Fifth in the series: Garland Carves Unique Niche In Northern Michigan Golf Market
Garland is a true golf resort. Golf is not Garland's only business, but it's the resort's main business. Golf is the reason for Garland's being -- and places the four-star resort in a unique position. Most northern Michigan resorts added golf as an afterthought to supplement their skiing business during the off season. Garland added cross-country skiing to supplement its golf business during the off season.
Celebrating its 50th anniversary, family-owned Garland opened in 1951 when German-born Herman Otto opened a nine-hole course as an "up north" getaway spot for family, friends and employees of his Detroit-based manufacturing facility, Garland Manufacturing. Ron Otto, who took over the reins from his father in 1986, remembers when his father started building the nine-hole course. "It was a family project. I wasn't old enough to drive yet, but I was going around to area farms with an old truck gathering stone for walls on the property.
"When we first came up to look at the property a bunch of equipment was busy in the middle of this big field," said the 63-year-old Otto with a quick smile that lights up his normally stern expression. "My mother asked what was going on, to which my father replied, 'They are building a golf course.'
"My mother's response was, 'Who would be crazy enough to build a golf course way up here?' My father said, 'Me.'"
The original nine-hole course, which has been incorporated into other courses, was built on 440 acres. The resort now encompasses nearly 3,500 acres and offers four championship 18-hole courses.
In the early 1960s, Garland was opened to the golfing public. An additional nine holes was added in 1973. The original 18 holes were integrated into other courses, which followed in the late 1980s and early '90s. "I had just sold my other business and we were in the process of redoing our golf course layout and opening Swampfire, which was our new 18-hole course at the time," Ron Otto said of assuming management of the resort in 1986. "It was going to be a hobby. I got carried away, and look what we've got today," he laughed. "My father thought I was crazy to develop the resort. I had a successful garage door business at the time, and he couldn't see the vision I could for Garland."
It proved to be an extremely busy time with the resort. In 1985, a gas explosion and fire destroyed the original clubhouse. Ron made the decision at the same time to purchase the resort and make the commitment to create the ultimate four-season recreational and corporate retreat. First of all, it was going to be a family business. He brought his son-in-law, Barry Owens, in to serve as general manager, and his daughter, Ursula, into the business as well, and they have proceeded to put their personal stamp on all phases of the business.
To start with they constructed the largest log lodge east of the Mississippi, a grand structure complete with soaring cathedral ceilings, huge roaring fireplaces, stained glass windows and intricate hand-carved wooden statues as well as animal mounts from all over North America. The lodge also houses Herman's, a wonderful four-star-rated gourmet restaurant that specializes in local wild game and cuisine, and golf clothing is welcome. Staying involved with all areas of the operation, Otto even creates some of the menu items. His walleye recipe has proven to be one of the more popular menu items with guests...especially returning guests, who are numerous.
But, despite all the wonderful amenities, golf is what has made Garland one of the more popular "Up North" destinations, and the younger Otto designed all four of the resort's championship courses.
"Golf course design is way overrated," Otto said. "You don't have to be a big name golf course architect to appreciate the game. I can visualize what a hole should look like and how the course layout should follow the natural contours of the land," said Otto, as his face lit up while talking about his creation. "I used to play a lot of golf before I got into the golf course business, and I know what I like. I make it a point to always try and save the big trees, which can add so much to the eye appeal of a course. Creativity was always my forte. We did a lot of creative things which helped revolutionize the garage door industry -- like steel insulated doors and using robotics in the manufacturing process -- and I brought that same forte into this business."
About the same time golf was starting to explode in northern Michigan, Garland opened three new courses in a span of four years. Swampfire was opened in 1987 and was followed by Monarch and Reflections, which opened in 1990. Completing the picture, Fountains was opened in 1995. Each course is distinctive, and each has its own punishments and rewards.
Fountains, the newest of the four courses, which incorporates some of the original nine holes, opened in 1995. It's a testimony of Otto's views of the harmonious relationship between land and golf. At nearly 6,800 yards, it offers six-packs of par-3s, par-4s and par-5s.
A favorite design feature of Otto's, Swampfire also has a similar layout. The course, with its bent grass fairways and greens and gently rolling terrain fits naturally into its environment. A cart ride over the longest, single-span log bridge in the world is part of the treat of playing this beautiful course. Swampfire, which was the first of the four new courses to open in 1987, is a pretty accurate name for this course. A real test of your will and patience, the course features water and more water -- on all but four of the holes. It may not be the longest, but it's a true test of your shot-making ability, and you'd better bring a ball retriever. Most likely you'll need it, because it's almost impossible to make it around without getting wet.
Monarch on the other hand is as magnificent as it is long. At nearly 7,200 yards from the tips, you'd better bring your big stick. Opened in 1990, it's the "king" of the quartet. While some assume the name of the course refers to its length, it's actually named for the towering white pines that adorn the fairways. If it's any consolation, you get the two hardest holes -- No. 1 and No. 2 -- out of the way immediately. No. 1 is the top handicap hole, and hole two is the second hardest on the course. It only gets easier after that.
A personal favorite is Reflections, which seems strangely named. Normally I think of reflections in a pool of water, but this course has the least amount of water of the four -- which is why it's a personal favorite. Similar in length to Fountains, it's also a similar layout with six sets of par-3s, par-4s and par-5s.
Over the years the Ottos have been good stewards of the land they own. Ron Otto is quick to point out that they've planted over 2 million trees on the property during its first 50 years. "Brook trout are once again spawning in streams that had all but dried up when my father purchased the land that now makes up the resort," Otto said. "He released over 1,300 turkeys into the wild around here. He was one of the prime movers in the reintroduction of the wild turkey to our environment, and he never did get the credit he deserved from the DNR. He was as much an environmentalist as a businessman."
"It's one of the few areas in the state where nesting eagles can be seen on a regular basis," Otto said proudly. "Quality and commitment to the environment are family traditions, and they will never be compromised. We never wanted to be the biggest, just the best."
For more information on the Midwest's only Four-Diamond resort, call 1-887-4GARLAND, or click on www.garlandusa.com. They have a variety of golf packages available to accommodate just about every budget.
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