By: Jack Ross
Bay Harbor Golf Club is a spectacular layout carved out of an abandoned quarry and cement plant on the shore of Lake Michigan south of Petoskey, Michigan. When they commenced the development back in the mid-1990s, The Links course (one of three 9-hole courses) was the most expensive golf course project in history. If you are fortunate enough to play Bay Harbor, you will quickly conclude that it was well worth the investment.
Bay Harbor has been dubbed “the Pebble Beach of the Midwest.” I’ve played Pebble Beach, and the comparison is apt. Each of the 9-hole courses (which have unique design features) have holes with striking views of the rugged Lake Michigan coastline. And, like the Monterrey Peninsula, the winds off the “Big Lake” (which looks like an ocean) often factor heavily in shot and club selection.
I had the opportunity to play Bay Harbor recently with Ken Griffin, who heads up the marketing department at BOYNE Golf. Towards the end of the afternoon, we stood on the tee of the 8th hole of The Quarry course, a par-3 that was playing about 155 yards downhill to a green perched on the shore of the lake. Winds of 25-30 m.p.h. (they seemed like gale force) were gusting off the lake. I hit a high driver into the teeth of the wind that settled on the green eight feet from the hole. A career shot. (Don’t ask about the birdie putt.)
Prominent architect Arthur Hills designed the Bay Harbor Golf courses. The Preserve, Links, and Quarry courses were conceived as three different courses that can be combined into one seamless golf experience. All three courses start and finish at the striking clubhouse, so golfers can play them in different sequences.
Ken and I started on The Preserve course, which is nestled into a hardwood forest and features native wetlands, wildflowers, and a spectacular finish on a par-3 hole that plays steeply downhill with a magnificent vista of the lake. Ken noted that, although the Quarry and Links courses have more lake views, The Preserve is the members’ favorite course.
We then played The Links course, which as its name suggests was designed to play like a true links course, with irregular fairways that can lead to unpredictable bounces, strategically placed bunkers, and long gorse off the fairways. The7th hole, a par-5 which hugs the lake, is one of the signature holes.
After we finished our round, we played a few holes on the Quarry course, which features unique topography. Five of the holes were built around an abandoned shale quarry. Ken noted that Hills retained the rough edges of The Quarry to maintain an authentic look and feel. The dramatic course features 40-foot gorges (one of which contains two of my new Bridgestones), stone cliffs, natural ponds, and a waterfall. If you play the 8th hole into a stiff headwind, club up.
One notable feature of Bay Harbor is the wide choice of tees. Each course offers six tees, with a neutral color scheme, allowing golfers to choose the tee that fits their driving distance. For example, on the par-4 first hole of the Preserve course, the tees range from 442 yards to 251 yards. This is an approach – consistent with the PGA of America’s “Tee it Forward” campaign years ago — that more courses should adopt.
While Bay Harbor can be pricey in peak season, the dynamic pricing system employed by the resort affords more reasonable greens fees during off-peak hours. During the long days of June and July, a late afternoon tee time allows you to experience wonderful sunset views and still finish 18 holes. (Because you are on the western edge of the Eastern time zone, you have about an hour more daylight than on the East coast.)
Northern Michigan offers an abundance of superb golf courses, in addition to magnificent lakes, charming resort towns, and other outdoor experiences. Not to mention the cherry pies, a regional tradition. The coast of northern Lake Michigan resembles the Maine coast. BOYNE Golf offers a number of great golf experiences, with seven additional courses in northern Michigan,
including Boyne Highlands and Boyne Mountain, but Bay Harbor is the crown jewel.
Visit northern Michigan. And bring your clubs. You will return, I guarantee it. And if you play Bay Harbor Golf Club, let me know if you find any of my Bridgestones.