The Great Lakes State rightfully brags on a national level about its Pure Michigan warm-weather golf — but while shorter in duration, perhaps even nicer is Michigan’s few prime weeks of fall golf, even if it means dressing in an extra layer.
Our rich mix of hardwood trees that turn various colors against a backdrop of evergreens and majestic lakes and waterways can turn even brutal golf scores into a pleasurable day outdoors.
I’ve had the pleasure of trying all 10 courses listed below (in no particular order), and believe they are extra special in the autumn season. Several have earned national awards. Others are less known but still outstanding places to play when combining factors like: golf challenge for various skill levels, special views of Michigan’s grand natural resources, variety of trees for extra color, and unique overall outdoor experiences — topped off by a range of fall golf special pricing. Color peaks are estimates.
PohlCat, Mt. Pleasant
The Pohl Cat has one of the most peaceful inland views from the clubhouse veranda looking back up 18 toward the par 3 signature 17th hole — a sight best enjoyed relaxing in one of the porch’s plentiful wooden rocking chairs. The Chippewa River winds through the property and comes into play on No. 2, 17, and 18. Don’t just play the par three 17th hole; relish the views.
Color peak: typically mid-to-late October.
Crystal Mountain, Thompsonville
The Mountain Ridge course is host to the Michigan Women’s Open, but any amateur can enjoy the majestic views and challenges of this family resort. On the long, winding journey from 15 green to the 16th tee near the top, make sure to stop for a couple minutes at the scenic overlook along the cart path, or at the 17th tee; nothing but colorful trees as far as you can see to Lake Michigan some 15 miles away.
Color peak: early-to-mid October.
Stonegate Golf Club, Twin Lake
This Muskegon-area layout is an excellent mix of red and white oak, birch, maple, sumac, and sassafras tree-lined fairways, ravines to carry, plus sand bunkers and tall heather to avoid. Eagles, hawks, and other birds are often seen soaring overhead with resident woodpeckers, bluebirds, owls, and many other species mingling below. Deer, foxes, and turkeys are commonplace.
Color peak: late Sept. to mid October
Red Hawk, East Tawas
This nationally-ranked but somewhat hidden course is a gem in the collection of renowned designer Arthur Hills. With the entire course cut out of a mid-latitude Michigan forest, fall colors are spectacular as every fairway is lined with a variety of tress like birch, oak, maple, and beech — with a few tall pines sprinkled in for contrast. Nice elevation changes and a few strongly shaped fairways provide a good challenge and nice views.
Color peak: end of September/early October
Elk Ridge, Atlanta
After playing nationally ranked Elk Ridge, what players discuss most is the rolling terrain through wooded (maples, oaks, and birch) countryside, high-elevation views, and the demands of shot making to designated landing areas. You can also play 18 holes without seeing another golfer in the near-wilderness setting.
Peak color: end of Sept./early October
Greywalls, at Marquette Golf Club, Marquette
Easily one of the most unique courses in Michigan, Greywalls has a mixture of wide-open fairways, dramatic elevation changes, rolling terrain, wonderful views of Lake Superior, and rock formations like nowhere else. Ranked 79th best course in the country by GolfWeek, the layout utilizes the natural resources of the U.P.’s rock shears, especially surrounding the green of the par four, 5th hole. The course’s dynamic color comes from a vast supply of maple trees, mixed in with a few birch on the lower part of the course.
Peak color: mid September to first week of October
True North Golf Club, Harbor Springs
One of the top courses in northern Michigan, each of True North’s 18 holes are lined with trees — at least on one side of the fairway, but often times both. Making for great fall color are an assortment of red maples, sugar maples, oak trees, and some ash trees that survived the ash bore epidemic. Course designer Jim Engh was Golf Digest architect of the year in 2003 and his masterpiece often times has deer prancing across the rolling fairways.
Color peak: generally end of September/early October.
Boyne Highlands, The Hills, Harbor Springs
Designer Arthur Hills utilizes Michigan’s beauty about as well as anyone in his designs, and The Hills is no different. The front nine is relatively level — but not a cake walk — and highly exposes the geographic area’s abundance of sand. But turn the corner on the back nine and No. 10 is nothing but tall Michigan pines leaving no doubt you are Up North. Keep playing and the long cart ride to the par five 13th tee takes golfers to the top of “Boyne’s Everest” for one of the most beautiful inland views in all of northern Michigan.
Color peak: late Sept. to mid October
TreeTops North (Smith Signature), Gaylord
For those who enjoy the Tim Allen-narrated “Pure Michigan; 14 clubs” television commercial, thank TreeTops resort’s Smith Signature course. It is the host site for those beautiful views as the course meanders up and down our northern rolling terrain, plus several elevated sightlines of rich Michigan forests surrounding the TreeTops properties. But once on site, try the best par 3 course in America plus Tom Fazio’s only design in Michigan, or what Robert Trent Jones, Sr. called his Michigan masterpiece.
Color peak: early October
Forest Dunes, Roscommon
One of the highest-ranked courses in Michigan and in the top 100 nationally, Forest Dunes is a lauded Tom Weiskopf design that cuts through open parts of the Huron National Forest, east of Grayling. Among the pines and colorful hardwoods, Forest Dunes’ biggest visual identity is the contrast between exposed native sand and its natural underbrush. In 2003, Forest Dunes was certified as the first Gold Audubon International Signature Sanctuary in Michigan.
Color peak: mid October