Each week this season, TravelGolf.com is highlighting a key college football matchup and looking at the golf options around the home team's campus. This Saturday, the Michigan Wolverines host the Wisconsin Badgers at the "Big House." Here's a look at the golf courses in Ann Arbor and the surrounding area.
The University of Michigan football team has the longest bowl streak in the nation: 33.
Though anyone who has watched the Wolverines fumble their way through the first three games of the season will admit that's in serious jeopardy. Another home loss to Big Ten rival Wisconsin this week puts the postseason pressure on new coach Rich Rodriguez in a big way.
Ann Arbor is a university town that's used to winning on Saturdays. It's also a hotbed for liberals behaving badly. It hosts the "Hash Bash" every spring, where stoners toke up and rally for weed legalization. It was home to the Naked Mile until just a few years ago after local enforcement finally decided to whip out their own sticks. And, of course, punk rocker Iggy Pop and the Stooges started up at clubs around Ann Arbor in the '60s.
But the fall belongs to Michigan football, where the city fills up America's biggest stadium - and the echo can be heard for miles around. It also means most golf courses are graveyards on game day.
So, instead of sitting shoulder-to-shoulder with Michigan alums who will grumble for three hours about the ugly new "spread offense" - that's about as Michigan Football as if late Bo Schembechler had gone on "Dancing with the Stars" - watch the blowout via Blackberry updates on an area golf course.
If you can't get on the private (and fantastic) University of Michigan Golf Course, there are two public courses on the west side of town pretty close to the Big House:
Stonebridge Golf Club is a challenging Arthur Hills design full of water hazards and O.B., thanks to the neighborhood it winds through. Next door is a more wide-open alternative: Lake Forest Golf Club, with green fees as low as $25.
One of the best municipal golf courses in Michigan is Leslie Park Golf Course, with a 4.5-star rating in Golf Digest. Hills redesigned it about a decade ago, and it holds its own against any area course. For a good workout, walk the course for $25 and make the trek up "Cardiac Hill" between the 13th and 14th hole.
If you are willing to stomach a 20-minute drive, the options around Ann Arbor get considerably better. Fox Hills Country Club is a 63-hole potpourri of golf, from the signature course there, the Golden Fox, to its classic 27-hole course. There is also a new, 18-hole executive course and practice facility.
Eastern Michigan's home course, Eagle Crest Golf Club, is no inferior MAC play. It's the closest thing to a "resort course" you'll find nearby, overlooking Ford Lake and home to the famous 16th hole peninsula green.
West of Ann Arbor is Pierce Lake Golf Course, a county-operated course that is probably the best public championship test, not to mention scenic course in the county, with five sets of tees up to 7,000 yards. It's also a steal: $32 to walk on weekends.
And I would be remiss if I didn't mention one of my old stomping grounds: Hickory Stick Golf Club. Though certainly imperfect, this course has some wildly bizarre holes and is great fun to play if you like a course that's one of a kind.
Michigan's football team may be a laughing stock this fall, but Ann Arbor has the Big Ten's best dining scene hands down, from casual lunches and pub fare to finer dining.
Main Street is where all the "name" restaurants are in Ann Arbor. They're also jammed on game nights, so make reservations if you can. The Prickly Pear (328 S Main St.; tel. 734-930-0047) is a tiny but tasty southwestern restaurant locals would prefer you don't know about. If you're into hibachi, be sure to reserve at table at Champion House (championhouse.biz) around the corner on E. Liberty Street.
For casual eats, Zingerman's Deli (zingermansdeli.com) in Kerrytown is a local institution. They bake their own bread and use Amish chickens and other fresh ingredients to make the city's best sandwiches.
Pizza House (www.pizzahouse.com) is the best 'za joint on campus (I've been ordering their pizza subs since I was a little kid). They've renovated and expanded their restaurant several times over the last year and now have a balcony and a new dining room.
For bars, Scorekeepers (310 Maynard St.; tel. (734-995-0100) is a festive, large venue with a projection screen and plenty of seating space. It can get a little nuts late night. Former Michigan QB Brian Griese was arrested for throwing a chair through a window here during his college days.
If you're looking for a place a little more reserved, check out Conor O'Neill's (conoroneills.com/annarbor/) or Ashleys (ashleys.com). Both have older crowds and bouncers that actually keep the minors out.
And there's always the Brown Jug (brownjug-annarbor.com), named after the yearly duel between Michigan and Minnesota, which the Wolverines have dominated in recent memory, but you won't find any patrons over confident about hanging onto the Jug later this year.
September 22, 2008