Gaylord Golf Mecca Begins Its Second Decade
by Art McCafferty
If you look up the word synergism in a golf dictionary, you just might find Gaylord cited as part of the definition. The Gaylord Golf Mecca, as we now know it, was formed a decade ago with original members, Bill Topham, then with Treetops; Dick Weber, then with Hidden Valley and now with Marsh Ridge; Tom Weiss of the Holiday Inn; Ron Otto of Garland; Dave Smith of Black Forest and Wilderness Valley Resort; Dan Webster of Gaylord Country Club; Mike Husby of Michaywe; and Paul Beachnau of the Gaylord Area Convention and Visitors Bureau. These gentlemen started with a handful of golf courses and a vision, now ten years later have brought together 22 courses and a golf destination that is known throughout the Midwest.
The 1998 edition finds an expanded group, budget and a vision for national recognition. According to Paul Beachnau, they are moving on a number of fronts toward that goal. They will be committing the energies and resources to insure that they are in the forefront of the emerging electronic technologies. They are getting fully into the Internet and hope to have all of their times available online this year. They are in the process of doing a feasibility study for Northwest Airlines. Better air service for Gaylord, Alpena and Sault Ste. Marie were a part of Governor Engler's tourism action plan. Finally, in cooperation with the state of Michigan, they plan on hosting a golf event that will attract national attention. Plans are a little sketchy, but essentially, the state of Michigan, Treetops and ESPN have entered into a three year contract to host a made-for-television golf event. A Par Three Challenge is being firmed up that will feature top professionals, Threetops as the course, and the affable Rick Smith as on air analyst.
Larry Bowen, owner of the resort, has a variety of amenities to offer his guests. Golfers and their families can enjoy the excellent Jerry Matthews' designed golf course, take a ride on the state's longest water slide, swim in the atrium heated swimming pool, partake of the Jacuzzi, sauna, tennis court, clubhouse or picnic pavilion. Guests can park their RV there or rent one of his 1 to 2 bedroom log cabins that sleep up to two foursomes. The cabin rental has proved to be such a success in the spring and fall, that he has decided to offer them in the summer as well. For $59.95 per night, (per person, based on double occupancy) you get the cabin with kitchen and living room, unlimited golf, a cart, breakfast and his undying gratitude.
Long the price point leader in Gaylord golf, Larry has achieved his success the tried and true way of great product at competitive prices.
For more info: Beaver Creek Resort - The Natural (517) 732-2459,
While there is a good chance the Black Bear will maul you during your round, it does give you a sporting chance by giving you a "mulligan" hole to start out with. Black Bear, one of the Mecca's newest tracts, is finally starting to acquire the benefits of aging. As the case with many courses, Black Bear was launched a bit too soon. The course came off a couple of really bad grass growing seasons and as a result it was a little "thin" on turf here and there.
However, Rob Medonis, head golf professional feels that the worst is behind them. A late fall round with autumn colors all around me indicated that he was right. Black Bear is filling in nicely and becoming the show stopping course that designer Mark Sauger intended it to be. Open approaches to the greens, huge greens and tee boxes and not a lot of forced carries, make this a friendly course.
For more info: Black Bear 1-(800)-9-BEAR-11, www.webgolfer.com/blackbear
Black Forest continues to gain in stature as the course matures. In a Detroit News Article, Vartan Kupelian recently elevated Black Forest to one of his top Michigan courses. Certainly one of the reasons for its success is the design and the success of the designer, Tom Doak. Golf Digest says Doak is one of the five most influential golf architects in America. As Doak's star continues its ascent, so do the amount of people attracted to a Doak course. One only has to read his book, The Anatomy of a Golf Course, to understand the intellectual tools he brings to the golf course design.
Wilderness Valley is like a stroll in the park in comparison to some of the up north courses. It is a kinder and gentler course, something that George Bush would love.
Dave Smith, owner of the resort, said that last year was the best year ever for his courses. He feels that the constant investment in the facilities and course are expected by today's golfing public. Golfers will find that he recently upgraded the clubhouse and kitchen. This year, his course superintendents, Dwayne Parker and Don Nichols are adding six more forward tees to Black Forest
For more info: Black Forest & Wilderness Valley (616) 585-7090
We visited The Rock at Woodmoor twice in our publication last year. But it just goes to show you that you can't get enough of a good thing. The Rock is marketed by both the Gaylord Golf Mecca and the emerging Sault Ste. Marie area golf destination. This year The Rock has some additional help in attracting golfers as Hessel Ridge, a new Jeff Gorney course in Hessel, opened last year. This will allow golfers to golf a couple of courses in the same area.
This Harry Bowers-designed course is one of the majors in Michigan. At Woodmoor, they have great golf, great food and a great attitude. A visitation to The Rock at Woodmoor is really special. If you have never been there, just do it. You can experience one of Michigan's more interesting islands and one of its better courses.
For more info: The Rock 1-(800)-999-6343, www.drummondisland.com
I remember the media event prior to the opening of Elk Ridge in 1992. I found myself in a foursome with Golf Digest writer, Ron Whitten, architect Jerry Matthews and Dave Richards of Golf Marketing Services. It was a real clinic as writer Whitten and architect Matthews discussed the course and how many of his architectural decisions were arrived at. At the conclusion of the day, Whitten, not one for hyperbole, was generous with his praise. He was discovering northern Michigan golf for the first time and was duly impressed. He was but one of the first to give Elk Ridge rave reviews. Golf Digest listed it as "One of America's Top 75 Upscale Courses" in 1996, after listing it as the second best new public course in America in 1992.
When going to Elk Ridge, you clearly get away from it all. The elegant drive to the course brushes away any troubles or problems you may be having. Arriving at the clubhouse perched on that spectacular piece of ground creates an anticipation for your round. The driving range high on the hill, allows you to warm up by hitting drives that seem to hang on the horizon forever, before dropping out of the sky hundreds of yards away. A day at Elk Ridge is as good as it gets.
For more info: Elk Ridge 1-(800)-626-4ELK, www.elkridgegolf.com
Fox Run is the first northern course on your way to the Gaylord Golf Mecca or the farthest southern course, depending on whether you are driving from the Lower or Upper Peninsula. Located just south of Grayling, Fox Run is perhaps the most affordable member of the group. The course, located on 225 acres of hardwood forests, is especially spectacular in the fall when the colors change.
For more info: Fox Run 1-(800)-4 FOX RUN.
Sometimes you hear about Garland while having a cup of coffee when listening to WJR in the mornings; or perhaps you have seen their ad on CNBC's Power Lunch. On the print side you may have picked up a Michigan Golfer or a copy of Michigan Living and spotted them on the cover, or you may have seen them in Detroit's new upscale magazine, Hour Detroit. Their partnership with Knorr Marketing, located in Traverse City, has made the name Garland ubiquitous to Midwest people who have a healthy and active upscale lifestyle.
Garland has consistently strived to be the best. Ron Otto, Garland owner, creates his own standard of excellence, but has long admired and pointed to the five star American Club in Kohler, Wisconsin as his mode. This is the home of the world renowned Blackwolf Run and the new Whistling Straights golf course, opening up in late May. The Kohler layout is easily one of the top golf destinations in this country. Garland, currently the Midwest's only AAA Four-Diamond resort complex, is only about a sand wedge behind.
This past year they had a chance to beta test their new Garland Golf Academy and the reviews were excellent. It has been the missing link to the Garland golf experience; long in coming it was worth the wait. Evan "Big Cat" Williams provides the name and national exposure; Lee Woodruff, Leslie Plichta and Mike Pearson provide the on hand instruction.
The area has a station or stations for every shot. To add to the fun, there are some "extra holes" at Garland that are currently "in waiting" for the new Sanctuary course. They are now being used by academy instructors to illustrate real playing conditions. The academy also offers a Hogan club fitting station for those who are interested.
Lee Woodruff's philosophy of teaching comes from his long-time mentor, Bob Fry of Iowa. Fry always talked about balance in his lessons. He felt that golfers should learn to pose after their shot and be aware of their finishing balance. In working with students, Lee and his staff sometimes work backwards. They feel that if they can illustrate the balanced finish and have the students understand how you get to that finish in the swing, the students will have an excellent chance of successfully playing and enjoying the game.
While Lee has had his success in the golf business, one of his biggest rewards of his life occurred last year when he successfully launched the Garland Charity Classic. The event raised $50,000 for local charities in the area. This year's Classic will be on September 9.
The big news at Garland in '98 is a $1.2 million grant to begin the infrastructure for the new Garland Village that has been on the drawing boards for the past couple of years. The Garland Village hopes to develop an entire village of specialty shops to attract golfers and visitors alike. Owner Ron Otto, General Manager Barry Owen, and Vice President of Marketing Gregg Herning are heavily involved in this next step of Garland's future.
For more info: Garland 1-(800)-968-0042, www.garlandusa.com
Gaylord Country Club is a private club that invites outside play. It is a fine tract that prides itself on fast play, competitive rates, excellent greens and an abundance of that Gaylord beauty...Naturally. It has been a Gaylord Golf Mecca partner from the get-go and has contributed its share to growing the legend by hosting the 1987 Michigan PGA Best Ball Tournament and the 1992 National Left-Handers Tournament.
For more info: (616) 546-3377.
The 54 Hole Blowout was one of the real strokes of golf marketing genius the past couple of years in Gaylord. Hidden Valley offers a two night lodging package and the opportunity to play each of three championship courses: the highly acclaimed Loon, designed by Mike Husby; the Classic at Hidden Valley, one of the oldest golf courses in the Mecca; and the Lake course, a Jerry Matthews gem.
According to John McLintock, director of marketing, the 54 Hole Blowout advertising campaign got a lot of response from the golfing public. Golf rounds went up substantially last year. "Currently, 50% of our overnight guests are part of that package," says McLintock. Hidden Valley also offers killer rates in the spring. You can play most of their courses for $25-$35 until the end of April. However, call for their Spring Special as the rates do change for different courses.
This year's story at Hidden Valley is the new condo development and golf course lots that are now available on the Classic. Town sites and home sites are also available at the Loon. Owner Keith Gornick has recently invested heavily in Hidden Valley renovation. This past year he worked with the city administration to allow Hidden Valley to be incorporated into Gaylord. This will allow Gaylord a broader tax base and will allow Hidden Valley to tie into the city's water and sewage system.
While still on the back burner, Gornick still plans to add yet another course and has selected PGA Tour pro and WSPN golf analyst Gary Koch for the job.
Do not leave town_ever_without having a dinner in Hidden Valley's Pontresina Ristorante. Ever.
For more info: Hidden Valley 1-(888)-UPLAY-54, www.hiddenvalley-mi.com, or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Mike Alpers, director of golf for Deer Run, indicates that most of his play now comes from golfers outside of the Lakes of the North membership. "Our members are getting a little older and thus they play a little less. We have a members' 18 hole league on Tuesday and a morning league on Fridays, but the rest of the week is wide open."
Deer Run is the most affordable course in the Mecca. You can play as much golf as you want for $25 after 2:00. And before Memorial Day, you can play all day for $30.
For more info: Lakes of the North 1-(800)-851-4653
The notorious sandbagger got up from the table to answer the knock on his door. As he rose, he glanced at the thick wad of hundred dollar bills he had taken earlier from some real rubes from an early morning foursome. He opened the door to see a crisp one hundred dollar bill just lying in the hallway. Looking quickly around, he bent over to pick it up while marveling at his uncanny luck that day. The smug smile on his face disappeared quickly, as he realized that his good fortune had changed. The last thing he saw was the flash of a Marsh Ridge golf shirt and the sweet spot of a "Really Big Bertha" as it drilled him between the eyes... And the murderer was...?
There are tens of murders at Marsh Ridge each year. So... plan on attending one of the infamous Murder at the Marsh Mystery Weekends. Make sure your insurance is paid up.
As you have guessed, Marsh Ridge offers more than just a great championship golf course. Dick Weber and his staff set the tone for quality in dining, lodging, golf and some unique events at the Marsh. Weber, a graduate of the prestigious Cornell Hospitality School, is a master at doing the little things that help to make a destination a great experience. Jac's Place, the on site restaurant offers some of the best food in Gaylord. It is a place to take that someone special, just dynamite.
The golf course, designed by Gaylord's Michael Husby, is challenging. While Michael did a great job on the design, it is in the hands of the superintendent now. The superintendent and his staff have made the grounds at Marsh Ridge utterly spectacular. It may not be the Garden of Eden, but it is sure the Garden of Ellie. Owners Jack and Ellie Bott have made sure that Marsh Ridge is always dressed up with appropriate flowers for their guests.
Host pro Ken Anderson reminds us that Marsh Ridge will be a featured course on the Golfing the Great Lakes series this spring.
For more info: Marsh Ridge 1-(800)-743-PLAY, www.marshridge.com, email email@example.com
Golf rounds were up for the year according to Jim Sparline, GM of The Pines course at Michaywe. He felt that the Michaywe Getawaye theme was one of the ideas responsible for the increase. The Getawaye is a series of golf packages for groups. You can get this information by calling 1-(800)-322-6636.
Jim also indicated that the exposure the course received by hosting the prestigious GAM Amateur also brought some additional traffic. And finally, there is the repeat business of the thousands of golfers that have been coming to Gaylord all these years. Michaywe was one of the original courses of the Mecca and is still considered one of the area's finest tracts.
For more info: Michaywe - The Pines 1-(800)-322-6636
In trying to say something new about Treetops, I ended up saying something old. The launch of the Gaylord Golf Mecca was simultaneous with Treetops coming on board in the mid 80's. The Michigan Golfer was pumped up as we chose the Treetops issue as our first glossy cover. We were also looking at getting into television and felt that the Treetops opening might just be the way to look at this media. Therefore, just prior to the official opening at Treetops, we taped an hour long interview of Robert Trent Jones with Harry Melling, Rick Smith, our editor, Terry Moore and golf writing legend, Jack Berry. We never used the footage, but the result of that early taping was the launch of the Golfing the Great Lakes television. Recently, I went back and reviewed the interview. I thought you might enjoy these decade old morsels:
Robert Trent Jones
On Treetops: "I think the par five first hole is one of the best first holes in America."
On Golf: "It is the duty of the professional golfer to attack a golf course, it is the duty of the architect to defend it."
On Water: "I believe I was the architect that really brought water into vogue as a course hazard. It is the ultimate penalty."
On his Mentors: "I was influenced by Donald Ross, Alistair Mckenzie; I played golf with him one time, and Tillinghast. I liked the way they used the flow of the land and flow of nature's forces in their course design."
On his first Design: The City of Rochester Course. "It was 1930 and there was not a lot of work for a new architect... They wanted to renovate the City of Rochester course, but all they had was $1500 in the budget. I indicated to the director of the parks and recreation department, that I simply could not live on $1500 for the year. I then asked him if the WPA had a budget line item for grass seed. He said he had all kinds of money for grass seed. Then I said, 'well, you have just bought $8000 worth of grass seed.' And that was how I got and financed my first course."
Harry Melling on Jones: "I chose Jones because he seemed to see the course more clearly than any of the other architects. We walked the ground and he seemed to be able to see through the trees. We couldn't have made a better choice."
Rick Smith on Melling and Jones: "Harry and Mr. Jones were talking about the course as I hit a 2 iron into the ninth green. The ball skipped on the green bounced into the woods. Mr. Jones thought about what he saw and then said to Harry, 'Harry, do you want Treetops to be in the top 100 courses?' Harry, said, 'why sure I would.' Then Mr. Jones said, 'Well, in the morning I am going to bring in a bulldozer and make that green right.'"
For more info: Treetops 1-(888)-treetops, www.treetops.com
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