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The best courses you can play in Michigan

One of the great debates in golf is where you'd move—if money was no obstacle—to be able to play golf all your life. The Monterey Peninsula, the Hamptons or Southern Pines, N.C. are common answers. Scottsdale, Palm Springs, and take your pick of anywhere in Florida, are tough to argue against. Northern Michigan is usually not included in that conversation, but it absolutely deserves to be.

Michigan is one the most underrated golf destinations in North America. For public golfers, particularly, it is as good as it gets. In the summer, you can tee off at 6 a.m. and play until 10 at night if you wish, or combine 18 or 36 another summer activity like hiking, fly-fishing or brewery-hopping. The startling elevation changes make for stunning scenery—and for great buddies trip destinations that won't break the bank, a picturesque destination in the Lower Peninsula like Traverse City or the Upper Peninsula is should be at the top of your list. The quantity of really good public courses can probably only be matched by the Pinehurst area.    

Here's the best of the best of public golf in Michigan, according to Golf Digest's course-ranking panelists.

Arcadia Bluffs Golf Club: Bluffs Course
Can a 100 Greatest course be a sleeper? The Bluffs Course at Arcadia Bluffs has been overshadowed by No. 18 Pacific Dunes ever since it finished second to it in the Best New Upscale Public Course race of 2001. And likewise it’s been second-fiddle to No. 14 Crystal Downs, a northern Michigan neighbor that every visitor wants to play, even though it’s private and Arcadia is public. And even by No. 23 Whistling Straits, the imitation links on the opposite side of Lake Michigan that Arcadia Bluffs resembles, although the sand dunes at Arcadia are natural, not manmade. Now the Bluffs faces competition from within, the newly-opened sister layout, the South Course at Arcadia Bluffs, designed by Dana Fry in the style of C.B. Macdonald and Seth Raynor.
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Forest Dunes Golf Club
Public
Forest Dunes Golf Club
Roscommon, MI

From Golf Digest Architecture Editor emeritus Ron Whitten: The Tom Weiskopf-designed Forest Dunes in Michigan is a terrific layout on a terrific piece of property, with sand dunes deposited by the nearby Au Sable River and covered with mature pines. But it's not a unique piece of property. When I first played it, I was struck by how much Forest Dunes resembles a Texas course designed by Weiskopf's former partner, Jay Morrish. That course, Pine Dunes in Frankston, Texas, is built on much the same terrain, sand dunes covered in pines. Though they were working at the same time on their respective projects (Forest Dunes was completed in 2000 but didn't open until 2002; Pine Dunes opened in 2001), I don't think Weiskopf or Morrish had any idea that they were working on such similar courses, and I don't think they stole each other's ideas. But it's uncanny how they created kissing-cousin courses.

 

For Whitten's complete review, click here.

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Arcadia Bluffs Golf Club: South Course
The challenge at Arcadia Bluffs for architects Dana Fry and Jason Straka was to create a course that guests would want to play as often as they do the original course. But how can golf built on non-descript farmland compete with a course set on dramatic bluffs overlooking Lake Michigan? The answer? Do something entirely different. Channeling another famous but rather indifferent site, the designers turned to Chicago Golf Club and the architecture of McDonald/Raynor for inspiration. The South Course is a throwback in time, a jigsaw puzzle of intersecting bunkers, centerline hazards, alternate routes of play and geometric shaping. It interprets the strategic spirit of Raynor and Chicago Golf Club without replicating any specific holes. Where the Bluffs Course is a feast for the eye, the South Course is a treat for the intellect.
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Forest Dunes: The Loop Black Course (clockwise)
The idea of a reversible golf course is as old at the Old Course at St. Andrews, and golf architect Joel Goldstrand built a series of nine-hole reversible courses for small clubs in Minnesota, Iowa and North Dakota back in the 1980s. But give Tom Doak credit for convincing a client to take a chance on an 18-hole reversible layout. “The goal is to have two very different courses over the same piece of ground, so people will want to stay over to play it both ways and compare and contrast the two.” says Doak. For our 2016 Best New competition, Doak wanted the entire 36 holes considered as one entry. We allowed that, and it won. For subsequent rankings, we’ve separated the two into conventional 18-hole candidates. The Black Course is the clockwise routing, slightly shorter and ranked slightly higher than its reverse image Red Course.
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Bay Harbor Golf Club: Links/Quarry/Preserve
One of three grand "new Pebble Beaches" that debuted in the late 1990s, Bay Harbor was ranked third in Golf Digest's survey of Best New Upscale Public Courses of 1999, behind the twin juggernauts (and fellow Pebble Beach clones) Bandon Dunes and Whistling Straits. Bay Harbor consists of 27 holes, but we rank its Links 9, which plays mostly on a plateau overlooking Lake Michigan, and its Quarry 9, which dips in and out of a lakefront stone quarry.Though there isn't lodging directly at Bay Harbor, the Inn at Bay Harbor is an upscale option part of the Autograph Collection right down the road. And eight-person cottages with stay-and-play deals are also available at nearby Crooked Tree.
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Marquette Golf Club: Greywalls
Public
Marquette Golf Club: Greywalls
Marquette, MI
A decade before architect Mike DeVries created the world-class Cape Wickham Golf Club in Australia, he produced an equally compelling design in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, a second 18 for Marquette. It’s called Greywalls because of all the granite rock outcroppings that edge some holes and squeeze others, like the short par-4 fifth, and because the rock provides the rugged topography over which this course scampers up and plunges down. The vistas out over Lake Superior are fantastic, beginning with the opening tee shot. Like Wilderness Club (No. 57 on our 100 Greatest Public list), this is a destination course worth hiking to play.
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Forest Dunes: The Loop Red Course (counterclockwise)
The Red Course is the counterclockwise routing of The Loop, and as the name suggests, both it and the Black Course play out to ninth holes at a far corner of the property, then back in. What’s most impressive in playing the Red (and the Black, for that matter), is that there is never the sensation of playing a hole backwards. The topography, bunkering and green entrances are all so compelling that it’s barely noticeable that each serves two purposes. The Loop is part of the Forest Dunes resort, which also contains Forest Dunes (No. 33 on 100 Greatest Public), a fine Tom Weiskopf design.
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Island Resort & Casino: Sage Run
Situated on the Upper Peninsula at the Island Resort & Casino, Sage Run is a rustic, prairie links-style layout with native grasses guarding many fairways. Many holes play up and around a prominent hill that the course is built on, creating both uphill and downhill shots.
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Eagle Eye Golf & Banquet Center: Eagle Eye
33 Panelists
Chris Lutzke and Pete Dye collaborated on designing this links-style layout that has previously been ranked among our 100 Greatest Public. The course has many signature Dye elements, including steep greenside drop-offs, tiny pot bunkers and an island-green 17th, which closely mimics the famed original at TPC Sawgrass.
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Grand Traverse Resort and Spa: The Bear
Public
Grand Traverse Resort and Spa: The Bear
Williamsburg, MI
48 Panelists
Ranked for 10 years on our 100 Greatest Public list, The Bear is one of three championship layouts at the Grand Traverse Resort and Spa. The Jack Nicklaus-designed northern Michigan gem opened in 1985 and has plenty of character—with tiered greens, native fescue, moguls and deep pot bunkers. Like many Nicklaus designs, The Bear is a stern test, tipping out over 7,000 yards with a slope and rating of 76.1/150.
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Tullymore Golf Resort: Tullymore
Public
Tullymore Golf Resort: Tullymore
Stanwood, MI
36 Panelists
A past member of our 100 Greatest list, Tullymore has exciting design variety with five par 5s and five par 3s. The course winds through 800 acres of woods and wetlands and features many unique bunkers and greens, which come in a variety of shapes and sizes. One of two courses at the resort, Tullymore has previously been ranked for 18 years on our 100 Greatest Public, debuting at No. 14 in 2003.
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Belvedere Golf Club
Public
Belvedere Golf Club
Charlevoix, MI
54 Panelists
Built in 1927 as a getaway for the Chicago and Detroit swells summering at the tip of Michigan's Lower Peninsula, the William Watson design was ahead of its time with its large scale and almost 7,000 yards of length. Even in the heart of peak season, you can ride 18 for less than $100 and play where Tom Watson considered his summer home course during his family's annual visits throughout his teenage years.
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The Golf Club at Harbor Shores
Public
The Golf Club at Harbor Shores
Benton Harbor, MI
46 Panelists
Just 90 minutes from Chicago in western Michigan, Harbor Shores is a scenic Jack Nicklaus layout that often gets high marks for conditioning from our panelists. The course is a regular host of the KitchenAid Senior PGA Championship, having hosted five times, including in 2022. Harbor Shores offers intriguing design variety, with dense forest, dunes, creeks and fescue all in play.
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Pilgrim's Run Golf Club
Public
Pilgrim's Run Golf Club
Pierson, MI
29 Panelists
Pilgrim’s Run blends playability with character, as the generally wide fairways and large greens are protected by ponds, forest and strategically placed bunkers. Many of our panelists note that though it’s just 30 minutes north of Grand Rapids, Pilgrim’s Run has a northern Michigan feel.
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Boyne Highlands: Heather
Public
Boyne Highlands: Heather
Harbor Springs, MI
41 Panelists
The Highlands, located in Harbor Springs, offers four 18-hole layouts including the Heather course, which is a former member of our 100 Greatest and 100 Greatest Public lists. The Robert Trent Jones Sr. design sits at the base of the resort’s ski slopes and offers a stern ball-striking test, with tree-lined doglegs and water hazards demanding accuracy.
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Shepherd's Hollow Golf Club
Public
Shepherd's Hollow Golf Club
Clarkston, MI
26 Panelists
Shepherd’s Hollow is a 27-hole public facility that has a northern Michigan feel despite being less than an hour outside Detroit. The course feels grand in scale, with elevation changes, wide fairways and large greens framed by towering trees. The second and third nines were ranked on our 100 Greatest Public list for eight years from 2003-2010.
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Boyne Highlands: Arthur Hills
Public
Boyne Highlands: Arthur Hills
Harbor Springs, MI
The Arthur Hills course may be the most player-friendly of the four layouts at The Highlands, with forgiving fairways and large greens. That said, there are some demanding shots, including the approaches to several small, elevated greens. There are plenty of elevation changes, including some dramatic downhill tee shots which offer beautiful vistas of the northern Michigan landscape.
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Lakewood Shores Resort: Gailes
Public
Lakewood Shores Resort: Gailes
Oscoda, MI
The Gailes course at Lakewood Shores Resort is a links-style layout on northern Michigan’s east coast, about a mile from Lake Huron. In Scottish fashion, the course features double greens, meandering burns, fescue and deep pot bunkers. The course is a former longtime member of our 100 Greatest Public list.
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University of Michigan Golf Course
Public
University of Michigan Golf Course
Ann Arbor, MI
Widely considered one of the finest college golf courses, the Alister MacKenzie-designed University of Michigan Golf Course opened in the early 1930s. In 1948, Dean Lind defeated future U.S. Open champion Ken Venturi in the final of the inaugural U.S. Junior Amateur here. The Blue, as it’s often referred to, sits adjacent to Michigan Stadium and plays along hilly terrain.
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Treetops Resort: Masterpiece
Public
Treetops Resort: Masterpiece
Gaylord, MI
The Masterpiece course is considered the most difficult of the four 18-hole layouts (and one nine-hole course) at Treetops Resort. The scenic northern Michigan layout features plenty of elevation changes as well as deep ravines, water hazards and undulating greens.
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Shanty Creek Resort: Cedar River
Public
Shanty Creek Resort: Cedar River
Bellaire, MI
Shanty Creek Resort is spread across 5,500 acres in northern Michigan and is split into four distinct villages that each deliver a unique experience. The resort offers five championship courses, including the Tom Weiskopf-designed Cedar River, which has relatively small greens and many water hazards in play.
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Gull Lake View Golf Resort: Stoatin Brae
Gull Lake View Golf Resort, with its six 18-hole courses in western Michigan, is one of the best stay and play options in Michigan. The resort’s signature layout, Stoatin Brae, is a links-style design that sits at one of the highest points in Kalamazoo County. The course is a departure from traditional Midwest parkland golf, offering panoramic views of the surrounding area and allowing the golfer to play the ball along the ground.
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Pine Grove Country Club
Public
Pine Grove Country Club
Iron Mountain, MI
Pine Grove Country Club is a semi-private course built on 160 wooded acres on the Upper Peninsula. The course has a secluded feel, with holes meandering through openings of dense forest. The public can play Pine Grove from Thursday through Monday.
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Black Lake Golf Club
Public
Black Lake Golf Club
Onaway, MI
Black Lake is a scenic Rees Jones-designed northern Michigan layout that was previously ranked for 12 years on our 100 Greatest Public list. The challenging tree-lined track is a ball-striking test, with numerous forced carries over ponds, marshlands and bunkers.
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TimberStone at Pine Mountain Ski and Golf Resort
Located on the Upper Peninsula in Iron Mountain, TimberStone is a heavily wooded layout with some elevation changes that create scenic vistas. The course is especially scenic in the fall, when the colorful foliage creates a stunning backdrop.
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Bucks Run Golf Club
Public
Bucks Run Golf Club
Mount Pleasant, MI
Situated on 290 acres in central Michigan, Bucks Run is a scenic layout with natural wetlands, dense forests and a flowing river all coming into play. The greens are undulating and are often divided into sections, placing a premium on approach accuracy.
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Island Resort & Casino: Sweetgrass Golf Club
Situated on the Upper Peninsula at the Island Resort & Casino, Sweetgrass is a links-style layout that’s nicely framed by ponds and native grass. There are numerous template greens, including Redan, Biarritz, Island and a double green. While the course is largely flat, many greens are slightly elevated, creating some blind approaches. The northern Michigan track routinely gets high marks for conditioning from our course-ranking panelists.
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Otsego Resort: Tribute
Public
Otsego Resort: Tribute
Gaylord, MI
Playing along 1,100 acres in northern Michigan’s Sturgeon River Valley, the Tribute is one of two 18-hole layouts at Otsego Resort. Nearly every tee is elevated, creating numerous scenic tee shots down to the fairway. Perhaps the best view on the course is at the par-4 third, where standing on the tee you can see out for over 30 miles.
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Tullymore Golf Resort: St. Ives
Public
Tullymore Golf Resort: St. Ives
Stanwood, MI
One of two courses at Tullymore Golf Resort, St. Ives is a challenging layout with many forced carries into the greens. The tree-lined Jerry Matthews design features many elevation changes and raised greens.
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Eagle Eye Golf & Banquet Center: Hawk Hollow
Located in central Michigan just outside Lansing, Hawk Hollow offers 27 holes of championship golf. Many holes are tree-lined, and several water hazards create demanding tee shots and approaches. The course is adjacent to Eagle Eye, a former 100 Greatest Public track and one of the best courses you can play in Michigan.
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