In a State that has over 650 golf courses, more than it’s share of Top 100 courses, destinations within the State that are identified as America’s Summer Golf Capital and Gaylord Golf Mecca that it would be challenging for another region to make an impression. Wrong!
Enter, the one and only, Jack Nicklaus, it seems like just yesterday that Harbor Shores a Jack Nicklaus Signature design graced the shores of Lake Michigan and put Benton Harbor on the golf map. That was over 10 years ago. Fast forward to the summer of 2021 and what could be the last ever Nicklaus Signature Design, American Dunes was introduced just about an hour up the road from Harbor Shores in Grand Haven.
Not even Google could tell me how many courses there are in SW Michigan. Plenty I know! Google does offer a list of Top 10 courses and resorts that are must play. Both of the above named included and all you have to do is look to the collection of 6 courses at Gull Lake View Resort in nearby Augusta and you are set for dream golf vacation.
Harbor Shores Resort
The Resort comprises the amazing Jack Nicklaus Signature Design course, the only Nicklaus design on Lake Michigan, and a six-time host of the KitchenAid Senior PGA Championship. Love the course, fun to play, very challenging, one great hole after another. Take it from me, that a visit to Harbor Shores Resort would not be complete with an overnight at the quaint INN at Harbor Sores, 3 minutes from the golf course and the absolute must, dinner at Plank’s Tavern on the Water. Been there done that, so good I had to do it again!
The course runs over diverse terrain. The opening six offer up a combination of links and parkland style holes. You will get a taste of wetlands, bunkers that you will want to stay out of and 2 of my favorite par 3’s.
Hole 6 is a tough one, # 3 handicap, uphill tee shot, hazard right that you want to be as close to as possible for a shorted iron into a green protected by more hazard and bunker.
Now your ready for the #1 handicap hole, No. 7 (photo above approach to 7th green) is a test of length and precision. From an island tee box over wetlands, play your tee shot to the center or left of the fairway to avoid bunkers and a lake on the right. Your second shot is played to an elevated green 25 ft. to the top of the dune. The green is surrounded by dune grass. Go long . . . and you’re on the beach. Stay short . . . and your approach will roll to the bottom of the hill. Enjoy the panoramic views of Lake Michigan from the top of the dune as you putt out on this small 3,800 sq. ft. hill top green.
Hole 10 is a par 5 that leads you to one of Nicklaus’s most famous greens at nearly 10,500 sq. ft., you must hit the correct tier to avoid long and difficult lag putts. From the 14th hole on you are graced with the presence of the Paw Paw River. You will love the 18th, a strong finishing hole that often plays into the prevailing wind off Lake Michigan. The Paw Paw River runs along the right side and wetlands align to the left. A well-placed drive, will leave you a medium-to-short iron approach to a relatively large green with undulations and bunkers guarding the front. For more info: Harbor Shores Resort
Arriving on the scene in May of 2021 American Dunes Golf Club earned the tag line – THE CHURCH THAT JACK BUILT.
More than just a golf club, this monument just off the shores of Lake Michigan, in Grand Haven, commemorates the birthplace of the Folds of Honor, with a jack Nicklaus Signature Design Course, pays tribute to those who have served and sacrificed for the United States. The Folds of Honor is a foundation that provides educational scholarships to spouses and children of America’s deceased or disabled service members.
Truly a most unique Nicklaus experience, maybe even the most unique Michigan golf experience. Nicklaus brought the desert to Michigan. The course lets you ease into your round with 3 parkland style holes, before taking you up to the 4th tee and WOW factor sets in. From the elevated 4th tee box, you stare down at a green, about 140 yards. You are likely more captivated by all the dunes that you need to avoid, not only on the immediate hole but you can’t help but to look beyond.
The former tree-lined Grand Haven Course, which is located a few hundred yards from the east shore of Lake Michigan, is now a dunes-like course, utilizing the dramatic local topography and sand base that covers the property. There are 30 bunkers, and sand dunes are located either right, left or in front of you at each hole.
Fairways are generous for the most part and like most great golf courses your shot into the greens are what is going to make or break your day……..and here, staying out of the dunes. Once on the greens your work is not done, big and fair greens, nothing crazy, but there is plenty built into the greens to test even the greatest putters.
Holes 9 and 10 are both parkland style, taking you to and from clubhouse with an enormous American Flag to the left of the 9th. Back to the dunes with an array of challenging holes from 11 to the 17th. The 16th being the nastiest for me. Don’t flirt with the dunes, it will cost you!
At American Dunes it is more than just about the golf, this is golf with a purpose. You can’t help but get choked up walking from parking lot to clubhouse, through the memorial that pays tribute to those who have served and sacrificed for the United States.
The emotional experience doesn’t stop there as at 1300 hours (1PM), play stops, carts shut off, all staff come out standing at attention facing the enormous US flag close to the 9th green. Taps is played and a bell chimes 13 times. Additionally, at each hole, one commemorative plaque describes a military hero, another tells a tale about one of Nicklaus’ major championship victories. In the golf carts, videos play with course tips and Folds of Honor family tributes. For more info: American Dunes Golf Club
Gull Lake View Golf Resort
It’s no secret, West Michigan’s largest golf resort, Gull Lake View is the Midwest’s premier, stay and play golf destination. Idyllic lake country is the backdrop for our six championship golf courses, each of which has earned a rating from Golf Digest of 4.5 stars or higher. Designed to balance the unique beauty and terrain challenges inherent in our landscape with pure enjoyment and recreation, all of our world-class courses offer a special experience for golfers.
Stoatin Brae is considered the emerald jewel of the property. Ranked in the top 5 in Michigan, and named 2021 National Course of the Year, the championship course sits at one of the highest points in Kalamazoo County and commands sweeping panoramic views of the surrounding landscape. In terms of play, Stoatin Brae is wide open, windswept, and fast & firm. Playing at 6742 yards from the tips, you’ll have to shoot 71 for par at Stoatin Brae. This is a special course whose dramatic design inspires golfers to play their best. Just one of the 6 courses at Gull Lake View Resort which offers Stay & Play Packages on site.
For mor information: Gull Lake View Golf Resort
Getting there, driving you will need to figure that out on your own. Flying, major Airports, Chicago will put you about 90 minutes from Harbor Shores. From Detroit to Gull Lake View Resort, you are just under 2 hours. Avoiding major airports is my preference, the Gerald R Ford International Airport in Grand Rapids, with direct flights from 15 cities in the USA puts you within an hour of American Dunes.
Gerald R Ford International Airport
The Cherry Capital Airport in Traverse City lands you in America’s Summer Golf Capital which could get distracting with it’s location in Northern Michigan has arrivals from 17 cities in the USA. This will put you about 2 ½ hours from American Dunes. Cherry Capital Airport – Traverse City Airport TVC
If you are looking for an exceptional golf experience in 2023, Southwest Michigan is the place to be!