By Danny and Alice Scott
A smart way to vacay is day tripping for golf and more from the Cherry Capital of the World, Traverse City, Michigan. Lodging options are abundant on or close to Lake Michigan or many other lakes and rivers. We have previously stayed and highly recommend The Grand Traverse Resort and Spa with three great 18s – The Bear, The Wolverine and Spruce Run, plus a spa and casino. Cherry Tree Inn sits on a private lakeside beach and Park Place Hotel downtown has high rise views of the Lake. This summer, we stayed at a friend’s condo in TC, a block from Lake Michigan. Between his suggested excursions and our tee times, it was a very busy, fun time. Golf day trips first:
Forest Dunes –Live deer pranced in front of the deer sculpture at the entrance to the Adirondack clubhouse trimmed in Michigan cherry red. We enjoyed playing The Loop before, a fun reversible course, in both directions. This was a beachy keen day on the original Forest Dunes Course, a Tom Weiskopf design creatively carved through natural dunes with sand bunkers added, one of which completely encircles a greenside tree.
Colored pinecones designate the tee boxes along with granite stones stenciled with the logo stag. The pines and hardwood forests are a prime place for ball shopping if your ball happens to fly in there. For added fun, book the popular Finn Scooters to zip around the course.
Number one starts out over a short stretch of dunes with a wide fairway through the forest and so goes the front nine until number 9 par 3, hitting over water and bunkers in front of the patio gallery. Club up here. The back nine begins with the tenth fairway splitting each side of a long dune down the center and the finishing holes are fraught with more dunes’ danger. 16’s par 3 must fly over said dunes with space to the large green after, while 17 is a reachable par 4 but the dunes zigzag all the way to the hole. 18 is a par 5 with plenty of initial fairway then the dunes squeeze it’s middle from both sides. Appropriately named, Forest Dunes is a doozey to play.
After 18, we tackled the new Bootleggers Course, a hilly thrill of ten par 3 holes with only a few golf clubs needed. It starts and stops by the patio bar with music and free replay, just as much short golf fun as Pinehurst’s Cradle.
Belvedere Golf Club- Can you spell charming? It’s the word repeated throughout a day of play, starting when a parking director guides drivers to the historic tiny pro shop full of memorabilia and logo wares. When we checked in Marty Joy, the Head Pro said Jack might be back today. The Golden Bear had played with Marty the week before and one member was proud that her group followed behind them. It was supposedly the Nicklaus’s first non-work-related vacation without kids in a rented home on nearby Torch Lake. Playing the Belvedere Course, one might wonder if Jack drew early inspiration from Belvedere’s designer William Watson, especially when putting on some of the greens.
The first hole’s tee is elevated, diving into the valley. Little creeks run through some fairways, starting on number two with narrow wooden bridges and antique type ball retrievers on hooks to help yourself.
Number 6 is a tricky dogleg right with a bunker and creek to maneuver a severely sloping front, Jack style green. Another dogleg right is 15’s par 5, where trying to cut the corner over a large bunker might put you in the tall stuff and it’s not cotton. 16 has another elevated evil green, before 17’s long uphill par 3 and 18 finishes along the highway.
Built in 1925, nostalgia hangs heavy over Belvedere like its mature, weeping willow branches. In fact, it has the most antique hickory club players in the US and hosts hickory tournaments where competitors dress in period apparel, including knickers, ties, and jackets. Next week Marty Joy and two Belvedere members will join 13 other USA team members from around the country, to challenge Europe’s best who field a team of 16 dedicated hickory players competing in Hickory Grail Cup Matches at the famed St. Andrews Old Course in Scotland. We wish them well.
The Belvedere Clubhouse is for members only, but a friendly gal said, “I’ll take you in.” It is, yes, charming, but don’t expect to buy a cocktail. Since Marion Center is a dry township within Charlevoix, members keep and share their own stash in the clubhouse. We were blindly paired for the round with new friends, Sherry and Greg from Wisconsin and chose a waterfront pub in downtown Charlevoix for our 19th hole, which was also charming.Boyne Golf
It’s crazy not to stay at one of the Boyne properties and play all Magnificent Ten courses but that is another story. While in TC, we drove up like many locals do to play Crooked Tree one day and the Donald Ross Memorial course another.
The Donald Ross Memorial course is a woodland journey and tribute to the late great designer. Boyne Golf owners and General Manager Bernie Friedrich flew around to famous Donald Ross courses in their private jet, played a couple of the best holes and flew on to the next then the next, to decide all 18 holes that would be replicated for the routing. That might sound contrived or convoluted, but the routing flows as naturally as if Mr. Ross had intended the Michigan order.Joe gets golfers started and Bill keeps them moving for pace of play while noting his favorite hole is 13, a par 5 copy of Seminole Golf Club’s number 15, without the gators. The sixth hole from Seminole kicks off the Memorial Course as number 1 with sand the full length of the fairway on the left. Number 3 imitates Oakland Hills Country Club’s 17 as a par 3 to an elevated hidden green behind dual front bunkers. Donald loved bunker carries before greens. The par 3 number 8 is modeled after Charlotte Country Club’s picture perfect 11 with willows over water. Pinehurst #2 is represented by three holes including its par 5 number 10 which is 16 on Memorial, a dogleg left wide open drive into wilderness. Cart service is efficient on the course and the Seminole Pub in the Country Club of Boyne serves as a great 19th after an unforgettable round.
Boyne Golf’s Crooked Tree has its own pro shop and snack bar. Crooked Tree was an Indian trail from Marquette to Traverse City. Number one starts with a crooked fairway, number 7 crooks right with a severe downside left slant to a forest that is another ball shopper’s paradise. Don’t go there. Long hitters aim over the bunker at the crook of the dog leg to the green where views of the lake pop up. Several hilltop greens and fairways deliver panoramic vistas of Lake Michigan.
The back nine starts with a gallery of homes with brick colored shake siding and topped with white trim cupolas. 13’s par 5 climbs up, then down a ski jump and back up to a slightly elevated green. Don’t get stuck on the slippery slope. 15 is an easy par 3 with a calming view of the lake, busy with sails and boats leaving wake trails. Those special lake views continue through the finish with a welcome breeze on a warm August day. At all the Boyne courses, you feel on top of the world.
Excursions from Traverse City:
Frankfurt- On the way to Crystal Mountain and Arcadia Bluffs where we’ve also loved to play golf and you would too, lighthouses, shops and waterfront restaurants are the draw to the lakeside hamlet of Frankfurt. While yachts are docking at the marina, a hang glider soars over the trees across the water.
Ironfish Distillery –Sisters and husbands have converted the family farm into a distillery producing award winning gin, vodka, bourbons and more. They take advantage of the farm for grains and other ingredients like the ginger root for their mule. In addition to mixologists’ libations, ice cold water is derived from the Bessie River and the kitchen delivers a great selection of food. Combine all this with live entertainment and lawn games and you’ve never had so much fun on a farm.
Wineries –Most famous is the Mission Peninsula but wineries are scattered throughout the north to Petoskey in the Boyne area. We accidentally biked 24 miles to Suttons Bay with the carrot dangling of a winery and bus ride home. It was a gorgeous trail but not with a winery in marked distance. Fortunately, we did find the bus that returned us with our bikes to TC. Driving or even better, shuttling is the way to tour the vineyards and taste at the wineries dotting hillsides, often with water views. Along the way, we discovered that TC is also the Bachelorette Capital of the world.
Happy Hours and Dining – Numerous rooftop bars have lake views and foodies will love all the waterfront restaurants like Apache Trout with swans swimming by and lots of savory spots in the bustling downtown intermingled with unique shops.
Cruise on the lake to see TC “from both sides now,” on a catamaran, a tall ship or rent your own boat from several companies.
Beach Time is a must on the Great Lake Michigan. Find sandy spots all along the shore with lapping waves, watching colorful regattas in the distance. Picnics, fitness classes, fundraisers, farmers markets, concerts, even church services are held along the waterfront. Hallelujah for Traverse City.