Imagine a peninsula so teeming with golf courses there were over 600 at the last count, and yet so undiscovered by our seafaring race that not a single British voice was heard during a recent six-day trip?
A place so tranquil and scenic it invites comparisons with the Lake District or Loch Lomond, with the difference that a typical summer’s day conjures up cloudless skies and temperatures rising into the high seventies.
When considering North America for a golfing trip, north Michigan doesn’t usually get a look in, with eyes invariably cast down familiar paths towards Florida, South Carolina, or Arizona. All of which only served to make our visit a revelation. Situated about a five-hour drive from Chicago – a connecting flight to Traverse City will also do the trick – this delightful area ticked all the boxes.
The goal was a family holiday in a place where we could gently introduce our kids, 10 and eight, to this glorious game. Given that our eldest has returned home close to a golf bore, you could say we succeeded.
North Michigan isn’t just a great place for family golf. I sneaked away on one day to play a grown-up’s game at Bay Harbor, perhaps the most highly rated course in this part of the state.
It is hard to do justice to its scenic beauty. During my golf-writing career I have been lucky enough to play on many of the world’s most aesthetically pleasing venues, from Pebble Beach to Turnberry. Suffice to say, Bay Harbor stands comparison with any. In particular, what a delight to play a course featuring a couple of downhill par 3s situated right along the coast that required nothing more than an 8-iron to reach the respective greens. Woe betide if you’re off target, mind – and isn’t that how it should be with short holes?
Bay Harbor is one long feast for the eyes from start to finish, with those two par 3s summing up the course. It is not overly long, but stray off line and you’ll be reaching for another ball. Indeed, if I had a criticism, it would be that the nine known as the Quarry is just too unremitting in its relentless requirement to pull off “death or glory” shots. It’s certainly not a track you’d recommend for anyone higher than a 12-handicap.
Bay Harbor is affiliated to Boyne Mountain, an upmarket resort that has been voted one of the top 25 family destinations in America. It is not hard to see why. During the winter its slopes are packed with skiers. There are cycling, jogging and hiking trails to discover, not to mention a fabulous indoor waterpark.
Then there’s the Royal and Ancient game, and what a delight to see so much emphasis placed on junior golf. Our two met Jeff Eccleston, director of the National Junior Golf Academy, for a one-hour lesson, and came away buzzing.
Conor went there knowing nothing more than the basics. Sixty minutes with Jeff, and he was tackling the full-sized Alpine Course, one of eight belonging to Boyne. I didn’t think he would be remotely up to it, even playing from the forward tees. Yet so well did he cope that, as we walked off the final green, there was real disappointment in his voice as he said: “That wasn’t really the 18th, was it?”
Boyne’s big rival in the skiing and golf market is Crystal Mountain, situated 80
miles away. Again there is plenty to do away from golf, including an 80-second
coaster slide down a mountain slope. Alternatively, you can lie back in an
inflatable tube and float down a gently meandering river for 90 minutes, ending
up on the beach at Lake Michigan.
Crystal is another resort that looks after family golfers as well as more serious types. On one of its two courses there are even discreetly marked tees for young players that cover about half the full distance. Brad Dean, its director of golf, qualified for this year’s USPGA at Oakland Hills.
During our trip we met groups of men away on golf trips and couples looking for somewhere different to play. But most of all, we came across families who were eager to mix a bit of golf with everything else that makes for an ideal vacation. If that sounds like you, then I would recommend north Michigan unequivocally.
STATS: Links/Quarry – par 72, 6,293 yards; Quarry/Preserve – par 72, 6,123 yards; Preserve/Links – par 72, 6,340 yards
T: +1 231 439 4028
Has eight courses, including Bay Harbor and Alpine – par 72, 6,865 yards
T: +1 231 378 2000