the right side of the fairway, and must be avoided. The second shot can be played well left of the pond, and will leave an approach that takes most of the water out of the picture. Take a moment to snap a picture from the opposite side of this pin, as the look back is quite beautiful.
Hole 18: Par 5 (550/530/506/434/369)
Hole 18: Par 5 (550/530/506/434/369)
One of the wonderful things about the U.P. golf trio package is the variety of outstanding golf that will be found. I have talked to a number of people who have made this trip who like Sweetgrass the best of the three: It is playable, and not at all gimmicky. The conditions are outstanding: The tee boxes, greens and fairways are all impeccably maintained, and the course is fair, beautiful and provides countless opportunities for shot-making.
Course Wrap-Up:
Location: Harris, MI
Yardage: Black-7275, Blue-6829, White-6439, Gold-5740, Red-5075
Slope/Rating: Black-143/75.2, Blue-137/73.3, White-71.3/134, Gold-120/67.5, Red-123/69.0
Par: 72
Weekend Rates (with cart and range): $75

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