BY SUSAN R. POLLACK
Special on journal & topics
Five days before her long-planned trip to northern Michigan, Cheryl Watkins broke her wrist playing pickleball.
That didn’t stop her and her husband Rick from driving seven hours from a suburb of Indianapolis to nine friends on their second annual all-inclusive golf vacation at the Boyne Highlands Resort in Harbor Springs.
I met her in the middle of her short vacation, relaxed by the heated pool and jacuzzi, après-golf. And despite their wrist splint, they took full advantage of their five-night “Great Escape” package, which includes breakfast, dinner, activities like free pedalos and chairlift rides, and almost unlimited golfing at Boynes Resort Trio near Petoskey. Of 10 championship courses, only three require an extra charge, including the world-class Bay Harbor Golf Club, which the Watkins say is rightly famous for its gorgeous views of Lake Michigan.
“Rick and I played an extra round together on Donald Ross Square yesterday after our group scramble,” said Cheryl, whose score was better than mine even with an injured hand. “The doctor has assured me that swinging a golf club can no longer harm me. I’ll get a full cast next week. “
The couple, who said they are considering adding horseback riding or ziplining to their activities, stayed at Boyne Mountain last year and were among the first to stay in the newly remodeled north wing of the Boyne Highlands main lodge this summer. They described their accommodations as “super nice, excellent”.
More than four years after a devastating fire that destroyed 70 rooms, the Highlands property is transforming from a 1960s ski lodge to an upscale boutique hotel with marble bathrooms, padded headboards, motion sensor lighting, and in-room Nespresso machines and other modern conveniences.
“It’s not just a renovation, it’s a rebuilding … in a way a renaissance,” said Bernie Friedrich, Vice President Golf and Resort Sales at Boyne Resorts. The aim is to bring the almost 60-year-old hotel back to its original 4-star status, when it was the most beautiful in the region.
Other improvements to the ivy-clad main Tudor-style lodge are on the way, including a sushi and steakhouse for four seasons in late summer and a multi-story European-style spa a few years later. Expanded, state-of-the-art conference facilities are also within sight.
The Highlands recently installed a $ 200,000 outdoor TrackMan Range System that helps golfers of all skill levels by providing radar-based feedback on ball speed, distance, and direction. It complements the resort’s high-tech swing analysis and club fitting programs.
To improve playability, Boyne is in the middle of a selective renovation of its prestigious golf courses, which are touted in top golf magazines for their variety, challenge, elevation changes, spectacular views and more.
The view from the 13th tee on the Arthur Hills Course in the Highlands, for example, is breathtaking and extends over 4,000 acres of trees from a height of almost 120 meters – with no building in sight.
Fourteen bunkers have been removed on another scenic Arthur Hills layout, Crooked Tree Golf Club, perched on cliffs high above Lake Michigan’s Little Traverse Bay. It’s long been my favorite Michigan golf course, thanks to generous forward tees – and now it’s even more fun to play.
The Moor, one of only two walkable golf courses in the Boyne collection, features widened fairways and more accessible greens that make it a great way to start a golfing vacation.
Arizona-based Danny Scott, who plays half of America’s Golfing Couple around the world, was impressed with the high quality of Boyne’s 10 courses. “They are all so well trained that it is difficult to pick a favorite,” he says. “They are all great.”
At Boyne Mountain in Boyne Falls, the fun begins before your game of golf at The Alpine and The Monument with a scenic 10-minute drive up the mountain on a mile-long trail with dramatic finish holes overlooking Deer Lake.
Between rounds, golfers can soothe tired muscles at The Spa at Boyne Mountain or the family-friendly indoor Avalanche Bay water park. The more adventurous can rent mountain bikes or electric bikes and tackle 42 km of hiking trails on either Boyne Mountain or in the Boyne Highlands.
In the alpine-themed mountain village, photographs in the Forty Acres Tavern tell the story of how Boyne’s visionary founder Everett Kircher bought the first 40 acres for $ 1 in 1947 from William Pearson, a potato farmer and senator from Michigan. “Anyone damn stupid enough to want to build a ski jump, well … I’ll give you the property,” Pearson is quoted as saying.
Today Boyne Resorts’ collection spans ski and golf resorts from Maine to British Columbia in Canada and employs approximately 10,000 people.
In Michigan we saw white-tailed deer and fawns on several fairways as well as a quartet of sandhill cranes on The Heather, a classic by Robert Trent Jones Sr. We also saw a noisy flock of cranes soar over us as we distanced ourselves socially on the terrace of the Seminole Dining pub overlooking the 18th hole of the Donald Ross Memorial. They were among the few – but not the only – birdies we saw on our five day golf adventure in Boyne.
One night we drove into downtown Petoskey for 20 minutes and watched the sun set over Little Traverse Bay while enjoying delicious forest floor soup with mushrooms and smoked pork chops at the Palette Bistro.
Forays into some of the dozen wineries and breweries in the Petoskey area are options for those looking for a break from golf. Two favorites are Boyne Valley Vineyards, which has a tree house tasting deck, and Pond Hill Farm, which features a kids’ squash rocket launcher.
We met Richard Morton from Jupiter, Florida on The Alpine on his last day of a week-long golf buddy vacation. He said he wanted to return with his family next year.
Morton’s group rented and played cottages in Crooked Tree before moving on to Bay Harbor’s trio of nine-hole courses, the Links, Quarry and Preserve. “When you look out across the bay, it’s a lot like Scotland,” he says.
Accustomed to the Southern Gulf, Morton was impressed by Boyne’s cooler climate and playing conditions. “The golf courses aren’t overcrowded, the pace of play is great and the low humidity is the big thing,” he says. “It’s such a great break from the summer heat.”
For more information, visit boyne.com or call 855-688-3286.
(Possible sidebar with picture of Katelyn):
For fans of the fast game, rental golf boards – one-person, surf- and skateboard-inspired motorized golf vehicles – are available at The Heather, The Moor and Donald Ross Memorial courses for USD 30 per person. “It’s great fun,” explains Brad Van Oostenbrugge of Grand Rapids as he slides through The Heather. “If you like to play quick golf this is the ticket.”
The first nine were enough for his wife Katelyn. “It’s fun, but very challenging,” she said. “For me it’s back to the golf cart.”
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