Michigan’s Upper Peninsula: Great Value, Phenomenal Golf (MI)
The idea for our U.P. golf trip started coming together last fall. A number of friends from work have made an annual excursion to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan for several years, and as a golf enthusiast and writer I had heard about it often.
When my friend, Nick, and I started putting together our Monday night golf league this past winter, the idea was to make an end of the season league championship out of the weekend. As it turned out, only seven league players were able to make the trip, and we added five more friends to make an even dozen.
For about nine months I looked at web sites that featured these three courses, and on occasion would search for golf blogs that showed pictures of them. There are not many out there, which leads me to believe these reviews should be getting a lot of hits.
It is not only because there is little competition for Google click-thrus, but also because of the mystique that these U.P. courses have: Sweetgrass, TimberStone and Greywalls are three of the most beautiful and original golf tracks I have found.
Now I know what you’re thinking: “Three top 15 courses in a state filled with unbelievable golf courses must cost a fortune!” That could not be farther from the truth. In the U.P, everything is inexpensive, and the cost of this trip is well worth the money. For $329 per person, we were provided three rounds of golf, along with a three-night stay at The Island Resort and Casino.
While a casino setting is not ideal for some of us – it can be a bit smoky, is occupied primarily by older people, and has very little else in the immediate vicinity in terms of outside entertainment – it keeps the price of the trip down, and the accommodations are more than adequate.
Some of our group likes to gamble, while others do not. One thing we all agreed on: There has to be a 2013 golf outing to the U.P.
If you are like our group, and hope to put together an outing in the U.P. next year, make sure to get on it quickly. This deal sells out fast, and if late to the party there will be very few weekends available to choose from.
We did not make the four and a half hour drive from Milwaukee to Harris, Michigan, for the casino, though, nor the accommodations. As avid golfers, we made our pilgrimage to this mecca of the Midwest golf world for one purpose: Golf.
For the purpose of playing a lot of really good golf, there are few better destinations.
I took the day off of work on Thursday, and left early on Friday morning to get in a bonus round before the trip started. I arrived in Harris, passing by their sign that congratulates the town’s 2004 high school basketball team at Bark River for winning the runner-up sportsmanship award, and was soon at The Island Resort and Casino. My hotel room would not be ready until four pm, so I made my way to the back of the hotel, to the entrance and pro shop of Sweetgrass.
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 golf 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 and provides countless opportunities for shot-making.
Following my round, I was excited to tell the group about how nice of a course Sweetgrass is. I found my roommate for the trip, Mitch, and a couple of other friends in the sports bar at the casino. We grabbed drinks and dinner, and made our way to the craps table.
Bad idea. Ever since a 50-minute long roll at the Atlantis a few years back in which I won some guy $38,000 (and myself $150), I have always thought I could find similar luck on the tables, but have not. An hour later, I found myself down a couple hundred bucks. My lesson was learned – this would be the end of my craps playing at The Island Resort and Casino.
Friday’s round started out with a selection of teams for a weekend long Ryder Cup tournament. We had three distinct groups of player skill levels, with four players in each category. I was on a team with Greg and Jeremy (A-level), Brian and Andy (C-level), and Nick and me (B-level). Something was in the air this day, as our team won every single matchup, and every single hole.
With a disappointed opposing team, our Ryder Cup tourney was over.
Saturday morning of our U.P. golf trip began with a delicious two dollar breakfast at the Firekeeper’s Lounge in The Island Resort and Casino. Our golf package included a plethora of coupons which can be used for one meal per day, a drink and five dollars in slots credit per day. These helped keep costs down.
After breakfast, Mitch and I made our way “nort” to Marquette. An hour and twenty minute journey, it was an easy drive and we found ourselves at Marquette Golf Club quickly enough.
Greywalls was an unforgettable golf experience. We got in eighteen and a few extra holes en route to the clubhouse, then made our way back to Harris.
Cold and wet from the prolonged rain delay and overcast conditions at Greywalls, I grabbed a [free] drink from the sports bar, quickly lost my five dollars in free slot play, and made my way to the pool and hot tub. I sat quietly by myself as a couple amassing 500-plus total pounds made out and groped each other across from me. Yikes.
Saturday was an early night capped off with an eight-man $20 poker tournament. I played well (for me), and exited in third place after being beaten on the river by Nick’s three sixes. Tough break.
Sunday morning of our U.P. golf trip came early, and so did my departure to TimberStone at Pine Mountain. The area’s only five-star golf course, TimberStone is a 50-minute drive from Harris and is on the way back to Wisconsin and what my friends consider to be the “Real world.”
I parked in the lot and noticed immediately one of the most beautiful finishing holes I have seen: What looked to be a ski hill of perfect fairway grass cascaded down the mountain side, leveled off at several points by rock walls and leading to a pristine pond-fronted green just short of the clubhouse.
The bag drop pulled up on a longboard, and politely offered to grab me a cart. I could tell he loves his job, which in this crazy world is refreshing to see. A wood cabin pro shop was well stocked with TimberStone apparel and gear, and I found myself walking out with my usual ball marker and logo ball, as well as a new golf towel to replace the True Blue one that was still soaking wet from yesterday’s adventure in Marquette.
I would have never dreamed that a golf course could match the amazing experience of Greywalls. In its own way, though, which in some ways is a bit Greywalls-esque, TimberStone does it. Combining the perfect course conditions of Sweetgrass with some of the dramatic elevation features of Greywalls, TimberStone is one of the most well laid out and maintained courses I have played. Golf.com ranks it as the third best course in the state of Michigan, while GolfWeek ranks it seventh. If it was in Wisconsin, it would be in the top seven here, too.
Not only is the U.P. golf trip a phenomenal value, but it features three fantastic golf courses. I cannot say enough how much I am looking forward to next year’s trip. If I could play only one of them, though, which would I play? Probably Greywalls. But all three are great.
I held a little poll of my friends who attended this trip, and here is what they had to say (keep in mind, there are no losers in this scenario):
Favorite overall course: (1) Greywalls, (2) TimberStone, (3) Sweetgrass
Best hole layouts: (1) Greywalls, (2) TimberStone, (3) Sweetgrass
Best conditions: (1) TimberStone, (2) Sweetgrass, (3) Greywalls
Toughest greens: (1) Greywalls, (2) Sweetgrass, (3) TimberStone
Fastest greens: (1) Sweetgrass, (2) Greywalls, (3) TimberStone
Fairest course: (1) TimberStone, (2) Sweetgrass, (3) Greywalls
Most scorable course: (1) Sweetgrass, (2) TimberStone, (3) Greywalls
Best fairways: (1) TimberStone, (2) Sweetgrass, (3) Greywalls
Best tee boxes: (1) Sweetgrass, (2) TimberStone, (3) Greywalls
Best use of elevation: (1) Greywalls, (2) TimberStone, (3) Sweetgrass
Favorite holes: (1) Greywalls 6, (2) TimberStone 18, (3) Greywalls 5, (4) Sweetgrass 17, (5) TimberStone 17, (6) Greywalls 1, (7) Greywalls 11, (8) Sweetgrass 12, (9) TimberStone 5, (10) TimberStone 6
(1) Greywalls Hole 6: Par 3 (188/178/151/137/85)
(2) TimberStone Hole 18: Par 5 (625/595/521/460)
(3) Greywalls Hole 5: Par 4 (312/312/284/251/158)
(4) Sweetgrass Hole 17: Par 4 (427/392/381/337/325)
(5) TimberStone Hole 17: Par 3 (215/195/156/120)
(6) Greywalls Hole 1: Par 5 (579/545/509/477/416)
(7) Greywalls Hole 11: Par 4 (388/388/363/319/269)
(8) Sweetgrass Hole 12: Par 3 (214/193/173/148/121)
(9) TimberStone Hole 5: Par 5 (501/467/416/385)
(10) TimberStone Hole 6: Par 4 (413/385/349/292)