DETROIT - The 2003 golf season in Michigan probably will be remembered as the season to forget for most in the industry across the state. Just as quickly as new courses sprouted up in the boom of the late 1990s, numerous properties changed ownership this year. All this came in the middle of the financial struggles that continue to plague the country's economy in the aftermath of Sept. 11, 2001, and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
No other state better embodies being overbuilt with courses than Michigan, which boasts more than 800 public courses, a figure that stands as first in the nation. That alone has led to major changes.
Even before the season opened, one of the true jewels of Northern Michigan, the Treetops/Sylvan resort was sold to a conglomerate of investors led by teacher, architect and long-time Treetops director of golf Rick Smith. New management immediately dropped several million dollars into upgrading the lodging and facilities.
The Golf Club of Michigan, a fine course in Brighton Township, went into foreclosure, but stayed open under temporary managers, who hope to purchase the course in a state-run auction.
Calderone Farms, another fairly new course in Grass Lake, filed for Chapter 11 the last day of February, and faces an uncertain future at best.
Fresh off opening the award-winning Tribute Golf Club in 2002, the Otsego Club, an outstanding 36-hole resort in Gaylord, was on the block all summer, but owner Keith Gornick couldn't find the right buyer, so he's pulled the property off the market for the time being.
Some people saw the best and worst of the changes. Respected golf leader Jim Dewling, the president of Total Golf Inc., owner and manager of six properties in Michigan, bought the 27-hole Mystic Creek in Milford, but also was called to court in his dealings with the struggling Boulder Pointe Golf Club in White Lake Township.
Despite being one of the top five courses in the metro Detroit area, Northville Hills, an Arnold Palmer design that opened in 2001 is rumored to be up for sale. That seems pretty ironic considering the million-dollar homes that surround the stunning 7,003-yard golf course.
Tom and Lori Templin, owners at the award-winning Ray Hearn-designed Island Hills Golf Club in Centreville, made the controversial decision to rip up the course's best holes, re-routing the layout. They demolished the five closing holes that play on and back off an island on the west side of the 1,050-acre Lake Templene. One Detroit newspaper called those holes "the best five finishing holes in the state" and a major Chicago paper hailed them as "the best five east of the Mississippi." Now, they're just more waterfront home sites.
Other smaller family-owned courses like the 27-hole Partridge Creek near Mount Clemens, the nine-hole favorite Hickory Woods in Ypsilanti, the 36-hole Romeo Golf Club and Marion Oaks in Howell (which already changed ownership this year) all could become housing developments in the near future.
And this list is just the tip of the iceberg. Many more courses are for sale. But not everybody had a down year. The new Westwynd course at the Wyndgate Country Club in Rochester Hills saw so much play in its first full year that it closed a month early to rest peacefully for the winter.
Others like Boyne USA Resorts and Bay Mills Resort and Casino reported to The Michigan Golfer that they had solid bottom lines. In fact, Boyne recently announced its plans to complete the glorious Mountain Grand Lodge and Spa, which broke ground in 2000 but has been sitting untouched for several years. When construction is completed, possibly in 2004, the Lodge will feature one, two and three bedroom suites, a spa and fitness center, an indoor/outdoor hot tub and pool, and new restaurants and shops.
Best New Course: With apologies to the Ray Hearn-designed Yarrow Golf Club in Augusta, the winner is the Eagle Eye Golf Club at Hawk Hollow in Bath. Architect Chris Lutke got the OK from mentor Pete Dye to reconstruct his famous 17th island green at the TPC of Sawgrass. Forty-one acres of wetlands, more than 100 bunkers and enormous greens add to the challenge. The new courses to watch for 2004 are the Angels Crossing in Vicksburg, a W. Bruce Matthews III design; and True North, a Jim Engh layout near Traverse City that will open to the public but ultimately go private.
Best New Winter Destination: Michigan golfers have always been lured to Florida by the great weather and cheap airline prices, but there's a new destination that offers the same thing for state residents - the Dominican Republic. Mega-resort Casa de Campo and its famous Teeth of the Dog design has always stolen the headlines in the Dominican Republic. But there's a new hotspot on the island, the year-old Guavaberry Golf & Country Club, a 7,156-yard Gary Player design less than an hour from the airport at Santo Domingo, the capital. The course, highlighted by a waterfall falling between two greens on No. 13, is just minutes from an all-inclusive Coral Costa Caribe by Hilton, a 548-room resort right on the ocean. The prices are right and so is the weather. For more information, call (809) 333-GOLF or visit guavaberrygolf.com. If you have time for more than one round, Casa de Campo also has a snazzy new design, the Dye Fore, which features stunning views and some tough shots.
State Player Of The Year: Selecting a statewide player of the year was easy. Not only did East Lansing native Korey Mahoney have a great summer in events run by the Golf Association of Michigan (earning its player of the year award), the sophomore has continued his stellar play on the Eastern Michigan University golf team this fall. He played well at the Michigan Amateur, Michigan Open and GAM Championship, but the highlight was advancing to the second round at the U.S. Amateur.
Biggest Newsmaker: The previously mentioned Rick Smith is the shoe-in here. Besides the improvements at the resort, Smith has positioned Treetops to be a frontrunner in the Michigan golf scene for years to come. Smith will always be in the news as long as he continues to work with fan-favorite Phil Mickelson, but he's concentrating on turning Treetops into a true national destination. His hard work is starting to pay off at the Tylenol Par-3 Shootout, the four-man, made-for-TV event at his Threetops course. Fuzzy Zoeller won $330,000 this year. Smith also orchestrated the Golf Channel's "Big Break," a reality series that pits scratch players against one another in skills competitions.
The Early Word On 2004: What's on the tee for 2004? The Ryder Cup, that's what. See you Sept. 17-19 at Oakland Hills Country Club in Bloomfield Hills for the best golf tournament in the world.
November 28, 2003