Although it may be overlooked in national rankings, Gaylord is one of this country’s golf meccas. The Gaylord area boasts an inviting landscape for golf. With beautiful pine and birch trees lining their unique undulation and many clear-blue ponds and lakes, Gaylord offers avid golfers a little bit of everything. 

Golf courses are now back open with summer weather starting to crawl its way back to Northern Michigan, and with COVID-19 restrictions being lifted. With so many intriguing and exciting courses to play, this list might help narrow down some options for those looking to play some rounds this summer. (Click here to see Northern Michigan's finest collection of vacation rentals)

Here is the start of the list:

10. Michaywe Pines Golf Course — Gaylord

The Pines Course, which tops out at a respectable and challenging 7,040 yards from the black tees (or tips as they are known to golfers), features five sets of tee boxes. The slope rating is 136 from the black tees, which grades out as a moderately challenging layout. The course also has a blue tee, white tee, gold tee, and a red tee box, giving players of all ages and skill levels a chance

Living up to its name, nearly every hole of The Pines is lined, on both sides, with pine trees. This classic layout is designed to force accuracy off the tee, setting up approach shots from the fairway, and out of the forest.

Water is in play sporadically throughout the course, but it’s not a focal point. The beauty of Michaywe resides in the subtle undulation, pristine conditions, and the uniform rows of pine trees guarding a bevy of beautiful houses. The Pines Course is very quiet. Although the holes are close together throughout most of the round, there’s a sense of privacy amongst groups, which helps give a more spacious feel.

Many of the courses in Gaylord, and many that will be featured later on this list, are very expensive, especially in the summer. Michaywe is a very affordable course that still has a resort-like feel to it.

Perhaps the signature hole at Michaywe is the par-5 17th. A generous landing spot off the tee — although longer hitters have to avoid a pair of bunkers on the left-hand side — serves as fool’s gold as the rest of the hole gets very tight in a hurry. The layup shot forces players to hit through a narrow gap between the trees. There is trouble on either side not far off of the only about 20 yards wide of the fairway. The third shot is then over a small creek about 10 yards in front of the green. If the pin is in front, the green is pretty flat, but birdies could be tough to come by if the pin is further back.

The 18th is another interesting hole. From the blue tees, it plays around 350 yards, usually into the more common west wind. Ambitious players might take out drivers to attack one of the most open holes on the course. However, the more prudent play is still to hit something less off the tee, setting up a short-to-mid-iron approach shot.

Michaywe doesn’t dazzle with undulation or intense water holes like some other courses in the area, but it delivers on natural beauty and great conditions. If accuracy and putting are the best parts of your game, then Michaywe is a great choice.

People from out of town often come to Gaylord to play resort courses. Michaywe is located right next to The Loon’s resort and three courses, so anyone looking for a fourth-round could easily find Michaywe an enjoyable experience, as it shares some visual similarities with The Loon. 

9. Black Bear Golf Club — Vanderbilt

Black Bear has had some changes in ownership, almost having to shut down at one point, but it remains a strong course (I have already played it this year). Black Bear may not have the same elite playing conditions as some of the other courses higher up on this list, or maybe even some left off the list, but it has a top-five layout and it is in solid shape.

At Black Bear, you can afford to hit fewer range balls because you get a practice hole. The 19th hole, in this case, is an uphill par 3 located in front of the opening hole. It’s a nice way to get a feel for the greens and loosen up a bit before the round starts.

Like most links-style golf courses, wind determines how difficult your round will be at Black Bear. The middle holes on the front nine and the first few holes on the back nine are wide open, built into beautiful mounding and around captivating natural areas. If the wind is up, the course can be quite challenging.

Almost every hole at Black Bear is unique and memorable. Topping out at just over 6,400 yards, Black Bear is a little bit shorter for low-handicap players. But, again, if the wind is up, it can play 300-400 yards longer.

Both the par-5 fifth and the par-5 seventh holes boast spectacular views. The fifth starts out in the open, winding its way through the natural mounds of the course. As the hole creates its crescendo by the green, it enters the trees guarding the edge of the course, setting up a dramatic finish to the hole.

The seventh is a straight uphill, blind tee shot, but the rest of the hole is all downhill, setting up a potential 100-yard layup shot that is almost directly downhill.

The back nine also has plenty of beautiful holes and scenes, including the par-4 13th and the par-4 14. Both holes are in the trees, giving golfers a new look after a few holes out in the wind.

The golf course is located right off of I-75. In fact some of the holes on the front nine hug the freeway. It’s great to have Black Bear as an option to play. With some elite courses in the area shutting down in recent years, or months, having Black Bear as an option to play is great for the area.

With all the top resort courses in Gaylord, Black Bear might not always be on people’s radar, but it is a special layout and a fun 18 holes of golf for players of all handicaps. 

8. Gaylord Golf Club — Gaylord, MI

For those traveling east on M-32, Gaylord Country Club will be the first course travelers see upon arriving in Gaylord. The beautiful 18-hole layout rests among the pines, a fitting course to welcome guests into one of the most enthralling golf towns in the country.

Accuracy off the tee is a must at Gaylord Golf Club. The first couple of holes is relatively open, serpentining around the clubhouse. But the meat of the course rests deep within the tall, close-knit trees all throughout the property. Length off the tee isn’t as important (the course is 6,506 from the black tees), but it remains difficult nonetheless.

While trees guard the course as its main defense, a couple of holes also have imposing water hazards around the greens. Although it is not quite Amen Corner (the famous three-hole stretch at Augusta National, the annual host of The Masters) the par-3 11th, par-5 12th, and the short par-4 13th offer a pivotal stretch of potential birdie holes to start the back nine. All three holes are relatively short, but they are all risk/reward holes.

Gaylord Golf Club is a fun course to play. Tree-lined golf courses can become redundant, but this layout is fresh and unique throughout. It’s the type of course that can challenge players of all handicaps, but it likely won’t leave you screaming and tossing your bag into a tree. It’s a fair test that requires accurate golf shots, and the greens run true and medium-to-fast.

For locals, Gaylord Golf Club is also a great place to test your skills in competition, as it offers a bevy of league options. Both men and women have plenty of opportunities to test their skills, although it might be wise to check in with the clubhouse to see if any league changes have been made due to social distancing practices.

Resort courses dominate the Gaylord area, with a couple of massive spots occupying most of the small amount of national attention the area gets for golf. But for locals seeking a good challenge, or visitors looking to get in another round either entering or leaving the town, Gaylord Golf Club is a great test and a beautiful design. (click here to see all Gaylord Michigan Homes for Sale)

7. The Lakes — Gaylord, MI

One of the most unique courses in the area, and in Northern Michigan as a whole, the aptly named The Lakes offers a little bit of every golf aesthetic.

One of three courses on The Loon Resort, The Lakes features six links-style holes, six tree-lined — or natural — holes, and six holes hugging Lake Michaywe. Truly living up to its name, water is in play, in some form, on almost every hole.

The Lakes can be visually intimidating the first time around. With several carries over water, danger areas to the right, and sometimes water around the greens, it can seem a daunting task. But after playing it once, the second time around can be fun and much less scary. The Lakes is relatively short, topping out at just 6,418 yards from the back tees.

The par 3’s are usually the most challenging holes at The Lakes. Holes 3 and 6 top out around 170 yards with difficult bunkering and tough greens. A birdie would almost certainly win a skin on either hole. The par 3’s on the back nine can be even more challenging. No. 12 is 152 yards from the back tees with water and bunkers all down the right side — a common miss spot for most amateur golfers. Despite being relatively short, the 12th hole is still the No. 12 handicap hole because of the danger surrounding the green. No. 17 is actually a little bit shorter at 147 yards but again requires a slight carry with water down the right-hand side. If you are missing to the right, it could be a long day at The Lakes.

Aside from often being visually stunning, The Lakes is also in great shape. The fairways are green and cut short. The tee boxes are evenly distributed and pristine, and the greens roll true. The Lakes lacks the drastic undulation found in some of the area’s top courses, but it more than makes up for it with water, natural areas, and great course conditions. The Loon Resort is one of the more underrated golf resorts in the state, and The Lakes is one of the most underrated courses.

Designed by famous golf course architect Jerry Matthews, The Lakes poses a challenge to all handicaps — especially on the first go-around. With plenty of beauty on the golf course and in the actual resort, The Lakes is a great course to play for visitors and full-time residents.

6. The Loon — Gaylord, MI

This Butch Harmon (former Tiger Woods instructor) signature design is nestled within the towering trees, gorgeous lakes, and serene natural areas just south of downtown Gaylord.

The Loon Resort features three golf courses, including last week’s featured course — The Lakes — and The Ridge, which probably has the most severe undulation between the three courses.

While all three courses are challenging, beautifully maintained, and surrounded by stunning scenery, The Loon has always been my favorite out of the three spectacular designs.

Starting with a benign opening hole, one that can be birdied with a cautious tee shot that hopefully finds the fairway, players don’t have to wait long after to find The Loon’s signature hole. The second hole at The Loon is breathtaking visually, but very demanding. Topping out at 188 yards, the green slopes to the left, where a large body of water is patiently waiting for more golf balls. A par on No. 2 would likely win a skin most days.

The third and fifth holes are moderately short par 5s. Both are attackable in two shots with a solid tee shot, but No. 5, especially, has trouble all down the right-hand side. One of the great aspects about The Loon is that it has trouble on both the right- and left-hand side throughout the course, meaning it doesn’t favor just one type of ball flight. Anyone playing The Loon must be able to work the ball both ways, which is a true indicator of a great design.

Holes six and seven are both beautiful, tree-lined par 4s. The seventh has water to the right, but topping out at just over 400 yards, it shouldn’t come into play with a likely wedge or 9-iron approach shot.

The 11th hole, the fourth par 5 on the course, tops out at nearly 600 yards. Playing like a true U.S. Open hole, the monstrous par 5 is also fairly tight and requires accuracy as well as some length off the tee. The Loon features five par 5s and five par 3s.

The final four holes at The Loon would provide intrigue for any foursome. No. 17 reaches just 241 yards, and none of the final four holes — all par 4s — stretch out longer than 414 yards. This makes for some possible drama down the stretch as birdie and bogey can come into play on all four holes.

Topping out at nearly 6,700 yards, and a 140 slope rating from the black tees, The Loon is an excellent test for any handicap. Having five par 5s should help the scoring a bit, but they are not easy birdie holes. The Loon makes players have to work tee-to-green, which is why I believe it’s one of the top courses in the Gaylord area.

5. Treetops Resort: Tradition — Gaylord

It would not be an exaggeration to say Treetops is a magical place for golfers. Designed and built as a walking course, the Tradition, which does not boast the same dramatic undulation and sloping as the other three 18-hole courses at Treetops, also does not have cart paths on the course.

What the Tradition lacks in undulation, it more than makes up for in natural beauty. With rolling fairways, tree-lined holes, and unique designs, it’s one of the truly memorable courses in Northern Michigan.

The front nine at the Tradition is one of everyone's favorites. The first hole is a slightly downhill par 4 through the trees, with immaculate bunkering and fescue providing potential problems. The fairway is wide and the green is big, but it is a tough opening hole.

The par-4 second hole moves golfers back up the slope. The natural mounding and tree-lined fairway give the hole a natural amphitheater feel. A slight fade off the tee is the preferred shot on this spectacular hole.

The par-5 third hole is the first real birdie opportunity. Trees on the right side give way to fescue on the left. This is another remarkable hole with a grouping of trees near the green creating a bowl-like feel.

Moving back down the slope for the par-4 fourth hole, golfers are faced with a semi-blind tee shot if they can get it down the slope. The second shot is almost straight downhill, setting up what could be a little wedge into a tough green. This hole presents a unique challenge for short and long hitters off the tee.

Holes 7 through 9 stands as one of my favorite stretches I’ve ever played. All three holes are unique, risk-reward-type holes that are hardly ever played the same way. The seventh is a par 4 with an inviting fairway, setting up what should be a wedge or 9 iron into a deceptively deep green. A massive bunker guards the front, making the pin look almost impossible to shoot at. It’s a great hole for confident iron players.

Like No. 10 at Riviera in Los Angeles, No. 8 at the Tradition is one of the great short par 4s in the country. A slight dogleg left, through the trees, the eighth presents an opportunity for most to reach the green off the tee. By the green, the entire hole starts sloping towards the left, which can result in some interesting bounces. Even though the hole is short, the long, narrow green is easy to three-putt, making it a true risk-reward.

Another eye-pleasing hole, the par-3 ninth at the Tradition is an uphill par 3 through the trees with tall, wispy grass giving it an almost Scottish feel. According to the Treetops website, it’s the least-aced hole on the entire resort. But it’s certainly fun to try.

The back nine at the Tradition continues to dazzle. The layout throughout the back nine has a links-style vibe, but many of the holes are cut within the tall trees.

The Tradition is a challenge and a joy to play for any handicap. Although some of the other courses at Treetops might get more hype, the Tradition is one of the more underrated courses in the state and certainly worth playing for any local or guest to the area.

4. Treetops Resort: Premier — Gaylord

The opening holes on the Premier and Signature are very similar. The tee boxes are located on either side of the massive clubhouse, immediately providing golfers with some of the resort’s breath-taking undulation. Premier’s opening hole features a 70-foot drop from tee box to green with a sloped fairway guarded on both sides by tall trees. It’s kind of like jumping into a cold pool. Treetops’ many layers of beauty hit its golfers all at once to set the stage for a fantastic 18 holes.

Designed by famous golf architect Tom Fazio, the Premier stretches out to just over 6,800 yards and has a relatively mild 139 slope rating. However, it has, for me, always played as the most difficult of the four 18-hole courses Treetops has to offer.

Although the fairways are generally quite wide on the Premier course, picking the right spots off the tee can be a challenge. The fairways often have tricky sloping and undulation, which can create awkward lies for approach shots.

Almost every hole is memorable on the Premier, but the par-3 11th hole offers the most captivating views. The 195-yard par 3 requires a long iron over a large pond. There is a bail-out area to the left of the green, but that leaves a ticklish chip shot to test the nerves. The hole can be seen as golfers drive into the resort, giving them a glimpse of what awaits them.

The Premier features a number of holes with downhill tee shots. The views are captivating, and the ball goes a little bit further due to the elevation. It might be fun to grip it and rip it on the Premier, but it takes precision from the fairway to score. The course features large greens with tricky slopes. The greens are also guarded by deep, strategically-placed bunkers that can even test low handicaps.

All four 18-hole courses at Treetops offer photo-worthy holes and moments, but the Premier might have the most dramatic undulation. The par-3 eighth hole starts on top of a grassy cliff face. The hole, which measures out at 183 yards, but plays a couple of clubs shorter than the yardage suggests, drops down nearly 100 feet to a slender green. Depending on how nice the grounds crew were feeling on any given day, the flag could be set up generously in the front for a birdie opportunity. However, it could also be tucked in the back-right behind a little pot bunker, bringing bogey or worse into play.

Most golfers who come up to Gaylord for a golf adventure want to see trees, undulation, and spectacular views. The Premier offers all of that in spades, making it a virtual must-play for any golf enthusiast.

3. Treetops Resort: — Gaylord

Famous swing coach and golf architect Rick Smith formed a classic Northern Michigan design in the Signature.

Playing as a par 70 that extends to 6,653 yards, Treetops Resort: Signature glistens among the tall trees lining almost every fairway and green. Several holes on this glorious course feature downhill tee shots with doglegs either to the left or right. Anyone testing the Signature will have to be able to work the ball both ways.

The front nine is slightly unique because it has three par 3s and only one par 5, making it a rare par 34. The back nine is a more traditional par 36. While all 72 holes of the four 18-courses on the Treetops Resort are splendid, the Signature course’s back nine separates itself as a real treat for golf fans.

Both par 5s on the back nine are among the most eye-catching in the entire state. The 10th hole starts off with a downhill tee shot to a fairly generous fairway. Bunkers line the entire hole in strategic locations, making both the drive, layup, and approach shot difficult. The fairway is primarily wide open, one of the few holes not completely surrounded by forest. But the green is surrounded by a semi-circle of trees, giving it a natural amphitheater feeling, which also makes the green look a little bit smaller.

The par-5 15th hole is one of the signature holes on the Signature. With a slight dogleg left off the tee, players eventually have to maneuver uphill, somehow one of the few uphill holes on the course and try to make birdie on a tough two-tiered green. Whether trying to reach the green in two or laying up, players have to get their approach shots over a tall tree just right of the green. The 15th is both strategic and memorable.

The Signature has five par 3s, which is something that might repel some golfers. However, all five par 3s present a unique challenge and offer interesting visuals. There are no weak par 3s on this layout. The par 3 11th hole is very narrow. The line of trees on either side of the tee box starts to feel like they are closing in, giving players a claustrophobic feel. But it is one of the more scenic holes on the course. The par 3 17th is straight downhill, and the par 3 2nd is a tough par three with unique mounding and bunkering.

With mostly generous fairways and big greens, the Signature should create an enjoyable golf experience for any level of golfer.

2. Treetops Resort: Masterpiece — Gaylord

As the famous saying goes: “the proof is in the pudding”. This golf course’s name pretty much sums it up. The gorgeous masterpiece takes golfers on a journey through extreme elevation, difficult greens, and a fair amount of water, making it one of the truly special golf courses in Michigan.

With an intimidating 147 slope rating from the black tees, the Masterpiece is also among the most challenging courses in the state. Due to its rugged terrain, tough driving holes, and greens which wouldn’t be easily accessible for even a top PGA Tour pro, the Masterpiece will surely give local and visiting golfers a stern test.

Although the entire golf course offers splendid views and magnificent originality, the opening hole might be the most memorable on the course. As golfers still loosen up, they are treated to a special par 5. The opening hole at the Masterpiece favors a draw off the tee as a slight dogleg left funnels golf balls down a slope. The slender green is guarded on the left by a long, intimidating bunker and on the right by a large pond. The water hugs right up against the green, making it a tough hole to go for in two — especially to begin a round.

The par-3 fourth hole at the Masterpiece is another eye-catcher. Playing only 161 yards from the back tees, it starts out downhill only to bring players back up the hill where a green rests perched between a quartet of bunkers. Even though it’s the second-shortest hole on the course, it packs a punch to golfers who hit errant shots.

Proving that par 3s can be spectacular despite their length, the Masterpiece excites with a straight downhill par-3 sixth hole. The hole, which tops out at 180 yards, but plays about two clubs less, presents drastic elevation change which offers breath-taking views among the trees. Make sure to have a camera handy when arriving at this hole.

All four 18-hole courses at the Treetops Resort, understandably, are heavily tree-lined. But the back nine at the Masterpiece, while still among the trees, does offer a closing stretch that has a bit of a links-style to it. The final two holes open up a bit, giving the course an extra wind element, with sweeping heather guarding the fairway.

Always in immaculate shape, the Masterpiece is a must-play for visitors trying to get the best of the Gaylord golf experience. One can’t go wrong with any of the Treetops Resort golf courses, but the Masterpiece is a truly special experience that can test scratch golfers and 20 handicaps alike.

1. Otsego Club: The Tribute

The Tribute course at Otsego Club is not only one of the elite golf courses in Northern Michigan, it’s one of the state’s gems, overall. Topping out at over 7,300 yards, The Tribute course has the length, splendor, and teeth to potentially challenge the world’s best players. With drastic elevation changes, rolling fairways, plenty of heather, and some strategic water and marshy areas, The Tribute is the perfect mixture of difficulty and beauty.

The Tribute starts with three straight par 4s, all of them presenting reasonable birdie opportunities, as the course gives golfers a mild start to set them up for the difficulty that awaits. Always in sublime shape with excellent, quick greens and short-cut fairways, The Tribute offers golf enthusiasts a taste of what the professionals experience on a weekly basis.

Uniquely blending a mixture of tree-lined holes and links-style holes, The Tribute is reminiscent of a crescendo in a musical score. The enthusiasm and momentum keep building throughout the round. It’s the type of golf course that could cause audible gasps of wonder as players step up to their next tee box.

Like many great golf courses in the Gaylord area, The Tribute is part of a resort. Otsego Club also hosts The Classic, a more subdued, but still enjoyable golf experience. Competing against the likes of Treetops and even the rising Loon trilogy of golf courses can certainly be tough, but The Tribute has quickly made a name for itself as a must-play for any golf enthusiast.

One of the most captivating aspects of The Tribute is its design. Almost every tee box on the course starts golfers high in the clouds, sometimes drastically bringing them back closer to sea level. The stark elevation gives the course its splendid views and also helped it get recognized as the eighth-best Public Golf Course in Michigan by Michigan Golf Magazine.

Even from the black tees (furthest back of the golf courses five sets of tee boxes), The Tribute has a very playable 134 slope rating.

Although The Tribute has a number of “signature holes”, the par-5 seventh hole offers all the variables of a memorable hole. For starters, it's 607 yards from the black tees, an intimidating number for even the longest hitters. It winds its way through the hills and trees with a small pond and green-side bunkers guarding the left side of a large green.

The Tribute sometimes offers spectacular beauty, but other times subtle beauty. And there is always a chance to see some wildlife when playing Northern Michigan golf courses. Those coming up for a summer visit should certainly check out this beautiful course, and locals should make sure to add it to their list of must plays as well.

Source: Petoskey News Review

Posted by Brook Walsh on


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