It’s not difficult to believe that Michigan is a little golf crazy compared to other parts of the country, but I and many others consider that a great moniker for our recreational economy.
Golf Digest recently announced its “Top 50 Most Fun” golf courses to play in America. In a normal poll of any kind it would be easy to expect each state to have one golf course good enough to make the list. Unfortunately for some, Michigan stole eight of the top 50 spots, an astronomically imbalanced number in our favor — and a testimony to our dominance at having great courses where we all can enjoy the game.
I have no idea what characteristics Golf Digest raters use to determine the most fun, but here is where our eight courses lined up nationally:
No. 9. Threetops – Gaylord
No. 17. Arcadia Bluffs – Arcadia
No. 26. Forest Dunes GC – Roscommon
No. 29. Lakewood Shores (The Gailes) – Oscoda
No. 38. University of Michigan GC — Ann Arbor
No. 48. Elk Ridge – Atlanta
Then making the list of most fun private courses in Michigan:
No. 6. The Dunes Club – New Buffalo
No. 33. Crystal Downs CC – Frankfort
I have had the pleasure of playing five of these eight courses.
Threetops is a great layout no doubt, and one of the most unique nine-hole rounds you can experience, especially at par 27. The elevation changes are outstanding but if your short iron and wedge game is off target the course can eat you alive. Threetops is one of the hardest courses to get a tee time at the Gaylord resort because it truly is a distinctive experience that many people play over and over.
Forest Dunes is a wonderful championship-caliber layout that many people I respect love to play, and it’s always in immaculate condition. While enjoyable, I still have a hard time getting over the 16th and 17th holes, however, because the back-to-back par 3, drivable par 4 design causes player logjams.
The Gailes is one of my least favorite courses of all time. I agree it’s about as close to real Scottish golf as we can get here in the U.S., so that is the allure for most golfers — and rightfully so. The frustrating part is that the fairways are filled with many pot bunkers that cannot be seen from the tee, so good shots are easily snatched up and penalize the golfer for no other reason than bad luck. If each tee box were elevated just enough it would change my poor ranking of the design.
The University of Michigan course is a wonderful Alister McKenzie design (Augusta National) everyone should try. U-M has done a great job of conditioning and also is working on getting the course back to some of its original state from early last century. The first four holes can knock you in the teeth for their length and toughness, but get through those and it’s a fun day.
Elk Ridge: of the five I have played, this is my favorite. The only drawback is the remoteness of its northeast Michigan location; otherwise it would be more often visited. The course isn’t placed on rocky shoreline cliffs but rather meanders through heavy forest, providing a very tranquil experience. Wildlife is abundant and you can eat the best ham sandwich around at the turn as the property was built by the Honeybaked Ham folks.
Whether or not you agree with Golf Digest’s list, be sure get in some more rounds yet this season — and most of all have fun.