By Paul Knowles
Gaylord, Michigan – If pace of play is an issue at Treetops – well, it’s their own damned fault. Because the five courses at Treetops are some of the most beautiful golf courses you will find anywhere, and golfers cannot be blamed for pausing for a look, or a photo, at Number 1 on Signature, or Number 6 on Masterpiece or… almost any other hole.
Treetops Resort is located just outside Gaylord, Michigan – a beautiful area that also features skiing in the winter (Treetops is a ski resort, as well – which tells you a lot about the topography of the golf courses).
There are, in fact, 14 golf courses on seven properties in close proximity to Gaylord, which may inspire return visits – but I recommend you first go to Treetops, and stay there for the length of your visit. Because these five courses – at their highest, sitting 1,380 feet above sea level – are unique, challenging, gorgeous, and well worth a golfers’ attention.
The shining star, according to golf reviewers, is The Masterpiece Course, designed by Robert Treat Jones Senior. It’s important to note that it was built in the era when “tough” meant “great” – and it is, indeed, tough. It plays 7,028 challenging yards from the blacks, 5,888 from the whites. There are five sets of tee blocks, and another whole set of choices that combine two sets, allowing nine unique distance options, right down to 4,839 yards.
If you are there to have fun, go a bit easy on yourself. The whites play long, so if you are used to playing 6,000 yards, go with the whites. Given the topography, it’s not surprising that the slope ratings on all the courses are quite high, so factor that in when you choose your teeing ground. Masterpiece is sited at the headwaters of the Pigeon River; Jones’ signature sixth hole, with its 120-foot vertical drop, offers a panoramic view of the river valley.
On some holes of this course – heck, on all the courses – you may find some forgiving fairways, but they will lead to punishing second or third shots to very well-protected and undulating greens. There is no room for a break on concentration on Masterpiece – this is a course that demands full attention to your game, every shot.
One of my favourite holes is the Par 4 ninth which has, not an island green, but an island teeing area. The water in front of you is not really in play – unless it gets into your head. A unique shot.
At Masterpiece, you will probably encounter a starter and some marshals willing to offer some tips. My tip? Listen to them.
Treetops also features the only Tom Fazio-designed course in Michigan: the Premier. It was the only one of the five courses I did not play in my three-day buddy trip , but it has been praised as a “very dramatic” course, not surprisingly with significant elevation changes. The greens are tricky – they appear large, but the undulations and tiers make the actual target area a lot smaller. Fazio is best known for courses farther south in the US, so it’s a rare opportunity to take on one of his best, here in central Michigan.
The other three courses at Treetops were designed by Rick Smith – “Tradition”, the cleverly named “Threetops” and “Signature”.
Tradition is the easiest of the courses at Treetops, with a links style design, incorporating wild, rough areas that bring to mind the links courses of Scotland. You must keep to the fairways, or you will be hacking and gouging and finding other people’s lost balls… but probably not your own.
Unique among the courses here, Tradition is walkable; the others are decidedly not. But if you are on a four-courses-in-three-days buddy trip, you probably want to keep to the cart, even here. One hint… get your cart and head out about 15 minutes before tee time, because it’s a long ride to Hole Number 1. It’s definitely worth it, though.
The fourth 18 is my personal favourite – the spectacularly beautiful Signature course. From the vista of the opening hole, golfers proceed from one beautiful scene to another. Cleverly, Smith has managed to make the majority of holes downhill shots – and views – by creating cart paths that ascend through the woods from green to the next tee.
And then, of course, there is the unexpectedly challenging “Threetops”, a nine-hole, Par 3 course that demands precision, courage and a definite sense of humour. The PGA Pros have played the ESPN Par Three Shootout here, and the clubhouse boasts framed caddie bibs signed by folks like Phil Mickelson, Lee Trevino and Raymond Floyd.
The extreme changes in elevation make a mockery of your normal 150-yard shot; the greens are guarded even more carefully by links-style fescue; the bunkers are deep and apparently magnetic; and the views are astonishing. On Number 7, you can stand on the tee block where Trevino stood as he made a hole in one during the competition.
Treetops is – and my companions entirely agree – a perfect buddy-trip destination. The resort today is the result of a bad-news, good-news story, because a few years ago, the resort went into Chapter 11 protection, as original investors decided they wanted at least some of the money they had put into the place. General Manager Barry Owens is refreshingly forthcoming about the whole thing.
In the end, six of the eight re-invested, and by the end of 2017, a $4.5 million US renovation of the accommodations and amenities will be completed.
We enjoyed great buffet breakfasts (all you can eat for 12 bucks); and between-rounds lunches, and ventured into Gaylord for dinners. There are plenty of golfer-friendly restaurants and bars in Gaylord, a town which has styled itself as an Alpine Village – a plot to attract visitors that has worked, very well indeed. Our favourite place to eat – and quaff a pint or two – is the Bearded Dogg Lounge. But we haven’t tried them all – so we will have to sample the others, next time. Because, like many golfers who discover Treetops and the greater Gaylord area, there will definitely be a next time. For more information visit www.treetops.com
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