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Golf Away from it All in Michigan's Upper Peninsula

By: Steve Habel


Michigan's Upper Peninsula is truly away from it all. Serendipitously, there are also some outstanding courses in the "Land above the Bridge."

The 2nd Green at Wild Bluff GC in Michigan's UP

The Upper Peninsula, or U.P. as the natives call Michigan's northern third, encompasses almost 30 percent of the state's land mass but just three percent of its population. Given the scarcity of folks and the often harsh and lengthy winters, it may surprise some that the region - bordered on the north by Lake Superior, east by the St. Mary's River, southeast by Lake Michigan and Lake Huron, and southwest by Wisconsin - has a handful of great courses.

Two of those tracks are Wild Bluff Golf Course in Brimley in the peninsula's northeast corner and The Rock, literally the place to play at the accessible-by-boat-only Drummond Island off the coast of the UP and nearly in Canada.

At both courses golfers are more likely to see wildlife than fellow linksters, although each track draws its fair share of regional players, most of whom get in a round or two in between outdoor pursuits or gaming (Wild Bluff is at the Bay Mills Resort and Casino).

Both Wild Bluff and The Rock should be considered destination courses since it's doubtful golfers are just going to stumble upon them. But their remoteness is a plus, and getting to either place is worth the effort.

No. 15 at Wild Bluff GC

Husby Takes High Side at Wild Bluff

Wild Bluff GC, rated 4˝ stars by Golf Digest and voted the best golf course in the U.P. by the same publication, was designed by Mike Husby and opened in 1998. Husby, a prolific Michigan-based golf architect and management expert, considers Wild Bluff his best work. The course bordering Hiawatha National Forest incorporates gently rolling terrain and vistas of nearby Waishkey Bay, St. Mary's River and Canada.

Most of the holes at the par-72, 7,056-yard layout begin atop a bluff, offering scenic views of Lake Superior. The routing presents dramatic elevation changes; even the valley section has rolling, left- and right-turning fairways. The majority of the holes culminate at elevated greens with tricky surrounds, all factors that contribute to the course's high 75.1 rating and 146 Slope.

Husby throws down a gauntlet at the first five holes - all par-4s. Nos. 3-5 play at 468, 445 and 449 yards, respectively; if one can reach the sixth tee with his game intact and nerves still steady, there are several upcoming chances to make up for this difficult beginning.

The 182-yard, par-3 sixth demands accuracy as there's no room behind the green and trouble looms left. Though No. 7 - a 569-yard par-5 - is Wild Bluff's top handicap hole, a tee shot at the inside of the right-hand fairway bunker leaves the possibility of a run-up shot onto the green.

A pond in front of a pine at the right of the green on the 187-yard eighth ups the ante at this one-shotter, and the 545-yard par-5 ninth requires a carry across a water-filled ravine to find the putting surface.

No. 12 is a 389-yard par-4 with a green tucked into a forest. Although the hole looks tame on the scorecard, anything wayward off the tee leaves a tough angle into a tiny-looking green guarded by three bunkers. The 209-yard, par-3 15th plunges more than 75 feet to a target squeezed left-front by a huge bunker. Woodlands and a creek enter play here, as does swirling winds.

No. 18 Plays Down to Wild Bluff's Clubhouse

The 17th, a 556-yard par-5, is crossed by a creek about 200 yards short of the green. Deep bunkers - one before the creek and another past it - tighten the landing area. The 417-yard par-4 closer drops about 100 feet off the tee; it features views of the clubhouse and the bay. There's more room right of the fairway than left, and a pond short and right of the green enters play on the approach, making the player's final full swing here one of round's most demanding.

Wild Bluff and the adjacent Bay Mills Resort and Casino are located about a 30-minute drive west of Sault Saint Marie and only 45 minutes north of the famed Mackinac Bridge. Don't forget to bring a camera to capture the views of the lake and document those smiles following a successful day at the course.

For more information, visit www.wildbluff.com.

A Bird's-Eye View of The Rock

Rock 'n Roll on Drummond Island

Drummond Island, the largest freshwater island in the United States, sits astride the junction of two of the Great Lakes - Superior on the north and west and Huron to the south. Despite its location at the hub of Great Lakes' shipping lanes, just 922 people reside on the island and there's no resident police force. It's a place you have to want to get to.

More than two-thirds of the island is owned by the state of Michigan, and it's accessed by ferry at De Tour Village about a two-hour drive from Sault Saint Marie. Not much was here until Tom Monaghan, the former Domino's Pizza magnate and Detroit Tigers owner, developed Drummond Island Resort and Conference Center in the 1980s.

Along with the 40-room lodge (called Woodmoor after the island's old saw mill) and yacht harbor on the island's north shore, Monaghan also funded the construction of The Rock Golf Course, one of the Wolverine State's toughest tracks from the back tees and certainly among its most isolated.

Designed by Harry Bowers and opened in 1989, the par-71 layout plays 6,837 yards from the tips, where it carries a 74.9 rating and 142 Slope.

Exceptional holes include the 189-yard par-3 second with its island green; a monster two-shotter at the 476-yard seventh (which narrows as it reaches a triangular-shaped putting surface); and the two short par-4s on the inward half (the 378-yard 14th and 361-yard 16th), both of which are birdie chances with strong drives and shots to the greens.

One of The Rock's Tight, Tree-Lined Fairways

For the most part, The Rock allows sufficient room off the tee and requires precise iron play. Thick forest enters play near many greens and will severely penalize the wayward. The course is a stern test from the first tee ball to the last putt.

The Rock has beautiful scenery befitting an island dubbed "The Gem of the Huron." The course winds across more than 400 acres of Drummond Island's northern forest and offers serene seclusion. Ponds, lakes, wetlands and even a waterfall add to its charm. Golf Digest gave the course four stars, but many top-notch players believe the track deserves a higher rating.

The resort consists of a main lodge, the Bayside cottages and golf course cabins for rent. If you're a golfer determined to get off the beaten track and be tested by a great course, The Rock will fit you to a "T."

For more information, see http://www.drummondisland.com/golf/index.html.

Steve Habel is one of Cybergolf's world correspondents, contributing news stories, features, equipment and book reviews and personality profiles from his base in Central Texas. He is also works as a contributing editor for Horns Illustrated magazine, a publication focusing on University of Texas sports, covers the Longhorns for CBS Sports, is regional editor for Texas Golfer magazine and files stories for Golf Oklahoma magazine, Texas Links magazines and Golfers Guide. Habel's main blog (www.shotoverthegreen.blogspot.com) features news on golf and the Longhorns, and another (www.checkinginandplayingthrough.blogspot.com)chronicles his many travels, on which he has played more than 350 golf courses since 2009. Habel is a member of the Golf Writers Association of America and the Texas Golf Writers Association.