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By Don VanderVeen
Photography courtesy Boyne Mountain

ill Rogers, legend has it, never met a man he didn’t like during his travels on the famous Route 66 that winds from Chicago to L.A. He probably would have said the same thing about the Michigan golf courses dotting the M-66 Fall Golf Color Tour.

M-66 is only about a tenth as long as Route 66, but for those of us who have never met a course we didn’t like, this route can become “The Mother Road” for Michigan golf this fall.

Starting in southern Michigan near the Indiana border in Centreville, our version of “Route 66” winds north, and is within a fairway wood of some spectacular fall golf venues in Michigan.

So take note and whistle that familiar tune. Get your kicks on M-66.

Island Hills, Centreville
Set alongside – and a little bit inside – Lake Templene, the fantastic finishing holes at Island Hills set the stage for a sensational start to the Fall Tour.

“ The colors out here in the fall are spectacular,” head professional Matt Lough said. “It does take on a different character. It’s just beautiful.”

While the whole course is challenging and scenic, the real adventure of the Ray Hearn design begins down the homestretch while playing on and around wetlands and the 40-acre island from which the course derives its name.

“ The five finishing holes are absolutely breathtaking,” Lough said. “I’ve played a lot of golf courses in Michigan, Indiana and throughout the Midwest, and these five finishing holes here are truly the most unique ones I’ve ever encountered.”

The stretch begins on No. 14 and No. 15 with consecutive all-carry, par-3 holes – one 100 feet above wetlands and the other some 35-feet over a cove of the lake – and No. 16 is a par-4, forced carry over a cove of the lake, while No. 17 has a slanted fairway with water along one side and a well bunkered green. The par-5 finishing hole doglegs to a long, but narrow green that is protected and highlighted by rock formations creating a waterfall effect; all that after negotiating a brutal 650-yard (from the tips), split fairway par-5 at hole No. 13.

“ It’s absolutely beautiful with the elevation changes and colorful backgrounds you will see all around the golf course,” Lough said. “Ray Hearn did a beautiful job laying out the golf course, and those five finishing holes are truly remarkable.”

Yarrow, Augusta
Any golf course in Augusta is going to be terrific, and this one is woman friendly, as well.

Opening for great golf in the summer of 2003, Yarrow is situated on 300 acres of rolling terrain in Augusta, located in Kalamazoo County, not Georgia.

“ It’s unbelievably playable with five sets of tees and very generous fairway landing areas,” head professional Matt Hudson said. “The greens are quite large.

“ Golfers of every skill level can play this course and have a good time.”

Its wetlands, rock formations, hardwoods and pine trees create a backdrop for another outstanding golf course designed by Raymond Hearn, who has called it “the most spectacular setting for a golf course that I have seen to date.”

“ It has a very nice variety of holes, with some on the backside that look like Northern Michigan holes cut through the woods and wetlands,” Hudson said. “You don’t see a lot of other golfers while you’re out there playing.

“ The tree-lined fairways will be gorgeous when the colors start to turn.

“ It’s just beautiful.”

The lodge at Yarrow offers 45-guest rooms located just minutes from either Kalamazoo or Battle Creek.
“ There are a lot of good golf courses in the area and lots of cultural things to do. It works both ways,” Hudson added.

Thornapple Pointe, Grand Rapids
With the Thornapple River serving as a backdrop, a round at Thornapple Pointe can be as illuminating as it is invigorating during a peaceful fall afternoon.

The gentle rolling hills, hardwoods and wetlands accent the well-groomed bentgrass fairways, tees and greens, making for a most enjoyable round of golf.

“ The course really takes on a different look in the fall,” head professional Chris Sobieck said. “The trees turn colors and the heathers and tall grasses turn a nice golden brown.

“ When you contrast the river in the background with the grasses and greens and changing of the trees, it is just spectacular.”

The championship layout at Thornapple Pointe has undergone some recent renovations, including the addition of 17 new sand bunkers, eight new back tee boxes and newly paved cart paths to go along with the scenic beauty and on-board GPS systems that provide exact yardage to the sticks.

“ The course is in really, really good shape and is playing real well,” Sobieck said.

Thousand Oaks, Grand Rapids
This gem of a golf course is in beautiful shape all the time, but on a nice fall day, the Rees Jones design becomes a Thousand times better.

When all those oak leaves turn to their bright fall colors with the rolling green hued backdrop of the well-maintained course, Thousand Oaks lights up like a subtle neon masterpiece.

“ It’s fantastic,” Thousand Oaks director of golf Gary Smithson said. “With the elevation changes here, you can see for miles overlooking the Grand River Valley.

“ We’re carved right out of hardwoods and the colors really reflect that. The fall is a great time to play golf, and it certainly is a good time to play here.”

Located just minutes from downtown Grand Rapids – which hosts fall events such as Celebration on The Grand – Thousand Oaks reigns as one of West Michigan’s most popular golf destinations.

“ When you’re out here, it’s hard to imagine that you’re just a few minutes away from the city, because you don’t see a whole lot of other people. You get a secluded type of scenario.”

The elevation changes, wetlands and rolling fairways create both a scenic and user-friendly golf course that puts a premium on the short game.

“ The most challenging thing here is the green complexes,” Smithson said. “It’s not difficult to keep the ball in play off the tees, but chipping and putting is the most difficult thing about playing Thousand Oaks, because there are a lot of subtle breaks and turns.

“ On any given day, this course can play differently based on the wind direction. Typically, the prevailing wind in the summer is from the west, and the conditions change as the seasons change based on wind direction.”

Candlestone, Belding
Candlestone is a West Michigan golf course that has withstood the test of time, and fall is one of the prettiest times to play it. There is just something special and peaceful about playing this course on a nice, quiet fall day as the changing color of the leaves clash with the thatches of evergreens and varying hues of grasses.

“ The beauty of the course and the colors of the trees are very similar to playing in Northern Michigan,” Candlestone general manager Jeffrey Miller said.

Those trees include apple, pine and hardwoods, as well as an abundance of wildlife, including turkey, deer and fox that can be seen regularly at Candlestone.

“ The course is in great shape, and it lights up in the fall. It’s really beautiful for picture taking,” Miller said.

Candlestone, which annually hosts the West Michigan Amateur, features a most formidable foursome of closing holes, including a 230-yard par 3, a 590-yard par 5, an uphill, 430-yard par 4 and a 425-yard finishing hole with a big dogleg between the trees.

“ We have probably four of the most difficult finishing holes around, and it just doesn’t give up,” Miller said. “We have some very playable, scoring holes sprinkled in prior to those, but it is a course that is a challenge for players at all levels.”

The Jerry Matthews designed course opened in 1978.

“ We haven’t had to make a lot of changes to the golf course over the years and that is a testament to how well it was designed,” Miller said. “It’s not target golf here and you can hit driver on every hole, and there are a couple of risk-and-reward holes along the way.”

Candlestone is located about a half hour away from Grand Rapids and is a few minutes down the road from Greenville, which hosts the Danish Festival every August.

St. Ives/Tullymore, Stanwood
Combine two nationally acclaimed golf courses and a brand new hotel with the changing of the seasons, and it is enough to make anyone fall in love with this place.

Those courses are St. Ives and Tullymore, and fall often brings out the best of both. The Inn at St. Ives provides an excellent opportunity to stay and play.

“ The natural beauty of both golf courses are just spectacular come fall,” says director of golf Kevin O’Brien. “In the fall, the conditions are as good as they get all year, because there’s not the stress on the grass caused by heat.

“ Plus, both courses have great deciduous trees throughout, so colors are fantastic. When you blend together those colors with the colors the wetlands bring out, it creates a really nice artistic pallet.”
Designed by Jim Engh, Tullymore has already earned a reputation among the finest upscale golf courses in North America.

St. Ives was designed by Michigan’s own Jerry Matthews, and has earned many national accolades itself.

“ The neat thing about the two golf courses is that they are so different,” O’Brien said. “They are both parkland golf courses with trees, wetlands and lake views, but the designs are different. When a golfer comes up here, he or she sees two entirely different golf courses, which is a nice experience we have here.”

“ The colors are a little more dramatic at Tullymore, but the elevation changes at St. Ives are much more dramatic,” O’Brien said. “The design and artistic beauty is really strong at Tullymore with the bunkering and the mounding and the way it flows.

“ On St. Ives, you get those spectacular lake views and elevated greens. Both have beautiful wetlands and every hole is memorable on both courses.”

The Rose, LeRoy
A Rose of any other color just wouldn’t be the same. And during the fall, the color of this golf course is in full bloom.

Located near Cadillac, The Rose covers more than 320 acres and is marked by tall pine trees and large, majestic hardwoods.

The par-71 layout features bentgrass tees and greens and bluegrass fairways. Deer, fox, turkey and blue heron create a wildlife habitat around the course.

“ It is very secluded and the amount of color we get in the fall is amazing,” general manager Mishelle Peterson said. “We have a lot of elevated tees that provide a spectacular overall view.

“ The color adds a lot, and with more comfortable golfing temperatures it makes for a more enjoyable round.”

From the clubhouse lounge – that overlooks the No. 9 and No. 18 greens – one can see for miles. And in the fall, it is a special treat.

“ It is very secluded, and the condition of the course is exceptional,” Peterson said. The Rose is located about 15 minutes away from Cadillac, which features lakes, art exhibits and fall color tours.

Eldorado, Cadillac
What better way to travel Route 66 than by Cadillac. As in Eldorado.

And what better time of year to experience it than right now.

“ In the fall, it’s just gorgeous here,” Eldorado head professional Todd Pentrack said. “Fall is usually a time when people are coming up north to close cottages or open hunting cabins, or are going up north for deer or turkey season. But one of the biggest things people misunderstand about fall is that golf courses – ours especially – are in the best shape of the year in September and October.

“ The humidity is down and the greens are in good shape. The colors are outstanding and the play is usually light.

“ When it’s 70 degrees and gorgeous – even though it may be only a month away from snow – that’s the best time to play.”

The tall, mature oak and maple trees that stand majestically on the back nine surround the more open front nine at Eldorado, and create a stadium affect.

“ The holes you can see from the clubhouse are fairly open without a lot of trees, but then it gets into something special,” Pentrack said. “The course right now is in outstanding shape.”

Eldorado provides one of the state’s best values for the combination of greens fees, pace of play, scenery and course conditions.

“ We have a little edge because of our location,” Pentrack said. “It seems to me that ‘Up North’ golf seems to begin around here. We’re a destination to hit either on the way up or on the way back. It provides golfers with a double dip opportunity to play.”

Grandview, Kalkaska
At Grandview, what you see is what you get. And in the fall, that view is especially Grand.

“ The color in the fall is so spectacular that I have people who come out here and want to drive carts around and take pictures and videos,” says Scott McDowell, general manager and head professional at Grandview.

The fairways are lined with hardwoods to create a chute-like run after opening up on five short holes that eases players into the forest. Then – like entering an enchanted wonderland – the woods engulf the golfer.

“ Playing in the fall is one of the best times to play here, because of the color and the special rates we have,” McDowell said.“ The par 3, No. 5 hole plays 223 yards from the back tees and features a 200-foot elevation drop with woods all around it. On a clear day, one can see Traverse City from the tee box.

Undulating fairways and greens with elevated tees and spectacular views create the Grandview. The bentgrass greens can be as slick and tricky to putt on as any in Michigan, according to McDowell. The fairways are generous and the rough is usually no more than two inches tall. Even in the fall, balls are easy to find.

“ If you can putt our greens, you can putt any greens in Michigan,” he said. “When we get them down to championship height, they’re tough.”

Located about 20 minutes east of Traverse City, Grandview is one of Northern Michigan’s best-kept golf secrets.

“ It is the best kept secret in Northern Michigan,” McDowell claims.

High Pointe, Acme
Make no mistake about it: High Pointe is architect Tom Doak’s baby.

Set high above the Grand Traverse skyline, overlooking Acme – an area that has become synonymous for great golf – High Pointe was the first solo project by Doak after designing courses for Jack Nicklaus.
High Pointe opened in 1989 to rave reviews, earning a top 10 U.S. course distinction during its first 10 years in existence.

“ It’s spectacular by nature,” general manager Ben Kroftchik says.

The two nines at High Pointe are about as distinct as night and day – or spring and fall. The front nine is more of an open, links-style course, while the back plays through wooded, rolling terrain most commonly associated with Northern Michigan golf.

“ The color is just tremendous on the back nine,” Kroftchik said. “Going through the rolling hills and tree-lined fairways back there, we get some spectacular color.

“ And, with the front nine being an open links course, we only have nine holes of leaf control problems. They do a great job with it, and it’s spectacular in the fall.”

A lot of wildlife, including turkeys, deer and several species of birds occupy the special houses located around the course in the heather areas. It is a true lay-of-the-land golf course.

“ Playing the front is like playing a Scottish course, and also gives you a chance to warm up a little before getting to the back which is tighter, but also very enjoyable,” Kroftchik said.

Highpointe is located within a pitching wedge of Traverse City, which features fall color tours, hot air balloon rides, a dinner train and winery tours.

“ The color tour is huge up here, and from the end of September through the first couple weeks of October, it’s a great time to play golf,” Kroftchik said.

Hawk’s Eye, Bellaire
If beauty is in the eye of the beholder, then Hawk’s Eye is a masterpiece.

Carved out of the majestic woodlands, Hawk’s Eye is the newest complement to the outstanding golf courses that have made Northern Michigan famous.

“ It’s definitely another winner on the Michigan golf landscape,” says head professional David Hill. “It’s as good as any course I have played up North, and I’ve played some very good golf courses.”

The original nine of Hawk’s Eye opened in the fall of 2002, and the second comes on line this fall. And what a perfect time of year to introduce this new wonder to the world.

“ There are big views of the valley with spectacular elevation drops reminiscent of those at Treetops. The colors are off the charts.”

Located close to the renowned golf courses at Shanty Creek Resort and sister to The Chief at Sky Lodge, Hawk’s Eye is the newest addition to the great golf in Bellaire.

“ You can now golf eight days a week around here,” Hill says.

Designed by John Robinson, who also was the architect for The Chief, Hawk’s Eye features elevated tees and spectacular scenery located across the street from Shanty Creek. It features five sets of tees, most with heavenly views.

“ We have a lot of expectations for this course,” Hill said. “There are a lot of golf courses, but we believe this one is going to separate itself.”

Cedar River, Bellaire
From the start, there were a lot of expectations thrust upon Cedar River, and the Tom Weiskopf design did not disappoint. Part of the Shanty Creek family of golf courses, Cedar River opened to rave reviews in 1999 and continues to grow in stature and beauty as the course matures.

Weiskopf’s reputation as a player was that he always finished second, but Cedar River is definitely first class in every aspect. It has been designated as a Top 10 course by major golf industry publications.
“ The thing about it is that it is very playable and everything is right there in front of you,” head professional Jason Kempfer said. “It’s a challenge but it can really be enjoyed by all levels of players.
“ The fairways are tree-lined and may seem tight, but there is actually a lot of room off the tee.”

The traditional championship golf course has five tee boxes at every hole and is laid out over a sprawling 500 acres. The average green size is 8,000 square feet. It’s big. It’s bold. And it’s beautiful.
And during the fall, it is absolutely spectacular.

“ When you look back from the No. 12 tee looking over the valley and over the Cedar River, it is just a phenomenal sight,” Kempfer said. “Once you get to the back nine, you can really experience the depth of those colors.

“ The maple trees and the ash trees make some of the biggest color splashes in the fall, but at that time of the year all the views are right off the charts.”

Antrim Dells, Elsworth
For some 30 years, Antrim Dells has built its reputation as a quality golf course featuring magnificent views of Grand Traverse Bay.

The views get even grander as fall approaches.

“ It takes on different characteristics as the season changes,” says Mike Morrical, who is part of the Antrim Dells family ownership group. “There are a lot of fall colors and it becomes just a beautiful golf course that time of year.”

Antrim Dells is a straight-forward golf course with a lot of contrast from the front to the back.

Located in Atwood, Antrim Dells begins with a relatively open front nine, a tighter tree-lined backside with several long and strong finishing holes and outstanding views of the bay along the way.

The 18-hole championship golf course features an abundance of sand, trees, hills and water, and plays 6,670 yards from the back tees. The prevailing winds off Lake Michigan change the personality of the course from time to time.

The large, spacious cedar clubhouse also features good food, great service and million dollar sunsets.

“ The sunsets over the bay are different every day,” Morrical said. “We really have something special here.”

Boyne Mountain, Boyne City
If it looks like fire on the mountain, it must be Boyne. The Monument and The Alpine are two Boyne Courses that light up the countryside in the fall.

The elevated views overlooking Deer Lake and the entire Boyne Valley area set the stage for a great fall color extravaganza.

“ There’s an excellent chance that you will see a lot of color and a lot of wildlife, like deer, turkey, fox, coyotes…all kinds of stuff,” says Boyne Mountain golf professional Dan Turcotte. “We’ve even had bears (not to be confused with Boyne’s northern neighbor) seen on this course from time to time.”

The Alpine features 11 tree-line holes on the front with generous fairways and large greens. The final seven holes are a little more open and wind swept.

The Monument is more narrow, and requires a bit more target golf. Although it is shorter than The Alpine, the greens at The Monument are more undulating.

The color on both courses is constant.

“ It’s a great place to come in the fall,” Turcotte said. “In my opinion, the courses are in some of the best shape they will be in if you catch it before the leaves start coming down.

“ It’s the best time of year to play, because there still is a lot of good weather in September for the most part. It’s also a busy time of the year now, because the secret is out on us.”

Dunmaglas, Charlevoix
Regarded as a “True Northern Masterpiece,” Dunmaglas has earned a reputation as one of the top upscale golf courses in the United States.

The views are inspiring. The course’s rolling terrain and wooded forests take on a whole new persona in the fall when all the colors magnify the natural beauty of the layout.

“ We just have some breathtaking views,” general manager and head professional Jeff Smith said. “In the fall, there is a lot more color.”

Dunmaglas features panoramic views of Lake Charlevoix and/or Lake Michigan from most holes on the course. And the fall color that comes from the woodlands is absolutely tree-mendous.

“ The color is just breathtaking,” Smith said. “The panoramic views are great and the course utilizes the terrain just about better than anything,” Smith said. “We were blessed with what nature gave us in the terrain. It’s a natural setting with a lot of elevation changes.”

There has also been a lot of conditioning work that has taken place over the past two seasons, allowing Dun -maglas to really show its colors.

“ The course is in excellent shape,” Smith said. “We made it a little more player friendly, but we haven’t done anything to hamper the character for the guy who really wants to play a challenging golf course.”

Events around the Charlevoix area include the Venetian Festival and Art Fair during the summer months and early fall, and an Apple Festival the first weekend in October where local growers show off and taste their goods.

An array of outstanding restaurants complement the golf, fishing and sailing on lakes Michigan, Charlevoix and Round.

Charlevoix Country Club, Charlevoix
Because of membership numbers, it is sometimes difficult to book a tee time at Charlevoix Country Club during the summer. But in the fall, chances are good that your group will be able to play through.

“ Fall is usually a real good time for us,” says head professional Steve Good. “If the weather is decent, it can be really nice because colors are so awesome up here. After the members leave early in September it really opens up for play.”

The semi-private club, designed by Jerry Matthews, has approximately 200 members.

Charlevoix Country Club offers two distinctly different golf experiences. The front is more of a links style nine, while the back is cut through cedars and is much more of a traditional Northern Michigan course.

While the expansive golf course runs through 500 acres, it is not overly long. It plays about 6,400 yards from the back tees. But the final three holes can play long and strong into the wind when it is blowing in from the southwest.

The front nine is shorter, and plays about 3,000 yards from the tips. The back plays about 400 yards longer and through woods.

“ It’s a good test of golf,” Good said. “It’s challenging, but it’s fair.”

Belvedere, Charlevoix
The Michigan Amateur returned to Belvedere for the first time since 1988 earlier this year, as golfers re-acquainted themselves with one of the most storied golf courses in the state.

Tom Watson still reminisces about the course he used to play when he was a boy. In the fall, the pace of play is virtually unparalleled.

“ What makes it nice in the fall is that most of the members have gone and you could typically play a round on a very exceptional course in three hours and 15 minutes without problems,” Belvedere head professional Steve Braun said.

Historic Belvedere was designed by Scotsman Willie Watson and founded in 1925. Over the years, it has hosted 39 Michigan Amateur Championships.

“ Willie Watson didn’t design a lot of courses, but he did design some great golf venues that some of the greatest names in golf have played,” Braun said. “This one a lot of fun to play. It has a lot of Donald Ross characteristics from the golden era of golf course design.

“ We like to say that Aunt Tillie will enjoy it,” Braun added. “In seven years, I don’t know if anybody has come off the course that didn’t enjoy their round.”

Little Traverse Bay, Harbor Springs
As Harbor Springs prepares to make the transition from golf season to its winter wonderland of skiing, tubing and snowboarding, some beautiful changes take place on Little Traverse Bay.

Located on the other side of the mountain from Nub’s Knob in the heart of one of Michigan most spectacular golf hotbeds, Little Traverse Bay is a golf course with magnificent views of water, wetlands and woodlands.

“ In the fall when the leaves change, it’s just phenomenal,” head professional Shawn Bezilla said. “For a public golf course, I haven’t seen many better maintained or better taken care of than what this facility is.

“ One of the aspects that makes this golf course so nice is that we are perched on a hill overlooking the whole countryside and it provides some spectacular views. The views here separate us from the rest of the courses in the area.

“ From up here, you can see Petoskey. On a clear day, you can see down to Charlevoix.”

Little Traverse Bay plays about 6,900 yards from the back tees. Only three holes – No. 7, No. 9 and No. 18 – play uphill. The rest of the course is either flat or plays downhill.

The spectacular rolling terrain features wide fairways — even on tree-lined holes — that have “user-friendly” sloping edges that help kick balls back into the fairway.

“ In the fall, there’s a sea of oranges, and reds and yellows out here,” Bezilla said. “It will knock your socks off. “ We’re creating unforgettable experiences. We want people to remember the conditions and quality of the golf course.”

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