BY JASON DEEGAN and JON KOEZE
What’s better than golf with your favorite foursome at a great course on a stunning Michigan summer day?
That’s simple. Just add beer.
Of course, we don’t condone drinking and driving or drunken rounds spent harassing the cart girl, but downing a good, satisfying beer or two on the course or after the round has always been part of the bonding ritual that is golf with your buddies. We’ve come up with a concept that might sound a bit crazy – a golf-and-beer trail blazed across the entire state.
And no, we didn’t dream up this idea after a few too many pints. A trail featuring brews, birdies and bogeys makes perfect sense.
We don’t expect you to drive this entire trail. It merely serves as a friendly reminder that with every great golf course Michigan has to offer, there’s a member of the Michigan Brewers Guild nearby just waiting to whet your whistle after a round. Just don’t blame an ugly score or a missed tee time on last night’s last call.
Suds and sand in southwest Michigan
The majority of commercial beer produced in Michigan comes from southwest Michigan — stretching from Kalamazoo, Battle Creek and Grand Rapids to the Lake Michigan shoreline—primarily due to the dominance of Bell’s Brewery in Kalamazoo, Michigan’s only full-fledged regional brewery. All other beer producers are legally classified as microbreweries or brewpubs.
Grand Rapids houses several microbreweries that are sure to quench any palate. There are three ranging in size and ambiance. The state’s biggest is Founders Brewing Co. The setting at this large, usually crowded, downtown beer hall can be quite lively in the evening. Schmohz Brewing Company counters with a cozy tap room ideal for watching sports, playing cards and other game recreation. You can find Schmohz on tap at Boulder Creek GC, Saskatoon GC, The Grille at Watermark CC and by the bottle at Thornapple Pointe. The Hideout Brewing Company remains a well-kept secret on the city’s north side. Located right off the highway, it sports a friendly, intimate environment with a filled-in outdoor pool converted into a beer garden. For pub breweries, the Grand Rapids Brewing Co., the B.O.B.’s Brewery and the Hopcat are excellent restaurants and breweries. The latter is your best bet to find the more obscure and unusual tastes in beer.
The Grand Rapids golf scene goes down just as smooth. The game grew bigger and better in the 1990s with the additions of Thornapple Pointe and Rees Jones’ Thousand Oaks Golf Club. The Mike DeVries-designed Mines Golf Course (within city limits) pulled up a stool in 2005. On the outskirts of the city, Scott Lake Country Club in Comstock Park offers an upgraded 27-hole course to enjoy. The Candlestone Inn & Golf Resort in Belding appears reenergized after renovations to both the course and 24-room inn.
Moving to downtown Kalamazoo, Bell’s Brewery is actually a storefront for Michigan’s largest brewery operation. Its most popular beers, such as the seasonal Oberon and Two Hearted Ale, are not produced in Kalamazoo but in its Galesburg commercial facility. Instead, the Kalamazoo facility specializes in small batch beers, some of which are only available at this location. The tasting room, affectionately called The Eccentric Café, and outdoor beer garden feature an interesting menu of food and beer. Expect live music most nights of the week.
Bell’s brewery will celebrate its 25th anniversary the weekend of September 10, 2010. Stop by for one heck of a party.
Consider crashing at the Kalamazoo area’s two best golf resorts, the Yarrow Golf Resort & Conference Center and the five-course Gull Lake View Golf Club & Resort, both in nearby Augusta. The two deliver value-laden golf packages with excellent courses and accommodations. Yarrow’s scenic Ray Hearn design and Gull Lake View’s Stonehedge South are the best of the bunch.
Along the shore, combine one round at the new Golf Club at Harbor Shores with a few more rounds at The Livery, home of hand-forged microbrews in Benton Harbor. The Livery makes many small batch recipes, with creative names like Dixie O’ Flynn Stout and Red Canoe Lager, and several unique hard ciders. Jack Nicklaus’s Harbor Shores, scheduled to open all 18 holes in July, is already slated to host two future Senior PGA Championships.
Farther north, the Ravines Golf Club in Saugatuck rates highly for golfers who love Arnold Palmer’s handiwork. Just a short jaunt down I-196 from the course lies a newer microbrewery, the Saugatuck Brewing Co., an Irish-style pub in Douglas. Try the Vanilla Nutmeg Oatmeal Stout for a sweet taste. The Chicora Kolsch beer is lighter, a fine example of the German recipe that has influenced many of our modern commercial beers.
Golf in God's Country in northern Michigan
Welcome to Michigan’s golf capital. From the 21-course Gaylord Golf Mecca to the eight-course empire at Boyne USA Resorts—and Arcadia Bluffs, Michigan’s top-rated course—northern Michigan remains the Midwest’s premier golf destination.
And great golf tends to make a cold brew taste that much better.
There’s no doubt a few of the club pros who were devoured by The Bear during the Michigan Open, held at the at Grand Traverse Resort & Spa for 28 years, drank their double bogeys away at downtown Traverse City’s two breweries, the Right Brain Brewery and North Peak Brewing Co. Another option, the Jolly Pumpkin Brewery/restaurant/distillery, features a cottage-themed outpost on Old Mission Peninsula (along with locations in Ann Arbor and Dexter).
Of the two downtown hotspots, Right Brain Brewery is the full-fledged microbrewery with all the funky flavors you can imagine. Don’t let the funny names like Lizard King IPA and Fat Lad Imperial Russian Stout throw you off. These are truly great tasting products. Right Brain partnered with the Mistwood Golf Club in Lake Ann for an outing in June that included nine holes, dinner and then nine holes of glow gold beer afterward.
North Peak delivers a full menu and great quality beers. Expect a focus on dining and more traditional styles of beers like light, amber and stout. Both breweries are within walking (or stumbling) distance from one another, so sample both in a single night.
Farther north, it’s amazing how tiny little Bellaire can be so stacked with great golf courses. The four courses at Shanty Creek Resorts and the two across the street at Hawks Eye Resort add up to more than 40,000 yards of premium shot-making and unspoiled views of some glorious countryside. There’s no shortage of great beer, either, at Shorts Brewing Company, the lovable downtown Bellaire brewery where the music jams and the couches are comfy.
Many believe owner Joe Short is making some of the best beer in the state right now. His is the only microbrewery north of Cadillac to open a separate production facility, located in nearby Elk Rapids, and growing by leaps and bounds. The recipes can be creative, like the peanut butter flavored Über Goober Oatmeal Stout, or Soft Parade, a beer flavored with rye, barley and a mixture of berries. But traditional styles—including Bellaire Brown Ale; Huma-Lupa-Licious (the flagship India Pale Ale); and Local’s Light Beer—are also popular.
Just make sure your focus and vision are clear playing The Legend and Cedar River at Shanty Creek, two of the most strategic resort courses in the state.
You can’t really consider yourself a golfer until you’ve teed it up in Gaylord AND bellied up to the bar at Big Buck Brewery & Steakhouse in the heart of this Alpine-themed town.
While all of the Gaylord Golf Mecca courses are worth a look, serious players gravitate to the stellar five-some at Treetops Resort. The Otsego Club’s award-winning Tribute course spills out across 1,100 acres of the Sturgeon River Valley. Otsego’s sister course at Black Forest, an early Tom Doak design, trounces many an ego. The Gaylord Country Club and Marsh Ridge Resort are more wallet-friendly, yet still deliver some of the same dramatic rolling terrain. There’s big news brewing at The Loon Golf Resort with Butch Harmon and Natalie Gulbis visiting this summer to promote Harmon’s new golf school.
Big Buck Brewery, the only place to get real beer in north central Michigan, is one of the oldest brewpubs in the state. Since its failed attempt to expand to metro Detroit in the 1990s, Big Buck has stuck close to home in Gaylord by making the jump from brewpub to microbrewery. Its focus is still on food but also American-style beers and ales.
On the sunrise side of the state, staying and playing all three courses at the Lakewood Shores Resort in Oscoda affords multiple opportunities to visit Wiltse’s Brew Pub. Our best advice? Drink a hearty stout after playing The Gailes course, a links-like layout with double greens and pot bunkers. The experience will mimic a day playing overseas in Scotland or Ireland. Just don’t tip the server a Euro
Sweetgrass Golf Club
Living it up in the UP
Of the handful of breweries spread throughout the Upper Peninsula, only a few reside within a half-hour’s drive of notable courses.
To build the astonishing Greywalls course at Marquette Country Club, architect Mike DeVries sculpted fairways that zigzag over and around massive rock formations and cliffs, at times offering glimpses of Lake Superior in the distance.
The historic Vierling Restaurant and Marquette Harbor Brewery was one of the first brewpubs in Michigan. Located in an old section of town, the restaurant’s décor is American bistro with a distinctly northern Michigan slant. Great food mixes nicely with several finely crafted small batch brews. Vierling also boasts the largest wine selection north of the bridge. Plan your golf trip around the beer calendar for the 2nd Annual Michigan Brewers Guild UP Oktoberfest on Sept. 11.
The newest addition to the U.P. golf family, the Sweetgrass Golf Club, designed by Paul Albanese for the Island Resort & Casino in Harris, features an island green and bookend par-5s to finish each nine, separated by a waterfall. Roughly 20 miles away, Escanaba, the town made famous by Jeff Daniel’s comedy, is a must-stop for tourists. Dine and drink at the Hereford & Hops Steakhouse & Brewpub, located on the first floor of a historic 1914 five-story former hotel. Whitetail Ale, Cleary Red and Black Bird Stout—three past winners of national and international competitions in their respective beer styles—are on tap.
In the Middle of the Mitten
The middle of our mitten is a littler flatter than most of Michigan, but certainly the local beer won’t taste that way.
Breweries are a staple of every Michigan college town. Mount Pleasant, the home of Central Michigan University, never gets the credit it deserves as a golf destination. Even so, Buck’s Run and Pohlcat can hang with the state’s best.
The Mountain Town Station is Mount Pleasant’s featured restaurant and watering hole for locals, students and golfers. At least seven standard recipes are on tap, ranging from golden ale to black stout and seasonal brews. Customers can devour burgers and salads or ribs and lobster tail. The related Mount Pleasant Brewing Company, located about a mile north, features the same beers and a tap room with frequent live music.
Due west resides the 1-2 punch of the Tri-City Brewing Company and the Bay Valley Golf Club in Bay City.
In the thumb, Frankenmuth, a truly German town, has a rich tradition of brewing beer. It once rivaled Detroit in beer production. After a tornado destroyed the original facility in 1996, the Frankenmuth Brewing Company was reestablished in 2003, now specializing in Pilsner, Blonde, Dunkle and Hefeweizen. The nearby Fortress Golf Club is guarded by rough as thick as the foam on a dark ale from the brewery. Frankenmuth will host the pre-eminent German Oktoberfest in Michigan from Sept. 16-19. See frankenmuthfestivals.com for more.
Harper’s Restaurant and Brewpub in East Lansing is one of the most popular restaurant/night spots in a city full of them. Michigan State University students gravitate toward wheat beers, pale ales and porters, a lighter version of stout. The golf courses in Spartan Country are just as exciting and scenic as the nightlife at Harper’s.
The most punishing is Eagle Eye Golf Club in Bath. The island green gulps down tee shots faster than you can say “Beer me!” Hawk Hollow is home to 27 solid holes. The unrelenting Forest Akers West course on MSU’s campus tests Michigan’s best high school and college players at various tournaments.
One hour south on M-127, mix golf at The Medalist with the Dark Horse Brewing Co. in historic Marshall. Thanks to solid-beer making skills from its staff, this microbrewery creates some of the more interesting beers around. Extreme flavors, merging styles and “in your face” attitude gives Dark Horse its unique notoriety. Tattoos, darts, indie music and non-conformist recipes like Perkulator Coffee Dopplebock are found here. Leave your collared shirt at home after dark.
Hanging in the 'D'
There are plenty of outstanding breweries in metro Detroit, from downtown (the Atwater Block Brewery and Motor City Brewing Works) to the suburbs (Copper Canyon Brewery in Southfield and Kuhnhenn Brewing Co. in Warren). Unfortunately, only a few are really all that close to a knockout public course. The Rochester Mills Beer Co. is within eight miles of three worthy tee times—the links-like Blackheath, the 27-hole Twin Lakes and the Westwynd at Wyndgate.
Instead, follow I-94 to the college metropolis that is Ann Arbor-Ypsilanti.
The Arbor Brewing Company has two operations in the area: the namesake original, a pub and eatery in downtown Ann Arbor, and the newer Corner Brewery and Beer Garden, a microbrewery near Eastern Michigan University’s campus in Ypsilanti. Both serve food, although the Corner Brewery is more oriented to burgers and snacks, while Arbor Brewing has a full menu. Both overlap on some beers, but the Corner offers a greater variety of flavors, styles and recipes.
If you are looking to impress, either romantically or otherwise, head for the Grizzly Peak Brewing Co. The downtown Ann Arbor landmark stands out for its rehabbed exposed brick, bistro brass and polished wood décor. The food menu ranges from pizza and burgers to salmon and steak. Five stock beers from gold to stout are always on tap, along with a rotation of several small batch seasonal recipes that push the envelope of traditional flavor and style.
As for golf, if you can’t secure a tee time on the University of Michigan Golf Course, the gorgeous tribute to Alister MacKenzie in the shadow of Michigan Stadium, the Leslie Park Golf Course, Stonebridge and Lake Forest Golf Club are solid back-up plans. Lake Forest once held a Futures Tour event, and Leslie Park honored as the No. 1 municipal in Michigan by Golf Digest.
Ypsilanti always takes a backseat to the glamour of Ann Arbor, except when it comes to public courses and beer festivals. The Eagle Crest Golf Club, home of the EMU men’s and women’s golf teams, kisses the shores of Ford Lake, demanding for some of the area’s most difficult, yet memorable, shots. Ypsi will host the 13th Annual Michigan Brewers Guild Summer Beer Festival July 23-24, a fantastic bash not to be missed with nearly all of the brewers in Michigan in one place.
Golf, like a good beer, is meant to be savored, not chugged. It might take you a lifetime to visit all these courses and breweries on our golf-and-beer trail. That’s OK. Just enjoy the journey.
Jason Deegan is senior writer and contributing editor to Michigan GOLF Magazine and www.michigangolfmagazine.com and a regular contributor to Athlon Sports. Jon Koeze is a beer aficionado and beer columnist for Grand Rapids Magazine.