When most people in the Northeast think of Michigan, they probably conjure up images of the automobile industry, the once hapless Detroit Lions, or perhaps the toxic drinking water in Flint. They might have some notion that the state is surrounded by several Great Lakes. But they probably don’t associate Michigan with outstanding golf.
In fact, Michigan – particularly the northern parts of the state – offers some of the best golf you will encounter anywhere, and at reasonable prices. Only Florida and California have more ranked golf courses than Michigan, and the state was ranked first by Open Links for best value.
While many of Michigan’s best courses are in the northern part of the Lower Peninsula, over the past two decades the less-visited Upper Peninsula – which features rugged, striking terrain and borders immense Lake Superior — has emerged as a premier golf destination. Topping the list of Upper Peninsula golf experiences is the Island Resort & Casino near Escanaba.
The resort, easily accessible by air, offers everything you could want in a golf destination: a modern, spacious hotel with over 400 rooms, a casino and premier steak house for after-golf entertainment, and two highly acclaimed courses. And if you want to venture beyond the Sweetgrass and Sage Run courses, the resort offers golf packages with two other Upper Peninsula gems: Timberstone at Iron Mountain and Greywalls in Marquette.
Sweetgrass, designed by Paul Albanese in 2008, is ranked by Golfweek as the 10th best public course in Michigan. Not too shabby, considering the competition. “Michigan is known for having some of America’s best public golf courses,” said Tony Mancilla, the general manager of Island Resorts. “To make that list is a testament to the dramatic, bold, and contrasting designs that Albanese created and to the standards to which our superintendents maintain the courses.” If that’s not enough to convince you to fly to Escanaba, just ask some of the women pros who return every year for a Symetra Tour event at Sweetgrass.
The prairie links-style course meanders through wide-open vistas, and features a variety of greens: Redan, Biarritz, Island, and a double-green shared by the 9th and 18th holes. Throughout the course, golfers encounter the rich history of the Hannahville Indian Community, with holes named after traditional Potawatomi clans, villages, allies, medicines, and symbols. “It’s my own philosophy and the Native American philosophy that we always try to make the design fit the land, and truly allow it to reflect the principles of Native Americans’ respect for the land,” said Albanese. Sweetgrass picked up an additional honor in 2022, named the National Course of the Year by the National Golf Course Owners Association.
Sage Run, also designed by Albanese, offers a completely different golf experience. Opened for play in 2018, the course is characterized by a massive ridge that influences many holes and features more rugged terrain with hardwoods, open areas, dramatic elevation changes, and wispy fescue grasses. Albanese modelled the bunkers on Royal County Down in Northern Ireland. In only a few years, Sage Run has caught the attention of the golf world and is currently ranked in the top 20 public courses in Michigan by Golfweek.
I visited Island Resort & Casino last fall. I was familiar with many of the top courses in the Grand Traverse region but knew nothing about golf in the “U.P.” I was blown away by the courses and the overall experience. Sweetgrass and Sage Run offer contrasting golf experiences and are simply a joy to play. Albanese did a masterful job of blending challenging golf into the rugged, unique landscapes. You have a sense that you’re playing golf on the outer edge of civilization.
I also played Timberstone at Iron Mountain and Greywalls at Marquette Golf Club. If you have the time, you won’t want to pass up these memorable courses. The Greywalls course (the second-ranked public course in the state) features stunning rock outcroppings and breathtaking views of Lake Superior. Timberstone is set in the quintessential landscape of the U.P., characterized by towering pines, ponds, streams, and an abundance of wildlife, and is ranked in the top 20 of Michigan public courses by Golfweek.
So, get out your map of Michigan, find the U.P., and investigate booking a golf trip at Island Resort & Casino. Fall is a perfect time to take in the beauty of the Upper Peninsula. You’ll encounter a unique and varied experience. And when you return, you’ll be a grizzled explorer and can regale your friends with tales about your exploits in the intriguing U.P.WHAT'S YOUR REACTION?