AUGUSTA, Michigan — It was a hot summer day not too long ago, when I happened upon a fun-loving foursome of fellas at the hidden gem called Gull Lake View Golf Resort. We were behind them on the tee (and well behind them in drinks), but it was hard to be anything but happy. They were on vacation, and enjoying themselves immensely — and infectiously.
“My buddies and I come here every year from Chicago,” one of the guys explained, matter-of-factly. “I work for IBM, my friend there works at a bank, that guy works in consulting, he works for another big company. We’ve played all over the country, and we could play anywhere, but we come here year after year, five straight years. We really love it.”
What’s not to love? Gull Lake View Golf Resort, tucked away in the rolling hills of southwest Michigan, lies smack dab between Detroit and Chicago, and somewhere between the upper crust and pizza crust. Gull Lake View is one of the biggest and best-known gems in a crown of courses in southwest Michigan, making it a destination not even a day’s drive for millions of golfers.
In addition to the five fantastic courses at Gull Lake View Golf Resort (gulllakeview.com), two Ray Hearn-designed gems are located nearby, Island Hills Golf Club (islandhillsgolf.com) and Yarrow Golf Club (yarrowgolf.com), each with their own feel and flair. Add in the mid-size cities of Battle Creek and Kalamazoo and beautiful beach towns of South Haven, St. Joseph and Benton Harbor, and it’s clear southwest Michigan is a very different kind of golf destination.
THE GREAT GULL LAKE
Of course, with five fantastic tracks, Gull Lake View Golf Resort is a destination all to itself. It’s a rare, homegrown resort, created little by little over the past 50 years by the Scott family. Family patriarch Darl Scott used his tractor to create the first course here, the West Course, in 1963. “We’ll offer public-fee play in a country-club atmosphere,” Scott proclaimed to the local paper at the time. The club charged a whopping $1.50 for nine holes and $2.50 for the full loop. He added another nine a year later. Soon the golfing world began beating a well-worn path to his door.
A decade later, Darl and his sons, Charlie and Jim, designed and built an even better course just across the street, the deceptively-long, 6,100-yard East Course, adding to the property’s growing prominence. But the Scotts didn’t stop there. In 1988, Charlie Scott designed the beauty known as Stonehedge South, which winds its way through the hills and woods, a 6,700-yard, parkland-style course on Northern Michigan terrain. The course was named for the hedgerows of rocks left over from the farmland unearthed during the construction, which now neatly line nearly every hole and add to the drop-dead gorgeous scenery.
Also in 1988, the Scott family added a fourth course to its stable, the well-respected Bedford Valley nearby. Bedford was designed as a true championship test by William Mitchell in 1965, and offers plenty of challenge over its 7,000 yards. It’s hosted a variety of tournaments, including the Michigan Open. In 1995, Charlie and Jon Scott built the last of Gull Lake View’s gorgeous courses, the 6,700-yard Stonehedge North, giving the resort an impressive lineup within an easy drive from Detroit or Chicago.
The resort also offers its Fairways Villas, with accommodations for 64 foursomes on property. Gull Lake View is well known for its affordable stay-and-play deals (where else can you play five days and stay four nights for less than $500?), so book early — the place is a perennial sellout.
A SWEET RETREAT
Not far off Gull Lake View’s beaten path, is the intriguing Yarrow Golf & Conference Center in the town of Augusta (really). Originally built in 1992 as a corporate team-building retreat, ownership added the spectacular, Ray Hearn-designed Yarrow Golf Club there in 2002.
Yarrow is a 7,005-yard stunner set amongst towering pines, rolling hills and wetlands. Hearn’s designs rarely disappoint (his Mistwood Golf Club in Romeoville, Illinois is another beauty), and Yarrow is certainly no exception. Each hole is distinct, with Hearn’s trademark blend of risk-reward golf that’s both fun and fair.
That risk-reward is no more apparent than at the 404-yard, par-4 fifth hole, a dogleg left that wraps around a large pond. How much you carry will determine your angle and approach to the small waiting green. Of course, Yarrow saves its best for last, as the 425-yard, par-4 18th hole offers a challenging tee shot over wetlands to a wide fairway, offering a very memorable finishing hole. Hit a good shot, and the waiting “gallery” at the Yarrow Pub’s patio is sure to register its approval.
Yarrow also offers 42 hotel guest rooms, and three guest cottages for a truly secluded stay. The Evergreen Dining Room and Yarrow Pub are available for on-site refreshment, as well.
ISLANDS IN THE STREAM
Roughly 35 miles south of Gull Lake in Centreville is another heavenly Hearn design called Island Hills Golf Club. This 7,000-yard gem has been tweaked and renovated since it opened in 1999, and Hearn was recently brought back to renovate the club.
Originally built on more than 200 acres and around a 1,000-acre inland lake, Hearn was hired to complete a strategic remodel of his design, intended to update every hole, while offering new, innovative short-course play options for the busy or beginning golfer. The club now offers 5-hole, 7-hole and 12-hole varieties, giving golfers different play options on non-peak play days.
Island Hills is now a versatile, 7,074-yard beauty, but can be pared all the way down to a 1,886 five-hole short course.
Hearn knows a thing or two about careful redesigns; GOLF Magazine even named his Mistwood Golf Club in Romeoville the “2013 Renovation of the Year.” His renovation project at Island Hills is highly touted, as well, and has been featured by the Golf Channel and the Wall Street Journal, among others.
It’s not hard to see why, given the canvas for his creation. While there are no shortage of picturesque holes at Island Hills, the stellar, 187-yard, par-3 17th is truly a sight to see, with the lake providing a wonderful, watery backdrop behind the essentially island green. The 346-yard, par-4 15th is another fine test, offering Hearn’s trademark split fairway, giving you two different routes to the good-sized green.
With an unbeatable combination of great golf, tantalizing terrain, affordability and accessibility, southwest Michigan is a tempting trek for any golfer looking for a great getaway a little closer to home. Like that foursome at Gull Lake View, it’s easy to see why this area has become such a popular choice. “We could play anywhere, but we come here, year after year,” they said.
It’s certainly hard to blame them.
For more information about southwest Michigan, visit discoverkalamazoo.com or swmichigan.org.
Southwestern Style: There’s much more than golf near Gull Lake
What to do away from the course
Rent a Boat: With a clear-blue lake great for sailing, fishing and even scuba diving, Gull Lake is one of the world’s best-kept secrets. Rent a boat or jet ski and explore the 75-degree water on your own. For some full-throttle fun, rent a jet ski at Gull Lake Marine (gulllakemarine.com). You can also rent pontoon boats for a more relaxing journey around the lake.
Grab a bite: For those wishing to venture off property for some grub (Gull Lake View and Yarrow also have full-service dining on-site), there’s plenty of options. Head into Kalamazoo, which offers some bustling nightlife. The Radisson Hotel offers a few good options, including Zazios (zazios.com) a nice Italian-flavored complement to the hotel’s great chophouse, Webster’s. Located nearby, you can’t go wrong with the phenomenal Food Dance Café (fooddance.net), fine dining in a casual contemporary atmosphere. You also shouldn’t miss out on a trip to the one and only Bell’s Brewery (bellsbeer.com), home of some of the world’s best microbrews.
Enjoy some nightlife: Kalamazoo has, surprisingly, much to offer when the sun goes down. Start with a show at the State Theatre (kazoostate.com), then head over to The Union Cabaret & Grille for some drinks and great live music (millenniumrestaurants.com). End your night with the dueling piano fun (and requisite bachelorette parties) at Monaco Bay (monacobay.biz) or ride the mechanical bull at the western-themed Wild Bull (wildbull.co) next door.
Where else to play: Three of the southwest Michigan’s other excellent course options include: Angels Crossing Golf Club (golfangelscrossing.com), a W. Bruce Matthews III-designed beauty; Heritage Glen, a challenging Jerry Matthews-designed test just west of Kalamazoo in Paw Paw (heritageglengolf.com); and the Jack Nicklaus-designed Harbor Shores (harborshoreslife.com), on the shores of Lake Michigan in Benton Harbor.