Bellaire, Michigan is a Golfer’s Dream
By Charlene & Richard Mixa
A true golf mecca is hidden in the rolling hills of Northern Michigan. Sure Gaylord, gets a lot more attention, but Bellaire, Michigan can definitely hold its own as a golfer’s dream. With spectacular terrain, humbling course designs, and subtleties that challenge golfers of all levels, the Bellaire golf courses are some of the toughest in Northern Michigan. Yet, they are exhilarating to play!
From our vacation rental at Cedar River Golfside Condos, we watch golfers on the magnificent finishing hole of the Cedar River Golf Course at Shanty Creek Resorts. A long par-5 that culminates with a downhill shot to a peninsula green, we see golfer after golfer end up in the pond, the tall rough or the bunkers. Cheers to the golfers who land on the green. Yes, the “golf bug” has us ready to take on the daunting golf courses in Bellaire. Umm, can Florida flatlanders conquer these demanding Michigan courses? We accept the challenge.
Getting into our golf groove, we arrive The Chief Golf Course, fondly called “The Spirit of the North.” While the name originated for the harmony between the natural beauty and the game of golf, the course definitely has “spirit!”
On the opening holes we admire the course’s rustic charm as it winds and twists through the wooded hills. Starting out with pars on the first couple of holes, we soon find the course has unexpected and hidden hazards, numerous bunkers and water hazards. The 5th Hole is a long dogleg left par-5. On Richard’s second shot he finally can see the green perched on the other side of large hazard. He nails his 3rd shot! It lands on the green and rolls into the cup. It’s an Eagle! We find holes where a ball suddenly disappears down a hillside or is quickly lost in the rough. Wide open fairways are welcoming but the uphill, downhill, side-hill lies keep us alert. Plus paying attention to the graphics on the scorecard is essential to be aware of unexpected hazards. Yes, The Chief has plenty of “spirit” with its rustic setting, dramatic elevation changes, and subtleties that definitely keep us on our toes. Afterwards, we toast Richard’s “Eagle” and a fun afternoon of golf.
A new day and another golf course awaits on a clear, cool Michigan morning. From the elevated tee box on Hole No. 1 this hole sets the stage for the spectacular Hawk’s Eye Golf Resort. A dogleg to the left around a stunning lake is followed by a gorgeous par five with another water hazard to the right of the green. As we play the front nine we find plenty of elevation changes, elevated greens, numerous water hazards and various course hazards. With short bent grass fairways, sculpted tee areas and manicured greens and bunkers the course is in excellent condition. Hawk’s Eye has impressive wide fairways that wind through the hardwoods of the Northern Michigan hilly terrain. Feeling confident after a par on the 3rd Hole a par-3, I am disappointed watching my drive on the 4th Hole land in the far right fairway bunker. UGH! It’s all uphill! Taking out my trusty hybrid, my shot lands on the green and I sink a downhill 15 foot putt for a birdie. Hurrah! Beware the GREENS! Plenty of undulation and false fronts require demanding, accurate shots to the greens. So easy to be too cautious ending up short or too aggressive and rolling past the hole. Reviewing our scorecard later, we see that when one would play a hole well the other struggled. The back nine continued with excitement of challenges and we thoroughly enjoyed the uniqueness of each hole. Finishing with a par for Richard and bogey for me, we are pleased that despite the challenges we held our own on this demanding course. The course truly winds through the hillsides so be sure to follow the signs from hole to hole. Hawk’s Eye is a favorite course and a “must play” when in the area.
Tackling Shanty Creek Resorts Golf Courses are next for our Michigan golf experience. Staying at the Shanty Creek Resorts’ Cedar River Golfside Condos we are ready to take on their distinctly northern Michigan championship golf courses. With designers including Arnold Palmer and Tom Weiskopf, the courses promise to test our skills.
Wonderful! Another cool Michigan morning, even in August, greets us as we warm up on the practice range of the Cedar River Golf Course. Designed by Tom Weiskopf, the Cedar River Golf Course is ranked as one of the top 100 resort golf courses in the country. The layout closely follows the natural contours of the landscape with dramatic elevation changes. It definitely offers a wealth of unique shot opportunities. Low and high handicappers will find a mix of generous landing areas and ones that require accurate tee shots and approaches. Richard is in the groove on the front nine with its elevated tees and rolling fairways. Elevated tee areas and doglegs dominate the landscape on the back while the terrain becomes even more undulating. Arriving at the 13th Hole a short par-4, I recall this “quirky hole” with a double fairway and a hidden green protected by strategically placed bunkers and a large tree. Before teeing off, we drive up to scrutinize the hole. Now we totally change our strategy to play the hole definitely improving our score. Perched on the tee high above the 14th hole, we can’t even see the entire green. A sloping hillside with tall heather and fescue hide most of the green. A blind shot! I trust my distance for this straight downhill shot and land perfectly on the green. Whew! I am thrilled with a par! At last we arrive at the famous 18th hole and it is time for us to put to practice all we learned watching golfers play this hole from the Golfside Condo. The fairway actually has a valley across the center and then its 150 yard downhill shot to the peninsula green. Richard’s third shot lands softly on the green. I play it safely left avoiding bunkers, rough and the pond. A par and a bogey are acceptable on this demanding finishing hole. Sitting in The River Club afterwards for lunch we relive our great and not so great shots. Definitely a “must play” for golfers visiting the area.
With an afternoon tee time and under overcast skies, we check in at the Pro Shop to play Shanty Creek’s Schuss Mountain Golf Course. The front nine features dense forest line fairways, basically level terrain, and tight yet open fairways with the main hazard being bunkers around the greens. Initially, it looks like an easy course. Suddenly the course’s personality changes and brings in many new and unexpected challenges. Now we see why Schuss Mountain Golf Course is annually name one of the top public golf courses in Michigan. The back nine is definitely a new adventure as it brings in several dogleg holes, significant rolling terrain, blind shots, abundant wetlands, and major elevation changes. We find Hole No. 11, a par-5 has so many elements to consider. Truly an S-shaped fairway that snakes between hillsides with tall native grasses ready to grab shots off center. It requires being sharp on course management. Playing conservative we both have chances for pars or at least bogies. Ugh, it’s 3-putts for each of us and disappointing double bogies. Other holes have major valley fairways with shots to elevated greens high above. The 15th hole is a long par-3, especially for me at 154 yards from the ladies tee. Awesome, I land on the green and make the par. Then on the 17th Hole another tricky par-3 Richard and I are both thrilled to walk away with pars. No. 18 is a par-4 dogleg right with water coming into play. With storms closing in and claps of thunder, we rush to avoid the rain. Just as we unload the clubs, the rains come. Schuss Mountain Golf Course is a fun and challenging!
Our final day of our golf vacation we have an early tee time to play Shanty Creek’s The Legend. An Arnold Palmer designed golf course The Legend continues to rank 4.5 stars out of 5 with Golf Digest. Teeing off from the elevated tee box on No. 1 a par-5 with a downhill fairway and green hidden off to the right, we feel the thrill of this course. With pars for both of us, it is an exciting start. On the 2nd Hole we find an uphill fairway with two expansive ravines to carry. Club selection is critical for each shot. Arnold created a challenging layout that has some generous fairways but adds intrigue with the design and variety of elevated tees, numerous doglegs, uphill/downhill fairways, ball grabbing rough, well placed bunkers, five holes with water coming into play and 57 bunkers. Putting is difficult! We are timid over our putts resulting in a potential birdie or par becoming a double bogey. The landscape is stunning as it the course winds and cuts through the hillsides and forests with a creek that shows up periodically to create a new challenge. Accuracy and course management are essential on the par-5 7th hole, the course’s number one handicap. A creek runs across the fairway which can easily come into play on the drive. Then the green is protected by a creek and a tall retaining rock wall directly in front of the raised green. Each hole definitely brings its own trials and tribulations. The game of golf is you verses the course, today The Legend is winning. Just as we feel we have our game on track, we miss short shots or what we thought were easy putts. As we finish the 18th Hole, I say to Richard, “Are you up to taking on this course again today?” It was our last day of golf and I did not want to leave with the course “winning!” Richard laughs saying, “You really do love golf!” “Yes, I do!” Stopping for lunch at Arnie’s at the Clubhouse, we relax and verify we can get out for a second round.
Starting with a birdie for Richard and a par for me on the par-5 1st Hole, we are off to tame The Legend. With another birdie on the par-5 7th hole, Richard has found his groove. Whether it is course knowledge or golf muscles in tune from the morning round, we are both playing the second round much better. I am thrilled to finish with a par on the 18th hole another par-5. Hurrah, we beat The Legend! Now we can depart Northern Michigan feeling confident in our golf and conquering their golf courses. The Legend is an excellent course with plenty of thrills. Another definite “must play!”
If you go:
The Bellaire golf courses are all within five miles of each other creating a special golf venue. Additionally, Shanty Creek Resorts, also has a fourth course, The Summit Golf Course, which is a friendly and challenging course that golfers of all levels will delight in playing.
Staying at Cedar River Golfside Condo’s was terrific as it was so convenient to all of the golf courses in this area. The Golfside Condo (HomeAway.com #3847352) was a two bedroom 2 ½ bath unit with large well stocked kitchen, a spacious Master Bedroom and master bath with double sinks, as well as a separate shower and large Jacuzzi tub. The cozy living room had large picture windows with expansive views of the golf course. It was fun sitting on the patio, watching and listening to golfers as they finished the 18th hole of the Cedar River Golf Course. Plus it was convenient to walk to The River Bistro for lunch or dinner.
Hawk’s Eye Golf Resort, 2620 Hawk’s Eye Drive, Bellaire, MI 49615
Shanty Creek Resorts, 5780 Shanty Creek Road, Bellaire, MI 49615
The Chief Golf Course, 5085 Shanty Creek Road, Bellaire, MI 49615