Warmer spring weather is in the air and The Masters champion has been crowned, so it must be time for golf in Michigan – well, most of Michigan.
Sweetgrass Golf Club, an award-winning links style course at Island Resort & Casino in the Upper Peninsula, just moved opening day back from the end of April to May 10. Director of Golf Dave Douglas describes the reason shortly after tax deadline day as, “we still have snow on the ground, especially from some drifts and banks. It will be wet for a while.”
Yet there is nothing wet about the business forecast at Sweetgrass, ranked by GolfWeek as an annual top 15 “Best Courses You Can Play” pick in the state. Golf rounds have shown double-digit growth since the course opened in 2008, including more than 10 percent last year. Credit such growth to high rankings from media, golfer word-of-mouth praise, a $2 million wing addition to the hotel’s conference center and the third summer coming up the course has hosted the LPGA Symetra Tour’s Island Resort Championship (June 28-30).
Sweetgrass partners with nearby Timberstone and Greywalls for stay-and-play packages that as a trio bring golf buddies by the hundreds to the U.P. with its three course, two nights stay for under $300 per person. Douglas says while the goal is to grow business in Michigan, right now about three-fourths comes from golfers not far over Wisconsin’s nearby border.
“We also could try to beat up Timberstone and Greywalls,” Douglas says. “But instead we chose to use each other and it brings more golfers in with one of the most affordable packages anywhere.” He adds that when the economy declined, their business picked up groups of golfers that would have otherwise taken a winter trip to Myrtle Beach. More than 75 percent of golf business at Sweetgrass is attributable to golf packaging.
Ongoing capital improvements for 2013 include plans for updating more than 100 rooms in the original Sun Tower hotel area. Last year the 5 Bridges Restaurant and Pub was added as a 19th hole for golfers.
Partner courses Timberstone and Greywalls are also highly ranked. Greywalls has consistently been in GolfWeek’s top three courses in Michigan since it’s opening in 2005 and Timberstone was last year voted in the top 50 in the country by Golf Digest under its “Most Fun Courses to Play” category.
Greywalls is an outstanding track, carved out of hillsides and rock formations near Marquette by formidable course designer Mike DeVries. Views of Lake Superior are majestic on many holes at Greywalls, but the most memorable holes for me feature long drop-offs and sheer granite walls standing 2-to-3 stories tall surrounding several greens and a few fairways. Large boulder formations make for obstacles to avoid but are a nice visual change of pace to the menacing sand bunkers found at traditional golf courses.
So while the wait is a little longer for golf in the U.P. to start, get out and play locally — but start planning a trip up north. Crossing the Mighty Mackinaw Bridge will be well worth the effort.