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Four Times the Fun at Michigan's Boyne Highlands Resort

By: Steve Habel


The northwest part of Michigan's Lower Peninsula resembles Scotland with rolling, often rocky, ground ideal for a variety of outdoor activities. It's here, at Boyne Highlands Resort, that winter and warm-weather sports merge into a memorable destination.

No. 18 at the Hills Course

In the winter, the area around Petoskey - in Emmet County about four and a half hours north of Detroit - is an alpine paradise. Founded by Everett Kircher and still owned and operated by the Kircher family, Boyne Highlands is, at its core, a ski resort, among the best in the Midwest. Starting with 11 trails and five lifts in 1963, today it features 55 trails and eight lifts.

To complement the popular ski resort in its early days, Kircher added the 18-hole Heather, a Robert Trent Jones design that opened in 1966. When the resort tacked on three more courses - designed by Michigan-native Arthur Hills and William Newcomb, respectively - the town of Harbor Springs emerged as a true golf destination.

When the weather warms up the outdoor activities switch to golf. Boyne Highlands Resort houses four courses crafted by some of the game's top designers, and each offers distinct challenges. While Heather, which hosted the Michigan Amateur three times (most recently in 2011), gets most of the attention it might not even be the best layout on the property.

The 18th at the Heather Course

Kircher Had Say at Heather

Heather is a real test, stretching 7,154 yards (where it has a 74.6 rating and 142 Slope) from the tips, asking golfers for solid play in all phases of the game. The routing involves rolling fairways and natural wetlands, and is dotted by white-sand bunkers. Its peripheries are lined by blueberry bogs.

Jones heavily employed water hazards at Heather; only the first and eighth holes on are waterless. On the front nine, par-3s (the 202-yard fourth and 161-yard sixth) require carries across ponds, and the 560-yard, par-5 fifth winds around a lake and wetlands for another risk/reward opportunity.

The back nine also has a one-shotter - the 174-yard 12th - where water must be avoided, but any conversation about approach shots with dire consequences here finish at the closing hole, a 487-yard par-4.

Upon seeing Jones' final handiwork at the 18th, Kircher decided it lacked pizzazz. So he constructed a huge pond - some 150 yards across and just as wide. In making this addition Kircher is credited as the course's co-designer.

That water-guarded 18th green is perhaps the best-known feature of all four courses at Boyne Highland Resort. The Heather has been ranked as one of the "Top 100 Courses You Can Play" by Golf magazine and "50 Best Courses for Women" by Golf for Women.

The 11th at the Hills Course

Hills Course is Considered among Designer's Tops

The Hills course bears all the markings of its namesake architect, including a little whimsy as a par-73, with three par-5s on the home half. The 7,312-yard layout boasts broad fairways and the most dramatic changes of the four courses here. Waste bunkers narrow the focus on a handful of holes, and Hills features deceptive greens.

The opening half occupies mostly flat, heavily treed terrain that plays around a mountain. It's highlighted by the stunning 481-yard par-4 fifth, which winds right to left past a stand of towering trees that loom like a phalanx of soldiers.

Hills' personality evolves on the back as the routing climbs and falls on the side of the mountain. The approach at the 575-yard par-5 11th begins a three-hole ascent to one of the highest points in the surrounding area, which is capped by a magnificent view at the tee of the 570-yard, par-5 13th.

The 420-yard, par-4 17th features a double-fairway split by trees. The round then concludes with a 577-yard beast of a par-5 that, with a couple of well-struck shots, can be reached in two.

The Moor Course at Boyne Highlands

Moor an Underrated Challenge

Newcomb's work at the Moor course complements Boyne Highlands' other tracks, but - thanks to a varied routing and a set of the toughest one-shotters at the resort - takes no backseat.

The Moor's routing is chock-full of doglegs; the outward half favors players who can move the ball left to right, while the back complements those whose ball flight goes the other direction. Extending 6,850 yards, the Moor carries a rating of 73.7 and Slope of 141.

The layout is replete with water hazards, many of them marshes, with forced carries on seven holes on the back nine alone. The greens are subtly undulating, making it difficult to read some of the breaks, but they're not as severe as those on Heather and Hills.

The front nine is generally benign, though that set includes two tough par-5s - the 539-yard third and 520-yard eighth - as well as the course's longest par-4, the 442-yard fifth.

Moor's back half opens with one of the resort's hardest par-4s - a narrow hole housing three separate ponds on the sides of the fairway and another in front of the green.

Additional forced carries over marshes and/or water lurk at Nos. 11, 12, 15, 16, 17 and, finally, 18, a great finisher in the Boyne tradition of golfers having to clear one last water hazard.

The course has hosted the Michigan PGA and Mid-Am, and a U.S. Amateur qualifier. There's no doubting its challenge, but it's also fun.

The 9th Hole at the Ross Course

Ross Course a Fitting Tribute

Even with all you've read about the great golf at Boyne Highlands, this writer's opinion is that the Donald Ross Memorial course - the one that gets perhaps the least mention - is the best at the resort.

The Ross Memorial is, in essence, a "greatest hits" compilation, borrowing some of the designer's best-known holes from the many renowned courses in his portfolio.

Acting on pure inspiration, Kircher, his son Stephen and noted PGA instructor Jim Flick visited scores of courses (many of them private) to select classic Ross-designed holes that could be fit on Boyne Highlands' hilly terrain.

In a single round at Ross Memorial, players can experience holes from courses that have hosted three Ryder Cups, eight U.S. Amateurs, 11 PGA Championships and 14 U.S. Opens.

In an effort to assure authenticity, yardage for many of the replica holes - as well as the elevation changes from tees to greens, is identical to the originals. The surrounding terrain, background and landscape differ from the original (after all, a forest of northern hardwoods will never resemble a stand of tropical palmettos), and some of the fairway rolls and contours vary slightly. But the course looks, plays and feels like a Ross design, providing a demanding test that rewards fine play.

Playing 6,814 yards and a par of 72 from the back set of five tees, Ross Memorial actually carries the lowest rating (73.4) and Slope (138) of the four courses at Boyne Highlands Resort.

The challenge begins at the 388-yard first, a replica of the sixth at Seminole in Florida, and a hole Ben Hogan once called "the finest par-4 hole in the world."

Throughout the round, golfers get to play close versions of holes at Plainfield, Oak Hill, Scioto, Inverness, Charlotte, Bob O'Link, Royal Dornoch, Salem, Detroit, Aronimink, Wannamoiset, two from Oakland Hills CC, and three from Pinehurst No. 2, the 2014 site of both the men's and women's U.S. Opens.

The difficulty when creating "replica" courses is that they tend to be too difficult; many of the holes developers try to duplicate are the hardest holes of their respective originals and thus the collection can be overwhelming. But the effort at Boyne is fair and fun.

In addition to its ample golf options, Boyne Highlands offers a variety of accommodations, dining options, meeting facilities, massage and wellness services, and residential real estate. Its year-round recreational choices provide families, groups and property owners all the amenities found at top resorts.

For more information, visit www.boyne.com/boynehighlands.

Steve Habel is a freelance writer contributing Cybergolf news stories, features, equipment and book reviews and personality profiles from his base in Austin, Texas. He also works as an associate editor for Horns Illustrated magazine, a publication focusing on University of Texas sports, and is a contributing writer for Texas Golf Insider, Golf Oklahoma magazine, Tri-State Golfer and ATX Man magazine. Habel's blog (www.shotoverthegreen.blogspot.com) features news on golf and chronicles his many travels, including playing almost 1,000 golf courses since 2008. Habel is a member of the Golf Writers Association of America and the Texas Golf Writers Association.