By MIKE NORTON
This year, the surest sign of spring around Traverse City is not the noisy songbirds gathering in my backyard, or even the glacially slow melting of the ice on Grand Traverse Bay. It’s the opening of the local golf courses. It takes a certain amount of confidence, after all.
Here’s what we know so far:
Elmbook Golf Course opened on Saturday. As you could expect, they were VERY busy. (Wish them a happy 50th Birthday this year!)
Shanty Creek Resorts also opened their Summit course on Saturday. They expect to open two more courses (Cedar River and The Legend) by this weekend, and hope to have the Schuss Mountain course opebn by the following weekend
The Grand Traverse Resort and Spa will open its Spruce Run course today. On Thursday, they’ll open The Wolverine, and on Friday they open The Bear. Just up the road, A-Ga-Ming Golf resort expects to have all three of its courses (Antrim Dells, Sundance and The Torch) open by Friday.
The Crown Golf Club intends to open its front nine today and have the rest of the course running by the end of the week. Also expecting to be open by the end of the week are Hawk’s Eye and Manitou Passage. Lochenheath hopes to be open by Saturday, but may have to wait until the first weekend in May. The Leelanau Club at Bahle Farms and The Chief are also looking at a May opening.
Golf has been an important part of the Traverse City experience for decades. Long before the rest of the world decided that this was one of the world’s great golfing destinations, our beautiful landscape captured the heart and imagination of golf legend Walter Hagen. In 1954 — after a career that included two U.S. Open victories, five PGA championships and four triumphs at the British Open – “The Haig” decided that of all the places he’d ever played Traverse City was where he wanted to live.
Since then, the quality of play has gotten astronomically better. It’s easy to see why this “Golf Coast” of the Midwest has been awarded the #12 spot in Golf Digest’s list of the World’s Top 50 Golf Destinations, and has been called “America’s Summer Golf Capital” by Golf Magazine. Just last year, it was ranked #7 in the Top 10 Golf Cities in the U.S.
Massive dunes and moraines left behind some 8,000 years ago by retreating ice sheets give this area its distinctive landscape of long hills, narrow valleys and iridescent lakes. Beginning in the 1980s, that breathtaking natural setting attracted some of the nation’s most talented architects, who put the finishing touches on it with some groundbreaking designs.
Traverse City’s golf courses include two Arnold Palmer designs (Manitou Passage and The Legend), Jack Nicklaus’s groundbreaking layout at The Bear, the Jerry Matthews designs at Antrim Dells and A-Ga-Ming, Tom Weiskopf’s award-winning course at Cedar River and Gary Player’s challenging Wolverine. There are other gems among these hills, too – from Hawks Eye and Lochenheath to The Leelanau Club, Elmbrook and The Crown.
And even though the sport is doing a lot of soul-searching these days, trying to figure out ways to make itself more interesting to a new generation of players, Traverse City continues to draw golfers. In summer, when most of America’s better-known golf destinations are sweltering in heat and humidity, the coastal hills around Grand Traverse Bay are cool and comfortable all day long.
And strange as it may sound, summer days are actually longer here than they are in the South: Traverse City is situated on the western edge of the eastern time zone, so far north that the light of a midsummer day can last until nearly 10 p.m. – which means it’s easy to get in a full 18 holes, visit a winery, do some shopping, spend an hour or two at the beach, enjoy a world-class dinner, and still have time for a second round.
Still, the world is full of well-designed golf courses these days. A truly world-class golf destination needs to offer something special once you leave the course. And I guess that’s what sets us apart. It’s a paradox: Traverse City is a great place to play golf, because there’s so much more to do than just play golf.
Time to get out there and whack a few balls around!