Michigan probably doesn’t get enough recognition as a golf state. When people think of golf states, they typically think of warm-weather climates like Arizona or Florida -- places where golf can be played year-round. In Michigan, there’s snow on the ground for much of the winter. In some places, like Traverse City, where the wind whips up lake-effect snows, the average snowfall approaches 150 inches a year. That doesn’t scream “golf hotbed”.
But if you’ve ever played a golf course in Michigan in the summer, you know that it’s near-perfect golf weather. Those Arizona golf courses sometimes feel unplayable in mid-July with temperatures approaching 110 degrees. While in Michigan, an 81-degree day with zero humidity makes you want to play 36 holes.
Here’s my list of the 10 best courses to play on that perfect summer day in the Mitten State. I try to concentrate on “best places to play” on lists like this, and I try to find those locations all over the state. This isn’t an architecture critique, attempting to find the single best layout in the state. Most of those courses are private clubs anyway, like Oakland Hills just outside Detroit. This is a list of the best places to play, be that a $300 round or a $50 round.
1. Arcadia Bluffs
In the last 20 years, there’s been a big movement in golf course architecture in the United States to build courses on sandy sites near large bodies of water. Some might claim that Bandon Dunes in Oregon started this trend -- others would say Whistling Straits in Wisconsin. Golf’s origins trace back to sandy sites near the sea in Scotland, and the sport has moved significantly in that direction in the last 20 years.
Across the massive Lake Michigan from Whistling Straits in Wisconsin, you’ll find another sandy course by the lake on the Michigan side: Arcadia Bluffs. And “bluffs” is the correct name: This course plays right out to the 180-foot bluff above the lake. It’s not a sheer cliff -- if you’ve ever been to Sleeping Bear Dunes National Seashore (30 miles to the north of Arcadia Bluffs), you know that it’s one long sandy slope down to the edge of the lake. But that provides for incredible views from this golf course.
You’ll feel like you’re driving to the middle of nowhere, and that’s because you are. The course is there because it’s maybe the best piece of property for a golf course in Michigan.
Arcadia Bluffs Peak Tee Times: $215
If Arcadia Bluffs is a course using the natural terrain next to Lake Michigan, Tullymore Golf Resort is nearly the exact opposite -- a geometric course layout through beautiful forests right in the center of Michigan’s “glove.” Arcadia Bluffs is golf connected to the water; this is golf connected to the trees.
It’s not all forested. There’s water on many of the holes, and some of the holes open up into a residential development. But the routing in and out of the trees is what you’ll notice. And the 18th hole is the classic par-5 challenge. I hit a good drive, and I think I can go for it in two, but will that tree cause me problems? Hit the correct shot, and you’ll want to come back for more. Lose it left into the water, and you’ll want to return to try the shot again.
Tullymore Peak Tee Times: $160
3. Bay Harbor Golf Club
Bay Harbor is a resort area right on Lake Michigan with stunning views. You drive from Charlevoix to Petoskey, and you can’t take your eyes off the water, and then suddenly there’s the gorgeous golf course between the highway and the lake. That’s Bay Harbor Golf Club.
There are three nines here. The most well-known routing is to combine the Links and Quarry nines. That’s the 18 Bay Harbor holes that are typically listed on the top 100 courses in the United States lists. On the latest America’s top 100 public courses list put out by Golf Digest, that routing (Links/Quarry) was rated 80th in the country. There is also the Preserve nine, and you can choose to route your 18 holes through any of the nines. Whichever you choose, you’re going to have amazing views.
Bay Harbor Peak Tee Times: $370
4. The Golf Club Of Harbor Shores
This is a Jack Nicklaus course in the Benton Harbor/St. Joseph area along Lake Michigan in the southwestern part of the state. The first time I saw it, it was hosting a Senior PGA Tour event. I hadn’t planned on attending, but I was on a trip to St. Joseph, was driving somewhere in town, and stumbled upon a tournament (it was the 2012 Senior PGA Championship).
The Golf Club Of Harbor Shores is a more classic American golf course (like many of the Jack Nicklaus designs) with tons of water. The Paw Paw River meanders in and out of the course, seemingly coming into play on every shot. Sometimes it’s on your left, sometimes it’s on your right, and other times it’s lurking there beyond the green.
Harbor Shores Peak Tee Times: $150
5. The Loop At Forest Dunes
Ever played a reversible golf course? That’s what you’ll find here at Forest Dunes Golf Club. It has always had its famous Forest Dunes course, designed by Tom Weiskopf, but in 2016, Tom Doak designed The Loop. One day you play through it clockwise, the next day you play counterclockwise, which means that one day a green is used for a par-3 as you’re headed east around the course. The next day, that same green is the second shot for a par-4 hole coming from the other direction.
The routing concept is an old one. The most famous golf course in the world, St. Andrews in Scotland, can be played in reverse, with your opening tee shot on the first hole going down the famous 18th fairway toward the 17th green. Tom Doak simply brought that concept to this golf resort in Michigan, and you can now play two different golf courses over two days on the same 18 greens.
The Loop Peak Tee Times: $160
6. Greywalls Course At Marquette Golf Club
We can’t list Michigan courses without including at least one in the Upper Peninsula. This course is in Marquette, all the way up on Lake Superior (more or less the Canadian border).
Greywalls gets its name from, well, the “gray walls” on the course. Those are the granite outcroppings you’ll see from time to time around the course. The sixth green, for example, is protected by two large granite outcroppings to the right of and behind the green. It’s very unique for a golf experience -- having to deal with rock outcroppings when choosing your club.
But that’s what makes Michigan golf unique. I’m sure this course is sometimes snow-covered well into April and maybe even May, but during a perfect Michigan summer, it can provide golf like you’ve never experienced it.
Greywalls Peak Tee Times: $145
7. Pilgrim’s Run Golf Club
When you drive north from Grand Rapids to Traverse City, you get to a point where it seems like it’s all forest. South of Grand Rapids, you saw a lot of agriculture, but at a point around an hour north of Grand Rapids, you feel like you’re going deeper and deeper into the forest.
Near that transition point is Pilgrim’s Run Golf Club. If this was a best value list, Pilgrim’s Run would be near the top. We’ve been discussing all these great courses that charge $150 and up for a tee time; Pilgrim’s Run maxes out at $69 for a weekend morning tee time. It’s great golf in the tall trees of central Michigan for a great price.
Pilgrim’s Run Peak Tee Times: $69
8. Leslie Park Golf Course
There has to be a municipal golf course on all of these lists, and for Michigan, the choice is Leslie Park Golf Course in Ann Arbor. So many of these great courses we’re discussing can be well north of $200 for a round of golf; at Leslie Park, the most you’ll pay is $47 for a prime weekend tee time with a cart.
No, the conditions won’t be the same as playing at one of the resorts mentioned above. But the golf can be just as entertaining. All it takes is a municipality interested in maintaining their courses (which Ann Arbor is), a great layout, and an interesting piece of property. That’s what you’ll find when you step away from the golf resorts and spend an afternoon at a good ol’ muni course.
Leslie Park Peak Tee Times: $47
9. Shepherd’s Hollow Golf Club
The concept behind Shepherd’s Hollow was simple: So many golfers in the Detroit area would flock to Northern Michigan in the summer to play its famous courses. Why not find a piece of property just outside of Detroit where that same experience could be had without the long drive? The property just outside of Clarkston (which is just outside of Detroit) was selected, and Shepherd’s Hollow was born.
When you look at the aerial photo of the golf course, you can see the genius in the routing. This is still a residential area, so this is the kind of course where you’d typically be playing along the houses, but they bought a large piece of property and spread out the holes so that you’re playing with forest on either side. You might be right on the edge of suburbia, but the course is designed so that you’ll feel like you’re in the middle of nowhere.
There are 27 holes here, so you can choose different routings when you play. All follow that same concept -- instead of two holes right next to each other, spread them out with a hundred yards of forest between them. You really will feel like you’re somewhere deep in the forests of Northern Michigan.
Shepherd’s Hollow Peak Tee Times: $89
10. The Heather At Boyne Highlands
Boyne Highlands has long been a resort destination in Northern Michigan. There’s a ski area here, so in the winter, the lodging is used by skiers. In the summer, it’s used by golfers.
There are many golf courses here, with The Heather getting the nod for this list. The main reason: It’s the grandfather of golf in Northern Michigan. The Heather started it all.
The story goes that the ski area operator built a nine-hole course so that the area could be used in the summer. He saw that this could be successful, so he hired Robert Trent Jones Sr. to design a course that would attract visitors from across the country. In 1966, The Heather opened for play.
Now, there are dozens of summer destination golf courses in Michigan. We just discussed many of them above. So why not end this list with the original? Great piece of property, great design, perfect summer weather.
The Heather Peak Tee Times: $196