What makes the BEST buddies' trip? Well, buddies, to start. But beyond the right group of friends to travel with, you need a cluster of terrific golf courses with different personalities, comfortable lodging, fantastic places to eat and drink—and, ideally, an easy way to get there. Here are five Michigan trips that tick those boxes, each centered on a hub location. From Metro Detroit to the Great White North, you'll find plenty of variety at every potential price point.
THE DETROIT BUDDIES' TRIP
The Big D is a city on the rebound and offers an amazing array of cutting-edge restaurants and bars. The best part? Prices still haven't caught up to places like Chicago and Toronto, and Detroit Metro Airport has inexpensive direct flights to just about every major city via Delta.
Golf: Shepherd's Hollow (Clarkston), Pine Trace (Rochester Hills) The Orchards (Washington)
Shepherd's Hollow and Pine Trace share a lot of the same DNA, from ownership to designer (Arthur Hills). But where Shepherd's Hollow is big and broad, Pine Trace requires more precision with its tree-lined fairways. Both are always in super plush condition, and Shepherd's Hollow has 27 holes—perfect for when you need an emergency nine. The Robert Trent Jones Jr.-designed Orchards plays 7,100 yards from the tips and is stern enough to have tested the best at the 2002 U.S. Amateur Public Links.
Lodging: The MGM Grand
MGM's Detroit outpost has elegant modern rooms, fine dining and, yes, lots of table games. Rooms start at about $150 per night, and the hotel's location right off I-75 makes it easy to get everywhere.
Food: Buddy's Pizza
Buddy's has popped up as a chain around Metro Detroit, but make the pilgrimage to the grimy original in Hamtramck to have the best Detroit-style square pizza you've ever tasted (and a $2 Miller High Life).
Bar: Cadieux Cafe
Yes, feather bowling is a real thing, and the Cadieux Cafe is Detroit's epicenter for this Belgian version of bocce. But even if you don't roll a stone, sit for the mussels and gigantic selection of international beer.
THE TRAVERSE CITY BUDDIES' TRIP
An explosion of growth has made Traverse City and its gorgeous (and walkable) lakefront downtown one of the most exciting places in Michigan to visit. It's an easy jump from Chicago and Detroit, and you can still find great deals if you're willing to play midweek.
Golf: The Bear and The Wolverine (Acme), Arcadia Bluffs (Arcadia) and Bay Harbor (Petoskey)
The Grand Traverse Resort's Jack Nicklaus-designed Bear and Gary Player-designed Wolverine play almost like Jack and Gary did in real life. The Bear is an intimidating power-puncher, The Wolverine is smaller, scrappier and more fun. Both Arcadia and Bay Harbor offer stellar golf to go along with the postcard views.
Lodging: Grand Traverse Resort, Inn at Bay Harbor
Grand Traverse Resort's various tower rooms fit almost any budget, and you can't get any more convenient to the Traverse City airport. Bay Harbor is about an hour's drive north and east from Traverse City, and the Inn (pictured below) might be Michigan's most luxurious accommodation.
Food: Mode's Bum Steer (Traverse City), Tap 30 Pourhouse (Petoskey) Mode's has been serving top-quality steak in Traverse City since the 1970s—long before downtown became a trendy destination. The Tap 30 Pourhouse has an impressive locally sourced menu to go with its craft beer and boutique cocktails.
Bar: Low Bar
Why is it Low Bar? Because it's in the basement underneath an old office building in downtown Traverse City. This impossibly trendy place has the vibe, the music and the sprawling cocktail menu to satisfy even the most jaded New Yorker.
THE GAYLORD BUDDIES' TRIP
When Mother Nature gives you lemons, you make lemonade. The town of Gaylord gets pounded with some of the highest concentrations of snowfall in Michigan, so the locals embraced it and built ski lodges. Instead of closing for the summer, resorts like Treetops built out terrific courses. There are so many in a 50-mile radius that you could play a 10-day trip and not get bored—and with daylight until almost 10, 5 p.m. tee times are even a thing.
Golf: Fazio Premier, The Loop at Forest Dunes
Treetops has five courses on property, including Tom Fazio's only Michigan design. Generous off the tee and pure strategic fun, it'll fill your betting ledgers. Forest Dunes is about an hour south of Gaylord, but worth the drive. Tom Doak's newest creation, The Loop, can fill an itinerary on its own. Playable both backward and forward, it pairs with the majestic Tom Weiskopf-designed original 18 for a formidable back-to-back.
Lodging: Treetops Resort, Forest Dunes
Treetops has a wide selection of rooms, from basic hotel lodging to course-side villas—perfect for groups of any size. It also does a brisk business in group package deals. Forest Dunes is more remote and upscale, but it'll give you a Bandon Dunes feel when you walk from your room to the first tee.
Bar: Spike's Keg O'Nails
A Grayling staple since the 1930s, Spike's specializes in beer, burgers, fried fish and friendliness. It doesn't matter if you're a townie or a visitor—as long as you don't root too hard for any teams from Chicago or Cleveland.
Food: The Blind Squirrel
The burgers are the headliner at the Blind Squirrel, along with the professionally-manicured private softball field out back. Bring enough buddies, and you can redefine the terms of your friendly competition.
THE CHICAGOLAND BUDDIES' TRIP
It's a four-hour drive across on I-94 to get from Chicago to Detroit, and Windy City natives have been stopping halfway—near Michigan's lakeshore—for rest and relaxation since the 1920s. You can come from either direction and enjoy a long weekend in style. The stretch of Lake Michigan beachfront from St. Joseph up to Grand Haven is boat, beach and golf paradise.
Golf: Harbor Shores Golf Club, Stoatin Brae, HawksHead
Sculpted from the waterfront dunes of southern Lake Michigan, Harbor Shores is the Jack Nicklaus-designed showpiece that has become the every-other-year host of the Senior PGA Championship. Stoatin Brae is inland, outside Kalamazoo, but the views are every bit as good from this elevated former apple orchard. HawksHead is a short drive up the coast from Harbor Shores, in South Haven, and has a more flowing, linksy style with big bunkers and fescue.
Lodging: Inn at Harbor Shores
A 90-minute drive from Chicago, the Inn at Harbor Shores (pictured above) has commanding views of Lake Michigan and rooms that each feature a balcony. There's also a marina attached to the hotel property, which means you can sail in if you don't feel like cramming into an SUV. A "family suite" with three queen beds runs about $400 in peak season.
Food: Laura's Little Burger Joint
Some restaurants are worth the drive by themselves. Laura's is one, thanks to a "basic" burger that has been almost universally proclaimed the best in the state. It isn't fancy, and the place is tiny (just like the sign says). But you'll be glad you skipped those dozen fast food joints on your way.
Bar: Eccentric Cafe, Kalamazoo
Bell's beer has developed a cult following in the Midwest, and for good reason. Its Oberon is only available for six months out of the year, and to a select group of bars and restaurants. You can go right to the source at the Eccentric—the cafe adjacent to the Bell's brewery—and sample it all.
THE WILDERNESS BUDDIES' TRIP
Sure, Michigan is the mitten you know and love. But the Upper Peninsula—the broad expanse stretching just north of the mitten's middle finger over to Wisconsin—is filled with its own kind of rugged excitement. The season is obviously shorter, but in July and August, you'll find perfect daytime temperatures and cool nights. Marquette is the hub, and you can fly there from Detroit and Chicago on Delta and American.
The venerable Marquette Golf Club opened in the 1920s, but it has kept up with the times by expanding its original course (the Heritage) and constructing the acclaimed Greywalls in 2005. Greywalls is the star, with its broad views of Lake Superior. Head south (relatively speaking) to Harris for Sweetgrass Golf Club, a 7,300-yard monster and its new-for-2018 sibling, Sage Run.
Lodging: Island Resort & Casino
Built in 1981 and expanded and upgraded repeatedly since, the Island Resort & Casino is run by the Hannahville Indian Community in Harris. Spend some time playing poker or table games, or relax in the full-service spa before heading out for golf.
Food: Cafe Bodega
Just because you're a seven-hour drive from Detroit doesn't mean you can't find an impressive meal. Cafe Bodega features locally sourced ingredients and clever interpretations on classic dishes like huevos rancheros.
Bar: The Vierling
The Vierling has been slinging drinks since the 1880s—first to the hard-edged ore miners and lumberjacks that built Marquette and now for the hipsters and tourists who come to visit. Sample some of the beer brewed on site and be glad that plumbing technology has improved since the James Garfield administration.