Don VanderVeen / Photography by Kevin
golfers know that it’s a sure bet
to find great golf up north. What they
may not know is that there are a growing
number of great golf courses way U.P. north,
Upper Peninsula is one of the state’s
last great frontiers for golf. The number
of golf courses in the U.P. is approaching
50. They are vast and varied in layout,
amenities and challenge. Just as varied
are the greens fees, which range anywhere
from $20 to $60 per round.
Wild Bluff and TimberStone rank
right up there with Michigan’s finest courses.
Interesting? How about Chocolay
Downs, which boasts the “World’s
Largest Green” and will unveil “The
World’s Longest Hole” later this
Intriguing? Of course. U.P. golf
courses span two different time zones. Getting
to some of them require trips through wilderness
with some outstanding scenery and tourist attractions
along the way.
And summertime offers long days
for golf, travel and adventure.
“ One of the attractions
up here is that the golf is very reasonable and
the golf courses are very nice,” Red Fox
Run head professional Frank Guastella said. “During
peak summer hours, it gets light at 5 a.m. and
stays light until about 10:45 p.m. at night.”
For those with the fortitude,
a group could conceivably play The Rock on Drummond
Island, travel up near Sault Ste. Marie and play
Wild Bluff and then head a little south and play
Indian Lake in one day. After an overnight stay,
upscale courses such Pine Grove and TimberStone
are within a 3-wood of each other. To the north,
Marquette features courses such as Red Fox Run
and Chocolay Downs. Terrace Bluff headlines a
handful of courses near Gladstone, while those
really looking for an adventurous road trip can
travel to the Keweenaw Mountain Lodge located
at the tip of Copper Harbor.
“ They complement each other,
because not one is the same as another up here,” says
Joan Gilchrest, manager of Hessel Ridge.
When it comes to destination
golf, the U.P. ranks right up there with the
Timberstone is an impressive semi-private facility prominently
featuring the natural rock formations of the region. The Jerry
Matthews design is laid out on 310 feet of upward vertical rise,
but playing it requires just a couple of uphill shots.
“ I liked the challenge
of TimberStone from a design standpoint,” Matthews
said. “With a site as hilly as TimberStone,
the imagination has to work harder. It is very
beautiful land, but you still have to make it
playable to golfers to get them to the top of
the hill without having it play to cumbersome.
“ Everybody likes to play
downhill. But somewhere, we’ve got to get
them uphill without too much challenge and strenuous
activity. It worked out very well, as far as
Two man-made lakes on the property
come into play on four holes.
The signature No. 17 hole is
located at the top of the mountain. It is a par-3
hole that features a breath taking shot with
a 110-foot vertical drop from the tips.
“ We offer four sets of
tees for daily play, so it can be accommodating
to golfers of all abilities, while not insulting
their abilities,” head professional Suzy
Fox said. “You can play all lengths, yet
still have the challenge.”
Golf in the spring and fall provides
spectacular color, but the scenery is serene
throughout the year because of the mixture of
evergreens and deciduous trees.
“ We like to call it Mother
Nature’s canvass,” Fox said.
TimberStone first opened for
public play in 1997, and earned Golf Digest honors
as No. 3 Best New Upscale Public Course in North
America. The course has been recognized by Golf
Digest two other times. The No. 6 hole was given
an honorable mention as one of America’s
Best 18, The New Generation, and TimberStone
received a 4.5 star rating among top places to
“ I believe it is still
undiscovered,” Fox said. “The neat
thing about it is that we are still moderately
priced and we’re easier to get to than
people are willing to admit.
“ Once they discover us,
they keep coming back.”
Director of Golf Mike Husby isn’t bluffing when assessing
this new superstar of a golf course: “If it weren’t
for Bay Harbor or Arcadia Bluffs, this would be THE spectacular
site for a golf course in Michigan.”
Okay, so Husby may be a little
biased. After all, he designed the course.
But the site is spectacular,
and the golf just as outstanding.
Wild Bluff — operated in
conjunction with Bay Mills Casino — is
cross-marketing the gaming industry with golf.
Although the gaming is hit-or-miss for those
who try their luck in the casinos, the golf is
a sure thing.
“ The mixing of the two
is a perfect fit,” Husby said. “People
love golf and people love gaming.”
From the first tee — a
breath-taking downhill shot with an awesome view
of Lake Superior’s Waishkey Bay — Wild
Bluff is a fun, entertaining and scenic course
to play. Views of Lake Superior can be seen on
11 holes, building up to the most spectacular
view at the tee of No. 18.
Cut out of a scrub forest, Husby — who
also designed courses such as The Loon and Marsh
Ridge near Gaylord — used his magic to
turn Wild Bluff into an enchanted forest by the
time it opened in April 2000. Elevation drops
of 100 feet or more are featured throughout the
course. It is not a hilly course, however.
“ We wanted to create a
golf course that is beautiful and a golf course
that is fun to play,” Husby said.
The course is set up so that it is quite easy to play from the
white tees and very difficult from the blacks.
“ People enjoy playing it so much and the hospitality is so great, that
they can come here every year or every couple years as a destination,” Husby
And the price is right for the
upscale experience. “We feel it’s
the best $50 round in the Midwest,” Husby
Located just minutes from St. Ignace, Hessel Ridge is set on former
hunting grounds across from a single-engine airport. Hessel Ridge
is not a resort golf course in length or price. But the conditions
are very good.
It is very accommodating for
both men and women, with the forward tees in
as nice of shape as the tips. The tree-lined
fairways are wide and generous.
“ Nothing on the course
is carved out,” manager Joan Gilchrest
said. “It’s how the land was originally
The front nine at Hessel Ridge
opened in 1996. The back nine opened a year later.
It is located just a skipping stone away from
St. Ignace or a 3-iron shot away from Sault Ste.
At $42 with cart weekends and
$32 with cart Monday through Friday, Hessel Ridge
combines value and quality. The scenery, combined
with the shot value and price point, make it
a fun stop to begin or end an Upper Peninsula
“ There’s a lot of
bang for the buck,” Gilchrest said. “You
can miss a shot and still have room to play,
because you’re not confined.
“ When you hit a ball into
the woods, it’s not like you’re in
jail. It’s a very fun course to play. You
can come out here and score very well.”
Hessel Ridge is located just
a couple minutes north of Cedarville’s
Les Cheneaux Golf Club. The nine-hole club is
the oldest golf course in the U.P., dating back
Bigger is better at Chocolay Downs.
The Marquette-area golf course
is expanding to 27 holes this year with a couple
of features that would make Guiness proud.
The original course boasts the “World’s
Largest Putting Green,” where making a
two-putt could become quite a feat from quite
a few feet away. The green is a whopping 29,000
square feet. Some putts could be 125 feet or
“ The biggest green prior
to us building that was out in Boston where Godfrey
Cornish built one 27,000 square feet,” Chocolay
Downs proprietor Joe Gibbs said.
Keeping with the theme on the
new nine scheduled to open later this year is
what Gibbs is billing as the “World’s
“ It was my idea to build
the biggest green and my son’s (Wayne Gibbs)
idea to build the longest fairway,” Joe
The No. 8 hole on the new nine — a
par-6 — will play 1,007 yards from the
back tees, 738 yards from the middle and 550
from the front.
“ It is a toughie,” Gibbs
said. “We’ve surpassed the hole the
Japanese have as far as distance. Theirs is 964
yards long. They can increase their hole 40 yards,
but we have the vacant acreage to increase ours
400 yards if they want to play games. We know
they’ll run out of land. We won’t.
“ The longest in the United
States is 841 yards at Locust Grove, Va. We have
that beat without even trying.”
The three nines at Chocolay Downs
are spread over 604 acres of pine-lined sandy
The original 18 holes play 6,375
yards from the back tees, 5,770 from the whites
and 4,870 from the front. The final nine, when
completed, will play as a par-37 — with
the par-6 hole included — at a distance
of about 4,000 yards.
“ Every fairway is isolated,” Gibbs
said. “There are no parallel fairways.
There are no hardwoods on the property, so we
advertise that leaves are not a problem up here.
It’s leafless golf at its best.”
Fox Run, Marquette
Red Fox Run in Marquette is a user-friendly course offering two
distinctly different nines that play about 6,000 yards from the
“ It’s very player-friendly,
but as short as it sounds, we don’t have
many people who come in here and tear it up,” head
professional Frank Guastella said. “It’s
The front nine is more open and
spacious, while the back cuts through a forest
and requires accurate shot placement where positioning
Other U.P. courses offering challenges
and outstanding golf include Indian Lake Golf & Country
Club in Manistique, George Young Recreation Center
in Iron River, Gogebic Golf Club in Ironwood
and Pictured Rocks Golf & Country Club near
It’s interesting to note
that there are only about as many golf courses
in the entire Upper Penninsula as there are in
Oakland County alone. But the scope and breadth
of these courses are stunning.
Take a map. Make a road trip.
And discover Michigan’s final frontier
for golf in the Upper Peninsula.