By Charlene S. Mixa
The Exciting Ravines and Dramatic Hawkshead Golf Courses on Michigan’s West Coast
Coastal quaint towns where life is simpler and the pace is slower are found along the shores of Lake Michigan. The delightful villages of Saugatuck/Douglas and charming town of South Haven, Michigan each offer visitors their own style of hospitality and charm. In addition to scenic lakeshores, top ranked beaches and unique shopping are plenty of recreational opportunities including exciting golf courses.
Having visited Michigan’s beautiful northern shore towns and playing many of their well known golf courses, we look forward to our visit to the Michigan’s West Coast towns of Saugatuck/Douglas and South Haven. Hitting the links is definitely on the agenda. With a morning tee time, we arrive at the Ravines Golf Course, an Arnold Palmer Signature Golf Course which boasts ten years as the best Public golf facility in Western Michigan. Most appreciated is the GPS system, providing detail information we need to play our initial round on this demanding course. A sweeping eighteen-hole course, we are impressed with how the course combines the challenge of a great course with the scenic natural setting.
It’s a windy clear day as we take to the links making it even more difficult to score well on this Championship Course. The Ravines is in excellent condition and tests our golf skills. It’s all about grass! Long grass surrounds the greens calling for finesse shots and the rough has tall grass that quickly snatches balls. Each hole presents its own unique demands along with its natural beauty. No. 8 a par 3 is over a large hazard with a well-bunkered green. Yes, Ravines features several wide ravines to cross either off the tee or near the green. No. 14 a par-5 is bordered by stately pines creating a majestic feeling. The wide fairways, generous landing areas, the dramatic course layout and four set of tees challenge golfers of all levels. A huge green on No. 17 is protected by a large ravine requiring well placed shots in playing the hole. A great course the Ravines is definitely a must play when visiting Michigan’s West Coastal towns.
After our exciting round of golf we enjoy lunch at the Ravine’s restaurant appropriately named Arnie’s Cottage. Offering specials of the delicious Michigan fish we are delighted with our lunches of The Great Laker, a crusted lake perch sandwich and flavorful Fish Taco with blackened lake perch.
With full tummy’s we head to nearby Saugatuck and Douglas noted as premiere beach towns of Michigan. A small-town on the harbor, Saugatuck gives the feeling of turning back time with its village setting. Numerous stores line the narrow streets with gracious shop owners welcoming us as we step for a peek. We stroll the streets and various specialty stores. American Spoon as always has some great cherry gourmet foods and lots of “tasting” available. Another shop specializes in Olive oils and vinegars. Known as the art coast of Michigan there are numerous shops featuring the works of the many local artists. A laid back town Saugatuck is a place to take your time and relax. Across the Kalamazoo River is the village of Douglas which is just as quaint and laid back. Saugatuck/Douglas was recently selected by the National Trust Historic Preservation as one of the Dozen Distinctive Destinations in the United States.
Among towering sand dunes and bordered by the winding Kalamazoo River on its way to Lake Michigan, Saugatuck/Douglas boasts great beaches. Our next destination is Mount Baldhead and the Oval Beach Recreation Area. Carefully following signs and the winding roads, we find the parking lot for Mount Baldhead with its tree covered sand dunes. Climbing the 282 steps to the top of Mount Baldhead we are rewarded with breathtaking views. From this vantage point atop the dunes, we have spectacular views of Oval Beach, Lake Michigan, and the village of Douglas with Saugatuck across the Kalamazoo River. One man passes us as he runs to the top of the steps and back down. He tells us he makes 4 – 10 trips on the steps each day to stay in shape. Great exercise! Climbing up and down one time was plenty for us. We drive to Oval Beach rather than tackle hiking down the sand dunes. At the Oval Beach Recreation Area is a beautiful sandy beach with a few large driftwood trees and elegant views of Lake Michigan bordered by the steep dunes. A huge parking lot and concession stand with restrooms makes the beach easily accessible. Walking along the shoreline on this quiet afternoon, we have this pristine beach to ourselves. The setting is perfect for some great snapshots and we see why Oval Beach is ranked one of the top 25 beaches in the world by Conde Condé Nast.
It’s a late afternoon as we head to the Inn at Hawkshead and Hawkshead Links Golf Course near South Haven, MI. Following the signs and our GPS we travel along woods and farmlands to this Old English Tudor Mansion. Combining an Inn with nine spacious guest rooms, a terrific Arthur Hills designed links-style golf course, gourmet restaurant and active pub, Hawkshead Links is a great destination for golfers. Checking in our “Bobby Jones Room” is located on the third floor of this magnificently restored home. With a comfy room décor there is a king bed with a beautiful American design quilt, a large dining table and cozy chair. Gabled ceilings and large windows provide great views of the golf course and the garden area.
Fascinated by Hawkshead’s history we learn it was named for a ghost town that bordered the north end of the property. Initially the Inn was a resort home built in the 1930’s by a Chicago family, while the surrounding land was a fruit tree orchard. The orchards was later leveled and farmed as an asparagus field. In 1996, an area restaurateur, Al Ruppert, opened the Arthur Hill designed course, inn and restaurant. As we tour the Inn, each room is unique in shape and size, all decorated in a comfy style and named for noted golfers.
As we are seated at a window table with a garden view, we find the Hawkshead restaurant has a unique atmosphere of understated elegance. A gourmet menu features an eclectic variety of dinner items. Spread choices of pub cheese, spicey cheese and regular butter accompany the hot fresh bread. Our fish dinners of Macadamia Crusted Alaskan Halibut andCedar Planked Salmon are delicious. After dinner, we relax in our cozy room and complete a form for our complimentary breakfast.
Precisely at 8:00 AM a knock on the door, lets us know our breakfast has arrived. A tray of pastries, fresh fruits, yogurts, juices and hot tea is delivered to our room each morning. Our large table is perfect for enjoying our morning breakfast and preparing for our day’s event of a visit to downtown South Haven and then golf in the afternoon at Hawkshead Links.
South Haven is located on the shores of Lake Michigan. Broad streets, plenty of unique shops are found in this charming resort town. Larger and busier than Saugatuck, South Haven brings its own special “feeling” and charm along Michigan’s lake shore. The main street offers plenty of shops and eateries. At the end of town are great views of the harbor at this Michigan Beach Town. We roam the streets, shops and lakeside before stopping for a delicious lunch at the Phoenix Café.
Back at Hawkshead Links we check in for our afternoon tee time. Playing as a twosome, we prepare to take on this big, sand-strewn Arthur Hills designed course. Another windy cool day the open links-style demands carefully placed shots as we play the course. Plenty of hazards bring challenges as do the numerous waste bunkers, greenside bunkers, and tall wiry grasses. The fairways are still wide open but we are constantly surprised at the locations of the many bunkers. The course and greens are in very good condition and keep us alert as we tackle the links. A yardage book is a must to play this course. Playing without one gave us plenty of extra challenges in not knowing the course and its layout. We quickly learn to pay close attention to the hole in order to decide the best strategy for where to play the ball. A true links course that demands you know your abilities and yardages for shots in order to score well. It’s still of fun day of golf and we definitely recommend playing Hawkshead Links.
Walking to the Inn after golf, we notice a group of golfers enjoying drinks on the huge outside patio area. We freshen up before dinner at the Inn’s Pub. The Hawkshead Pub is perfect for our final evening on Michigan’s west coast. As always it is fun to dine in a cozy pub while reliving those exciting golf shots and the course.
Michigan’s west coast offers several beautiful beach towns from quaint villages to larger seaside towns. Saugatuck, Douglas and South Haven are great locations for a visit to the shores of Lake Michigan. We found Saugatuck/Douglas much more of a village atmosphere and loved the steep dunes along its shoreline. South Haven has a larger town feel with a larger variety of shops and restaurants. Golf at both course was excellent the Ravine’s a more traditional parkland lay out and Hawkshead Links with the links-style. If you like golf, like beaches and like small beach towns, you will find this and more on Michigan’s west coast.
If you go:
Hawkshead Links, 523 HawksNest Drive, South Haven, MI 49090; 269.639.2121; www.hawksheadlinks.com
Michigan Visitor Tourism Information; www.michigan.org
Ravines Golf Course, 3520 Palmer Drive, Saugatuck, MI 49453 269.857.1616; www.ravinesgolfclub.com
Saugatuck-Douglas Convention & Visitors Bureau 269.857.1701;www.saugatuck.com
South Haven Visitors Bureau, 546 Phoenix Street, South Haven, MI 49090; 800.SO.HAVEN; www.southhaven.org