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By Don VanderVeen / Photography by Kevin Frisch

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 islands.

Mackinac Island, 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 features.
Islands create visions of vacations. Vacations are great for golf.

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 islands.

Mackinac Island
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.

A Grand Experience
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 between nines.

“ 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 shape.”

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 acreage.

“ 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 and trees.

“ 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 back atmosphere.”

Wawashkamo 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 Doug Lewis.

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 into.”

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 make it.

“ 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.

Drummond Island
Unlike Mackinac Island — which can be accessed only via boat or plane — Drummond Island can accept cars via a ferry system.

The 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 island.

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 the surroundings.

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 Day One.”

A nine-hole practice putting course also is available.

Nine 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.”

Beaver Island
Quaint course provides challenge
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 one hand—five.

“ 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 ever since.

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 making par.”

The cost for nine holes is $12. Club rentals are available for those visiting or vacationing on the island.

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