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By Don VanderVeen and Randy Prichard
Photography by Kevin Frisch

The resort business with stay-and-play golf packages have helped make golf vacations a family affair in Michigan.

Mainstream resorts in areas such as Grand Traverse, Shanty Creek and Boyne, among others, have built their reputations in Northern Michigan on quality accommodations and spectacular golf courses. There are, however, a number of more silent partners in the industry offering outstanding lodging, dining and golf packages in some of the most beautiful settings Michigan has to offer.

Among those are resorts at The Homestead on the Leelanau Peninsula, Otsego Club in the Golf Mecca of Gaylord and Blackshire at Lakewood Shores Resort in Oscoda.

Along with upscale lodging conditions, fine food and great golf courses, these resorts share several other intangible traits including old-time charm, family atmosphere and views straight from heaven.

The Homestead: America’s Freshwater Resort
The Homestead offers golf as a centerpiece, but it’s all the extra amenities — both physical and natural — that go along with it that makes it such a special vacation retreat. It creates a very family friendly atmosphere where mom and dad can slip away and play some outstanding golf courses while the kids enjoy any number of activities at one of Michigan’s most diverse and pristine summertime resorts.
Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore is one of Michigan’s treasures with history dating back to the Ice Age. The scenic drive and national park, along with South Manitou Island, are just minutes away from The Homestead.

Vineyards and wineries, arts and craft shops and other small businesses epitomizing Leelanau’s rustic heritage are all in the vicinity.

“ People are looking for serene, close-to-home places that offer something a little different,” Homestead host Bob Karas said. “Being next to a national park is certainly a plus, along with the many wineries, farm markets and unique stores. It gives a sense of a much more traditional view of what America was when times weren’t as fast-paced.

The Homestead’s upscale lodging units are time-share condominiums set on or near the shores of Lake Michigan. The blue hues of the water and clean, sandy beaches are located within walking distances from all lodging facilities.

“ We’ve been fortunate enough to have a wonderful site with the beach, water, lake, river and other topography that really makes it unique,” Karas says. “The combination of extreme topography, heavy mature forests, the river and — of course — the lake frontage is what people envision as Northern Michigan.

“ People envision Northern Michigan as having dense forests, pine trees, sandy beaches and stunning views, and that’s what we have here.”

Along with some of the most beautiful sunsets anywhere.

The Homestead also offers outdoor cookouts, a fishing derby, tennis, canoeing, kayaking, mountain biking, windsurfing and sailing — along with the resort’s indoor facility, Camp Tam-A-Rack — for family fun or while mom and/or dad are enjoying a round of golf. Enrichment courses in wildlife, ecology, ship wrecks, the dunes, wildflowers and more are offered by neighboring Leelanau School.
“ We have enough diverse activities where everybody is happy — even if one or two members of the family play golf and the others do not,” Karas said. “One can go to the beach, to the pool, play tennis or any number of things that gives a breadth of experience people like.”

The Homestead, in conjunction with participating courses in the area, have put together a package known as “The Links of Leelanau.” It includes 54 holes of championship golf located within minutes of the resort and one outstanding par-3 course nestled into the ski slopes at The Homestead.

The Homestead Golf Course is a little nine-hole par-3 wonder with some views that rival those of the fantastic “Bluff” courses overlooking the big lakes of Michigan. It is a fun test of golf complete with hardwoods and pines, dramatic elevation changes and sweeping views of Sleeping Bear Dunes. The course has undergone some recent upgrade renovations due to the implementation of snow making equipment.

“ The views from the course are wonderful,” Karas boasts.

King’s Challenge, an Arnold Palmer design, along with the Leelanau Club at Bahle Farms, are two newer additions to the Michigan golf lineup. The challenging golf courses feature bent grass playing conditions and a diverse array of holes.

Another championship course on the peninsula is Sleeping Bear Golf Club, Leelanau County’s first golf course. Sleeping Bear, which opened in 1966, is a lot tamer than the other Northern Michigan course that bears its name. The naturally rolling terrain weaves through a heavily wooded landscape. The fairways are spacious, but the greens are small, placing a premium on the short game.

The par-72 course features three sets of tees, playing 6,813 yards from the back. Included are some demanding long holes and strategic par-3s with a homestretch of holes named the “Chute,” “Rocks” and “Windmill/Silo,” a par-3 finishing hole.

King’s Challenge, meanwhile, has a little bit more bite. The par-70 layout is ranked among the toughest in Michigan according to slope. The Arnold Palmer design, which opened in 1998, features wooded terrain, wildlife — fox sightings are not unusual — changing elevations and plenty of landscape variety.
Not an overly long course, the four sets of tee boxes at King’s Challenge play from 4,764 to 6,593 yards with each hole presenting a slightly different challenge for golfers.

The Leelanau Club at Bahle Farms is an outstanding layout for golf that runs through and near a working fruit orchard. Deisgned by Gary Pulsipher, the par-71 course features spectacular views of Suttons Bay and Lake Michigan.

The varied terrain of hills, woodlands and water is accented by strategically placed bunkers and runs past working cherry orchards that the area is renowned for.

These courses offer spectacular views of many of the attributes Leelanau County is renowned for — water, rolling hills, sandy dunes and working fruit orchards. Just a small drive away — perhaps a 3-wood for big hitters — is Arcadia Bluffs to the south, and courses such as The Bear and The Wolverine to the north.

For more information on stay-and-play packages at The Homestead Resort visit them on the Web at www.thehomesteadresort.com.

Lakewood Shores: Links to the Past
Stan Aldridge, businessman and owner of Indianwood Country Club in Lake Orion, purchased Lakewood Shores Resort near East Tawas in 1986. But it was his then 26-year old son who unwittingly and indelibly placed the early 20th century dairy farm on the map.

Lakewood Shores had one golf course, a parkland layout designed by the late W. Bruce Matthews – Serradella. However, if Lakewood ever intended to name itself among the states resort elite, it needed a golf course that was a bit more aspiring.

Stan had a plan.

“ My dad was a Scottish freak guy,” said Kevin from his Indianwood offices.

It was beyond anyone’s wildest imagination that a three-week trip to Scotland to see and experience how the games ancestors intended golf to be played would result in designing a golf course that had no equal in 1993.

Two years earlier the father had asked his 24-year-old son to design and build The Gailes on 230-acres several hundred yards west of the Lake Huron shore.

“ I had spent all kinds of time on designing the course,” Kevin said.

I walked onto the first tee at Turnberry, took my blueprints, crinkled them up and through them in the garbage. You just don’t understand (links golf) unless you’ve been there.”

The Aldridges returned home, enlisted Bob Cupp to draft a routing plan, and laid out the greens and tee boxes.

“ We literally stuck 18 stakes in the ground to mark the greens and 18 more to mark the tees,” Kevin said. “We had no design, period. All we had was the routing plan.” And a vision.

After two years of “moving more dirt” than on any of Kevin’s projects, Lakewood Shores lifted the veil on The Gailes.

The golf world was stunned, and so was the apprentice.

“ I was more than surprised. I was shocked,” said Kevin upon getting a call from his wife.

The news? The Gailes was voted by Golf Digest architectural editor Bob Whitten as “The Best New Resort Course in North America for 1993.” It was only the second time the prestigious golf magazine had honored a rookie with the coveted prize. And Kevin had never so much as played the game at the time.
Today Kevin is 34. He still doesn’t play much golf, but his renown for truly genuine golf course design and construction is blossoming.

Last year Lakewood Shores’ Blackshire debuted to rave reviews. This time Kevin’s inspiration came from the famed and fabled Pine Valley; a golf course known for its penal beauty.

Routing for Blackshire actually began in 1994, right after The Gailes was finished.

But business elsewhere placed Blackshire on the back burner and it wasn’t until four years later that Aldridge returned to Lakewood Shores to complete the course.

“ We wanted Blackshire to be the farthest spectrum to the right of The Gailes,” Kevin said. The intent was to have three distinctly different courses at Lakewood Shores Resort. They have that and more.
A Wee-Links course is great for kids, beginners and a good place to sharpen your iron shots and short game.

There’s overnight lodging available with all the amenities you would expect of a Michigan resort: private pool, swimming and jet skiing on Cedar Lake, full-service restaurants, banquet rooms and conference facilities.

Lakewood Shores also offers numerous homesites.

For more information visit Lakewood Shores Resort on the Web at www.lakewoodshores.com.

Otsego Club: A Michigan Tradition
As one of Michigan’s long-standing resorts, Otsego Club has a rich history of tradition, culture and innovation. That tradition has grown even larger in stature with the addition of its newest golf course, The Tribute.

While the Otsego Club’s ski slopes remain exclusive to its private membership list in the winter, the time-share residences open their doors to Gaylord’s Golf Mecca with stay-and-play packages during the spring, summer and fall seasons.

Established in 1939, the Otsego Club combines the traditional elegance and amenities of a country club experience with four outstanding, yet distinctly different golf courses.

Casual fine dining is served — often in several courses — overlooking the beautiful Sturgeon River Valley with a panoramic view as far as the eye can see.

Swimming pools, hiking trails and tennis courts add to the number of activities available for family, group or corporate fun. For those so inclined, there is a cigar lounge, wine cellar and cafe Espresso bar in close proximity to the main lodge and housing units.

“ Because we operate as a private ski club in the wintertime, it really means that our staff is tuned into a high level of service, and that reflects in the sort of service we deliver in the spring, summer and fall during our public golfing months,” Otsego Club owner Keith Gornick said. “Being around since 1939 shows that there is a lot of tradition here.

“ In many cases, we have guests here — not only in the winter, but the summer as well — for up to four generations. That is something not everyone can say. We are very family oriented, and our staff is really geared toward that. There is definitely a real hominess to the place.”

The golf courses creating Otsego Club’s version of a grand slam include The Classic, The Lake, The Loon and The Tribute.

Since its opening in 2001, The Tribute has already become the marquee name for the grand slam lineup of golf courses that are part of the Otsego Club. It is a fitting upscale addition to what Gaylord golf is renowned for — fantastic views, top-notch conditions and peaks and valleys.

The golf course — named in honor for the late fathers of Gornick and designer Gary Koch — is set high on rolling peaks, with running water, wetlands, native grasses and fescues and immaculately manicured fairways, tees and greens.

“ God gave us a great piece of earth to work, but what Gary Koch and Rick Robbins and their team did with the course is far beyond what I expected,” Gornick said. “It’s breathtaking.”

The views from different vantage points of The Tribute are nothing short of spectacular. Spacious fairways are surrounded by hardwood and pine forests as The Tribute plays up, down and alongside mountain slopes, creating wide array of views and shot opportunities. Babbling brooks, wetlands and elevation changes are situated among the peaks and valleys that highlight the Pigeon River basin.
“ The course is really one with nature,” Gornick said. “It is just gorgeous, especially on a sunny day.”
“ Breathtaking” is an apt description of the magnificent views from the top of the tee boxes at No. 3 and No. 4 on The Tribute. But there is even more.

“ In conjunction with the elevation changes and views from the ridge tops where you can see the Pigeon River State Forest, there are the lower parts of the valleys where you go down along trout streams and beautiful wetland areas,” Gornick said. “All those qualities are just not seen that often during a single round of golf.”

The Loon, which can be briefly be spotted by motorists heading north on I-75 just before reaching Gaylord, is another outstanding golf course. Not overly long nor difficult to play, this course runs through and around wetlands and ponds, and has some interesting features to test one’s skills, judgment and course management.

The Classic was designed by William H. Diddle, a prominent golf course architect of the era who was commissioned by Gornick’s father, Alan, in the 1950s. The Classic reigns as the elder statesman of all courses that comprise the Gaylord Golf Mecca.

The Lake, designed by Michigan architect Jerry Matthews, provides an interesting mix of golf, including six Alpine-style holes playing up and around ski hills, six around and over water and six that are Scottish-links style.

“ All the golf courses here are imminently playable,” Gornick said. “There is not a single course here that is here to humiliate the golfer, and that is definitely by design.

“ There are some great challenges here, but they also allow a higher handicapper to play from the forward tees and go out and have a very nice resort guest experience.

“ With over 60 years of being in the hospitality business, our thing is to let the guests feel good about their experiences.”

Go to the Web and learn more about the variety of offerings at The Otsego Club at www.otsegoclub.com.

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