The three-state treat of Great Lakes golf—in Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin—is among the richest and most diverse in America. Believe it or not.
OK, the season is short. So what? That hasn’t kept majors like the PGA Championship away, or the Ryder Cup, either. And they’re coming back, soon.
Here’s a primer not only on where to play, but what do to.
There’s much more to this quaint island than just the world’s best fudge. Since no cars are allowed on the island, you must arrive by ferry or via the 8,614-foot Mackinac Bridge–North America’s longest suspension bridge physically connects Michigan’s Upper and Lower Peninsulas. You can get around the island only by foot, horse carriage or bicycle. Then there’s the charming, 385-room Grand Hotel with the world’s longest front porch. The 120-year-old, elegant hotel was the site of the 1979 movie, Somewhere in Time. Be sure to catch the island’s state park, honored by National Geographic as one of America’s 10 finest. For more info, visit www.mackinac.com.
Sleeping Bear Dunes Natural Lakeshore
Located in northwestern Lower Michigan, along the shores of Lake Michigan, it’s roughly 25 miles from bustling Traverse City. Disney’s FamilyFun magazine calls it the “Number One Midwest nature escape for families,” and rightly so, as this 70,000-acre getaway features 35 miles of wide, sandy beaches directly on Lake Michigan, massive sand dunes perched atop towering headlands and pristine inland lakes and streams. There are plenty of water sports, hiking and outdoor activities for people of all ages to participate in.
Roughly an hour northwest of metro Detroit on I-75, this Bavarian-themed town has a zoo, top-rated golf course and a main street packed with hotels, gift shops and large restaurants specializing in the world’s best fried chicken. The most-famous stop on South Main St. is the all-encompassing Zehnder’s of Frankenmuth, home to Splash Village Hotel & Waterpark, the 6,813-yard Fortress Golf Course and the town’s most-renowned eatery. For more info, visit www.frankenmuth.org.
Brainerd Golf Trail
Roughly two-and-a-half hours north of Minneapolis there are 20-plus courses on 17 sites, amounting to more than 300 holes of golf, in the scenic Brainerd area. There’s also plenty of lodging in town, ranging from upscale lake resorts to modern hotels, which is why it’s ranked as the state’s top stay-and-play golf destination. Courses here share a blend of lakes and woods–without the high green fees you might find in comparable golf destinations in other parts of the world. For more info, visit www.brainerdgolftrail.com.
Paul Bunyan Tributes
Seen that truck commercial on TV, where it drives up to a diner bearing a large (perhaps life-size) statue of Paul Bunyan? That’s in Brainerd Lakes, which claims ownership of the mythical lumberjack. Thus, tributes to him can be found all over town. The most famous Bunyan statue is located at Paul Bunyan Land at This Old Farm Pioneer Village, just east of Brainerd on Highway 18. It’s surrounded by the entire collection of rides from the former Paul Bunyan Amusement Center, which closed in 2003. The newest Paul sits at the Brainerd Lakes Area Welcome Center, where visitors often climb on his lap for photos. Many other Bunyan statues are around, including a talking version, as are his flashlight (at Brainerd’s water tower) and wooden axe (outside Crosslake’s Ace Hardware).
No trip to Minnesota is complete without tasting the official state fish, walleye pike. Many restaurants serve it, in one preparation form or another. TJ’s Supper Club in Deerwood serves it deep-fried, with au gratin potatoes on the side. Right on a lake, the restaurant also dishes up a fantastic Sunday brunch that includes pike.
U.S. Hockey Hall Of Fame
Three hours north of Minneapolis, in Eveleth, Minn., this hockey museum celebrates American hockey by honoring and recognizing outstanding hockey contributors and capturing the true spirit and excitement of hockey. Inductees include many famous U.S.-born stars and members of the 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team.
Once a dormitory for Kohler’s immigrant employees, this AAA Five-Diamond resort hotel in Kohler–90 minutes from Milwaukee–features unique, luxurious decor that creates a singular experience room by room. Because bath-furnishing mogul Herb Kohler owns the resort, no two bathrooms in the hotel are the same. The Horse & Plow restaurant/sports bar is second-to-none for casual fare. Next door, Kohler Waters Spa offers nourishing treatments, massages and all-day experiences. Stroll through the streets of Kohler for a morning walk.
Green Bay Packers Hall Of Fame
The 25,000-square foot facility, located inside Green Bay’s Lambeau Field Atrium, lets visitors relive the most exciting moments in Packers and NFL history. You can see, touch and feel 80-plus years of football through 80 exhibits, including three Super Bowl trophies and a re-creation of Vince Lombardi’s office. Also, a children’s interactive area lets little fans experience what it’s like to play for their favorite NFL team, which in this area better be the Packers. For more info, visit www.packers.com.
5 Best Places To Stay
The American Club
The area’s only AAA Five-Diamond resort hotel, The American Club in Kohler, features a first-class spa, fitness center and two spectacular golf courses.
Boyne Highlands Resort
Offers three top-notch golf courses as well as comfortable accommodations. The Ross Memorial is an absolute must.
The only AAA Four-Diamond property in northern Michigan, the impressive main lodge is the largest of its kind east of the Mississippi River.
Inn At Bay Harbor
An impressive hotel and 27 holes of outstanding golf along Little Traverse Bay are only the beginning at Bay Harbor.
Grand Traverse Resort And Spa
Over 400 hotel rooms and 200 condos are available, as well as a beach club, health club and courses designed by Jack Nicklaus and the great Gary Player.
5 Hidden Gems
Features Tom Weiskopf’s first design in Michigan, Cedar River, as well as the Arnold Palmer-designed Legend Course. Consistently rated one of the state’s best.
Black Forest Golf Club
Tom Doak’s Black Forest is a tough but enjoyable test of golf that demands your entire game be on the ball.
Black Lake Golf Club
Built on land owned by the UAW Family Education Center, Black Lake’s Rees Jones-designed Championship Course runs across 300 acres of mature forests and wetlands.
Forest Dunes Golf Club
Designed by Tom Weiskopf, this links-style track features natural sand dunes, native fescue and plenty of great golf.
Grand Geneva Resort
Home of The Brute, one of the toughest and most challenging tests of golf in the Midwest. Features close to 70 sand bunkers and enormous, undulating greens.
Spring, Summer And Fall
Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin are cold-weather states, and as a result, feature relatively short golf seasons. Plan your trip for sometime between late April and early October, and you’ll have a ball.
In Vino Veritas
Believe it or not, Michigan is a great state for wine, as its soil provides nearly ideal growing conditions for grapes. Be sure to sample the local labels during your travels, especially in combination with some musky.
Lake trout, brown trout, walleye, salmon, steelhead and bass are all fair game in the Great Lakes as well as Michigan’s 11,000 inland lakes and streams. Charter boats and multiday fishing adventures are easily found throughout the state.
Taste The Goodness
Minnesota travelers would do well to sample some of the homegrown fruits and vegetables, honey, maple syrup, cheese and specialty meats, including bison and emu. Check out the Minnesota Grown Directory to locate farmers’ markets in the state.
Wisconsin produces more than 35 percent of all cheese made in the United States, much of which comes from family-owned and -operated factories. Be sure to take a tour and see how some of these award-winning varieties are made.