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By Norm Sinclair / Courtesy Grand Traverse Resort

Tom Weiskoph and Gary Player have joined the growing list of PGA players and champions adding their signature to Northern Michigan’s award-winning array of championship golf courses. Michigan Golf is pleased to bring you full-length features on both Cedar River and The Wolverine. Northern Michigan is also home to the world’s greatest teaching professionals, which you will read about in MG’s feature on golf academies. And Hidden River mixes fins with feathers (birdies) for a truly memorable getaway golf adventure.

Cedar River Golf Club
The passion for the game of golf that drove and frustrated Tom Weiskopf in nearly two decades on the PGA Tour, has catapulted the former British Open champion to the top of the field of today’s golf course designers.

The former Ohio State Buckeye, whose playing career was dwarfed by the shadow of fellow Buckeye Jack Nicklaus, has found his own comfort zone. His experience as a player, his knowledge of the game, and his long and rewarding apprenticeship with golf architect Jay Morrish, has made Weiskopf one of the most sought after designers in golf.

Some of the most famous modern golf courses have his name on them. Among the award winning designs are Troon Golf and Country Club in Scottsdale, Double Eagle in Ohio, and Loch Lomond in Scotland.

When Terry Schieber, Shanty Creek Resort’s CEO, partner Vic Zucco, and their investors developed plans for another major golf course to be the centerpiece of a third resort village for a 540-acre site between the Summit and Schuss Villages, Weiskopf was at the top of their list of candidates to design it.
“ His courses are among the top ranked ones in the world. We knew Tom was choosy about the jobs he accepted, and he had never done anything in Michigan,” Schieber recalled.

Because of his prickly disposition as a player, Schieber said they were pleasantly surprised and delighted with Weiskopf, whom they found to be warm, enthusiastic, and open to ideas.

It was an ideal match between owners and a designer who said he wanted to be a part of the booming Michigan golf scene.

In the big, rolling land that separates the Summit from the Schuss Village, Weiskopf found a designer’s dream.

“ The three qualities you would hope to have are good land with changes in elevation, big, mature, trees, and water like you have here. The sandy soil is conducive to good drainage and to growing good-quality turf,” Weiskopf said on a hot summer day, during a working visit to the site. “You also have ownership that is committed to doing things the right way, and Terry and Vic and the other people up here were fantastic.”

Because of his personal, hands-on-approach to golf course design, Weiskopf accepts no more than four jobs at a time, allowing him to spend as much time as he needs on each site.

When Schieber and the others hired Weiskopf, they got Weiskopf, not someone from his design staff.
At Shanty Creek he was on the site nearly two dozen times during construction.

“ I always work that way. I think attention to detail is essential,” he said. “Attention to detail means every time I come out I notice something that I didn’t see during the last time I was on site. Every time you go out and look at it, one question should apply: ‘Is this really right?’”

At Cedar River, Weiskopf got it right.

From the first tee to the last, Cedar River is a beautiful, challenging golf course. Every hole flows naturally over the land and around the features of the terrain as if they had been there forever.
Weiskopf admires the great traditional golf courses by old time masters like Alister MacKenzie, Donald Ross, and A.W. Tillinghast, their influence on him is seen in the deception and strategy he factors into each hole.

From the tees some holes look awfully narrow. On other tees the shot appears to be blind to the green. Yet the narrow fairways are merely illusionary as the land is contoured to hide secondary, or larger landing areas. The blind shots are only partially obscured, making for a greater challenge.

Sand bunkers on the fairway are there to direct the players to the proper line of approach to greens. The bunkers around greens force better players to think their way onto the green, while serving as a backstop to catch marginal shots before they become real disasters.

While the greens are large, they are not monstrously so. The undulation is more subtle than severe.
From the back tees the course measures 6,989 yards. From the forward tees it is still a formidable 5,315 yards. With four sets of tees, this course is challenging for the low handicap player and enjoyable for the less accomplished.

The first hole will get your attention right away. This is a lusty Par 4 that measures 458 yards from the tips but will be played by most golfers at the 427 or 388-yard tees. You need a long drive up the left hand side of the fairway to get you in position for the second shot, over a ravine in front of the green.

This is the No. 1 handicap hole where a good start can get you going the rest of the way
There is a symmetry to the holes on each nine. The early holes play through the woods before coming out into a meadow where a dazzling stretch of holes play around a lake. On the back nine the first three holes seem to build the anticipation for the five finishing holes.

Weiskopf’s favorite hole is the 5th, a tree-lined 442-yard Par 4 that plays straight away with a rolling swale in the fairway and a huge gully wrapping from the left front all the way around the the fairly small elevated green. A big bunker sits on the left of the green to keep errant shots from rolling down into the gully.

Out of the woods, the 7th hole is a Par 5 that sweeps in a dog-leg left around the largest of the small lakes on the property. This is a good risk-reward hole where, depending on how bold you feel, you can go over the water to slice off a chunk of the 425-yard distance to the green.

The 8th hole is a dramatic, long, 202-yard Par 3 that has water along the entire left side to a green protected by a big bunker wrapping around the left side.

On the back nine, the exclamation points are the 13th and 14th holes. The 13th is the shortest Par 4 hole on the course at 297 yards. Strategy, deception, and a blind shot make this hole a delight.. From the tees the fairway runs up to the top of a ridge where a lone maple tree marks the split in the fairway.. To the left of the tree, the lower fairway is easier to hit but your second shot is semi blind over bunkers to the small green.. Going right of the tree, however demands a longer drive on the higher side of the fairway. If you hit it right and long however you will be delighted when you get to the top of the ridge to see your ball has rolled down to the fringe of the green.

The 14th is a short Par three, 163 yards from the back tee. While the entire green is visible from the 50-foot high elevated tee, bunkers on the right and left cannot be seen from the tee. The Cedar River runs in the left side of the green. With the wind blowing this hole is a match breaker.

Ironically, the original routing Weiskopf drew up had the holes playing over the river. Environmental opposition, however, made him rethink his design and thus these two fabulous holes.

The tees for the 15th hole are on one of the highest spots on the course, allowing players to look back and watch how others negotiate the previous two holes. This is a long Par 4 at 508 yards from the back tees.
The 18th is a classic finishing hole, the No. 2 handicap hole at 604 yards from the back and 581 from the blue tees. The elevated tees demand a long shot up the right side of the fairway to allow a second shot that will make the top of a hill overlooking a peninsula green with water on the right front wrapping to the back of the green. On the left is a network of bunkers waiting for the faint of heart who bailed left.

The green sits in a bowl beneath the beautiful new Lodge at Cedar River lodge. Every floor of the four-story building has huge picture windows, allowing everyone inside to have a clear view of the approach and the 18th green.

The 84-suite condominium hotel is a stunning study in rustic luxury. Local pine, oak, birch, and stone was used to give the structure an authentic northern Michigan look.
The pro shop and cart barn will be in the lower level of one of the wings of the hotel.

Wolverine Golf Course, Grand Traverse Resort
The new Wolverine Golf Course at Grand Traverse Resort is everything the resort’s original course, The Bear, is not.

Jack Nicklaus designed the Bear with plenty of teeth at the request of the resort’s former owner who wanted the toughest of tracks for championship play, that would , in turn generate plenty of attention for the resort. The Bear and its mystique has certainly lived up to those expectations.

With first dibs on the land, Nicklaus used the best and a lot of it, as the Bear prowls away from the resort, out into the spacious solitude of the woods, around and over pretty wetlands and back again.
In designing the Wolverine course, the Gary Player Group did not have that luxury of space or prime land. To make their routing work and have the course start and end at the new clubhouse adjacent to the resort’s main parking lot, the Wolverine nipped out a chunk of the Spruce Run course. Spruce Run lost more than 400 yards from its former length of 6,741 yards and now plays to a Par 70 at 6,300 from the back tees.

The Wolverine is an attractive resort track that plays much more gently than the Bear, and will be much better suited for moving groups of outings quickly around the course. The bunkering is very good, and the white sand adds exclamation points on every hole.

The front nine is a fairly tight collection of holes that plays almost straight out, away from the clubhouse and parking lot, and then straight back, with M-72., the main east-west road into Traverse City, running along side.

The back nine is more of a northern Michigan parkland setting, with rolling land and drops in elevation. Several of those holes , however, though more secluded than the wide open front nine, also run along another highway, the north-south US-31.

Placing the front nine next to M-72 highway is both good and bad for the golf course.

The good is that they are very attractive golf holes, with white sand bunkers, and pretty wetland, natural advertising that are more visible than any billboard for everyone to see as they drive by. The drawback, however, is obvious. The traffic on M-72 is constant and there is no escaping the roar as trucks and vans go by.

The Wolverine is fully grown, at 7,038 yards from the tips, 6,568 from the blue tees, 5,986 from the whites, and 5,029 from the forward tees.

Number one is a good starting hole, playing downhill at 408 yards from the back tees which are set in a stand of trees. A grouping of bunkers on the right side forces you to play left, the best position for approaching the slightly elevated green guarded by a right-front bunker.

The fairways for holes No. 2 and 8 may be the two most narrow ones on the course. They lay side-by-side, with another fairway from the Spruce Run course snuggling nearby.

Holes three through five are fairly flat, reminiscent of some Florida holes as they wind around patches of wetland and water. The third is a challenging, short, Par 5 at 487 yards that curves left around a small lake. This hole has birdie all over it if you can cut off a good chunk of the fairway by driving the ball over the water and up the fairway.

The two Par 3’s on the front side are strong holes. The fifth is a lusty 217 yards from the back tees that requires a big carry over scrub brush and water in the left front of the green. The ninth, 196 from the back, is a pretty hole that plays down hill into the side of the hill below the first tee. A long bunker and water lurks to the left of the green.

The best holes are on the back nine, with a very strong finish from 13 through 18.

The 10th, a 436-yard Par 4 is cut through a thick stand of trees and is one of the prettier holes on the course.

The 13th is another Par 4 at 409 yards. The fairway doglegs right with a big landing area and water wrapping behind the green.

The 14th is the pause that refreshes, the shortest Par 3 on the course at 183 yards from the back tees. The drive is open to the green where a big finger of a bunker wraps around the front of the green. Five tee positions are possible on this hole. From the back you must hit over a bukner that guards the front of the green. From the forward tee, the bunker is out of play, leaving a open shot to the green. From any tee the view is gorgeous in the spring as the nearby cherry trees blossom into a stunning backdrop.

The 15th is known as the “rock’ hole” for the piles of rock than line the the left side of the fairway and the bank of a creek on that side. A network of bunkers dot the right side and up to the green.

The 16th is one of the best and toughest holes. It plays uphill in a dog-leg around a stand of trees with a big maple at the apex where the fairway flows down to the green.

The 17th is semi-circular cape hole that wraps around a small lake, defying players to cut the corner over the water. At 392 yards from the back tees, it’s a big gamble.

The Wolverine finishes with a snarl from a big 592-yard par 5 from the back. Even though it’s fairly straight, the fairway appears to have a double dog leg with a U- shaped bunker complex on the left side of the fairway.

The Wolverine is a collection of mostly good, artistic holes that should be fun to play for players of all skill levels. However the course does not have the “up-north” feel or look of The Bear, or other major courses in the area.

At a kick-off reception before construction nearly four years ago, Player promised to build a nice course that players of all skills could play and enjoy. The Wolverine keeps that promise.

The opening of the course last summer also marked the debut of the superb, big fieldstone and wood clubhouse that services all three courses. The building was designed by Colorado architect, Jim Nordilie, who has an office in Charlevoix. Nordilie also takes the credit for Boyne’s spectacular Inn at Bay Harbor.

This very handsome display of architecture looks rights at home in its rustic, northern Michigan surroundings.

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