Don VanderVeen / Photography by Kevin
Golf in Michigan
transcends the great courses in The Mitten
and Upper Peninsula. It also reaches out
into its Great Lakes onto a few offshore
Drummond Island and Beaver Island all have
golf courses. All three islands have nine-hole
courses. Drummond Island features one of
Michigan’s finest championship layouts
at The Rock, while the courses on Mackinac
Island are unique because of their historic
Islands create visions of vacations. Vacations are great
Vacationers have been coming to
Mackinac Island and playing golf on one of Michigan’s
oldest courses since the turn of the 20th century.
“ Back then, when you’d
come to the island, you’d come for a month
at a time,” said Brad Jones of the Mackinac
Area Tourist Bureau. “Many would come from
Chicago or Detroit on one of the steamers and
they would typically come prepared for a month
long stay, which would include golf clubs.”
It’s now the 21st century and there are several more options
for teeing it up on some of Michigan’s favorite vacation
Mackinac Island features two historic golf courses. Wawashkamo
is one of the states oldest. The Grand Course is connected with
the fabled Grand Hotel.
Although these are not long courses
by any means, the unique and sometimes historic
features — along with the awesome views
they have to offer — turn a round of golf
into a walk back through time.
As part of the Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island, The Grand Course
and The Woods Course create what is known as The Jewel where a
20-minute horse-and-carriage ride is required to make the turn
“ The best thing about it
is the tranquility of the island itself and the
pace of play,” head professional Ryan Maibe
said. “You need to take a carriage ride
back and forth between nines and you can catch
lunch in between. I’ve never heard of another
course having that.
“ The scenery is second
to none in Michigan, and the course is in excellent
The front nine, referred to as
the Grand Course, originally opened in 1911.
The Woods, designed by Jerry Matthews, opened
in 1994. Matthews also completed a redesign of
the Grand Course in 1985.
“ Mackinac Island was one of my favorite projects,” Matthews said. “The
Hotel course was built shortly after 1900, and it’s always fun to see what
was done in that era. It had real small greens, and we kind of totally rebuilt
that thing to take out some of the difficult shots for liability purposes.
“ On the Woods course, it
was putting together nine brand-new holes,” Matthews
added. “It was really fun and offered a
tremendous amount of natural beauty on very limited
“ It’s not long golf,
but target golf. The challenge of working on
Mackinac Island makes it a unique experience,
because you can’t run motorized equipment
on the island. It made it unique and interesting.”
Members, guests and the general
public all play the courses on the quaint island
that has hosted governors from around the country.
“ They are two distinctly
different nines,” assistant professional
Ryan Horicks said. “The Woods is more of
a northern Michigan type nine with skyline views
“ Playing golf anywhere
is special, but playing here is really special.
People come here to enjoy the experience of being
on Mackinac Island, and you don’t have
to say much more than that.”
The Governor’s Mansion,
Fort Mackinac and the marina can all be viewed
from the No. 7 tee.
Every hole on the Woods course
creates a scenic delight and offers scoring opportunities
for scratch golfers and high handicappers alike.
A view of the Mackinac Bridge
can be seen from the green at No. 10. Number.
12 is a par-3 that is one of the prettiest holes
anywhere with layered teeing areas, a small cascading
waterfall and a receptive peninsula green creating
a scene that belongs in an art gallery.
The clubhouse near the Woods
nine features a single-lane 10-pin bowling alley
that is one of the oldest active alleys of its
type in the United States.
“ It’s a hopping little
place, and we put a lot of people around,” Maibe
said, “but the golf course has a very laid
is somewhere back in time
Another Mackinac Island treasure, Wawashkamo, is perhaps Michigan’s
most historic golf course. It was designed by Alex Smith, a golf
professional from Scotland who went on to win two U.S. Open titles
in 1906 and 1910. Smith was in the first class of inductees into
the PGA Hall of Fame.
Although the conditions aren’t
as pristine as many of Michigan’s modern
upscale courses, the historic experience of playing
Wawashkamo — which originally opened for
play in 1895 — makes for a trip somewhere
back in time when the only way to reach the island
was via boat.
“ It’s one of the
few courses left in the United States that was
pretty much designed and has stayed as it was
built over 100 years ago,” says manager
Thirteen gravesites are set on
a knoll in the middle of the golf course, commemorating
the lives of 13 U.S. soldiers who lost their
lives in the Battle of 1814. It was farmland
at the time. “It adds to its character
as a historic spot,” Lewis said.
The course showcases several
of its turn-of-the-century features. On the first
tee, a golfer may build the tee stand in the
sand. Hickory-shafted golf club rentals — mashie
niblicks and those used in the late 1800s — are
available for rentals.
A three-foot high “circus
ring” surrounds the green at the No. 3
hole. It was originally used on Scottish courses
as a hazard to force a lofted shot onto the green.
“ It was intended to make
you shoot a shot in the air instead of along
the ground,” Lewis said. “It originally
circled the whole green and had ladders used
to get in, because it was so tall. Even now,
it’s a hazard you don’t want to get
The land Washkamo sets on has
been leased from the state of Michigan since
early in the 20th century. The original clubhouse
still stands. The last addition to the clubhouse
was completed in 1920.
“ Because of where it’s at, it has had a limited amount of play over
the life of the course,” Lewis said. “It used to be a private course,
which was a good situation to maintain its character throughout the years.”
The fairways of the links style course remain non-irrigated. The
grasses vary. Cross bunkers run perpendicular across the fairway.
“ It makes for interesting
play,” Lewis said. “You can play
the game the way it was played for hundreds of
years until the middle of the 1900s. You can’t
always have a perfect lie, and what’s growing
there is what’s growing there. There are
a lot of unique grasses on the fairways instead
of all fine fescues. There’s some bent
grass, some blue grass and whatever else will
“ Everything outside the
fairway isn’t cut during the season, so
it can be a little challenging if you get off
the straight and narrow.”
Gutta-Percha Balls were used
back when Wawashkamo first opened until about
1905. The distances of the holes were relatively
short. The holes played fairly straight forward.
Bump-and-run golf was the name of the game.
The cost to play Wawashkamo is
$25 per nine. Reproduction balls, simulating
characteristics of the original gutta-percha
balls, are available.
Lewis recommends playing the
nine-hole course twice — first with modern
equipment and the second time with the old hickory
clubs and gutta-percha replicas — from
the two different yardage markers.
“ You don’t have to dress up in knickers,” Lewis said. “But
when you play with that older equipment, there are a lot of lower trajectory
shots and a lot of ball roll. When you play like that, you can see why those
hazards are like they are.”
Several signs retelling the historical
significance of some of Washkamo’s features
are set at various spots throughout the course.
There is one modern amenity.
Power cart rentals are available.
Unlike Mackinac Island — which can be accessed only via boat
or plane — Drummond Island can accept cars via a ferry system.
Rock ranks among Michigan’s finest
On Drummond Island, The Rock stands out as one of Michigan’s
top resort golf courses. With a Four-Star rating as one of the
top places to play, The Rock is the cornerstone of an active tourist’s
paradise. It was originally financed by former Detroit Tigers owner
and Domino’s Pizza magnate Thomas Monaghan.
“ Monaghan always liked to do things in a special way, and he did that
here,” Drummond Island Resort & Conference Center general manager Jim
Gernhofer said. “The uniqueness of Drummond Island and the adventure of
coming to an island to play golf with all the extra curricular activities all
adds to the mystique. We interact with the natural environment and natural resources
while having fun along the way.”
There are more than 2,200 acres
of wonderment surrounding The Rock.
The resort features tennis and
volleyball courts, an eight-lane bowling alley,
recreation area, clay shooting area, sauna, pool
and weight room, along with boat, canoe, personal
watercraft, bike and SUV rentals.
But golf is what draws people
to The Rock by planes, boats and cars.
The well maintained conditions
on the golf course accent the wildlife of the
Rolling fairways and greens set
up the course that weaves in and out of heavily
wooded areas and is outlined by waterways throughout.
Rock ledges from blasting of limestone and flat
rock during construction of the course accent
A one-mile ride on the cart path
takes golfers to the first hole, where they are
treated to some of the best island golf this
side of Great Britain. No. 6 features natural
rock ledges on the side of the fairway and green.
Two more ledges appear on No. 12. Several other
holes feature the rocks that give the course
its character and its name.
“ You are secluded on every
single hole,” Gernhofer said. “There’s
an abundance of wildlife on the course. Golfing
The Rock is like taking a nature tour.
“ When you come this far
to play golf, you are coming with specific purposes
in mind. Golf here has been the cornerstone since
A nine-hole practice putting
course also is available.
that saves time and $$$
There’s also Drummond Island Golf Club, a nine-hole course
near the municipal airport.
Built in the early 1960s, it
is a no-frills course that has a runway running
through a fairway. Watch out for landing planes!
But it’s a fun little course
to play — whether tuning up for a challenge
at The Rock or playing it over and over as many
times as desired — at very reasonable rates.
For $20, a player can play all day — as
many holes as he or she can get in — before
the sunsets. The record for holes played in a
day is 73 holes, set by three men in 1988.
The fairways are not irrigated.
“ It’s very similar
to the old courses in England,” according
to a course attendant. “It’s deceptive
because of the lies you get out here.
“ The main thing is that
you have to watch out for aircraft. The airport
was here first.”
Quaint course provides
Ever hear of the man who always brings two pairs of socks to the
golf course in case he gets a hole in one? Only one pair is needed
at Beaver Island Golf Club.
The little nine-hole course on
the Lake Michigan island doesn’t give many
up aces. The number of holes-in-one recorded
during its 40-year history can be counted on
“ It is a fun course,” proprietor
John Works Sr. says. “It is not as well
groomed as some would like, but that kind of
adds a challenge to it.”
Beaver Island is approximately
65 square miles in size and is located nearly
30 miles off the West Michigan coastline city
of Charlevoix. The town of St. James dates back
into the 19th century. Golf came later. Much
later. Golf professional Matt Melville developed
the land and opened Beaver Island Golf Club in
1961. In 1978, John Works Sr. — a summer
resident from Ohio since 1960 — purchased
the course, and his family has been running it
The course at Beaver Island is
relatively flat. The primary elevation change
is a valley on No. 6 that goes down and then
back up a slope to the green.
The 3,500-yard nine-hole course
plays to a par-35 with two par-3s and one par-5.
There are two tee boxes.
Trees run along the west side
of the course and another swath through the center.
There is a water hazard on No. 7, a par-5 hole
that doglegs to the green. No. 8 is a long par-4
with another dogleg, before an easy finishing
hole at No. 9.
The greens are flat and not real
fast, which makes for straight, true putts.
“ There are a variety of
holes and makes a rather interesting challenge,” Works
said. “We don’t have many players
The cost for nine holes is $12.
Club rentals are available for those visiting
or vacationing on the island.