Rarified Heir

The Founder’s Son Taking Boyne Resorts Higher and Further Than Ever

BAY HARBOR, Michigan — It’s a warm, windy summer day here in one of the Midwest’s most beautiful burgs, an opulent outpost atop a sliver of craggy cliffs, with the brilliant blue of Little Traverse Bay beyond.

Stephen Kircher has taken Boyne Resorts to new heights.

Here, surrounded by multimillion-dollar homes, yacht clubs, and the luxurious Inn at Bay Harbor, sits the sensational Bay Harbor Golf Club, arguably the finest championship track Arthur Hills ever designed, and the unquestioned crown jewel in the Boyne Resorts collection of courses.

With three distinct nines — the lakeside Links, the pine-forested Preserve and the crazy, craggy Quarry — Bay Harbor has been dubbed the “Pebble Beach of the Midwest” for its incredible views and indelible experience, and is rightly ranked one of the top 100 public courses in America.

And make no mistake, Bay Harbor is a superb experience, from the sensational scenery to the stellar service, but it is but one gem in a Boyne Resorts crown that grows bigger and bolder by the year.

“Since 2015, we’ve seen extraordinary growth,” said Stephen Kircher, CEO and president of Boyne Resorts, and the son of the company’s founder and pioneer Everett Kircher. “We have a lot of good people in the right seat on the bus. And each one of our 14 resorts have a 10-year vision of where we’re going.”

That vision is an exponential continuation for the little resort company that Everett Kircher started back in 1947, a vision few could see or believe when it began.

Like many men in the post-WWII era, Everett had set out into the world to start his own business. A Detroit native but an avid outdoorsman, he set his eyes on a beautiful parcel of Northern Michigan land, complete with towering forests and the highest peaks for miles around. He envisioned thousands of people flying down those hills in a winter wonderland — the perfect place for skiing.

But to the man he would buy the land from, it was just a 40-acre clump of trees and hillside, unspectacular and unwanted. “You want to build a ski hill here?” the man asked Kircher incredulously. “Tell you what.You can have it for a dollar.”

That was how the deal was done, and that was how Boyne was born.

One dollar. For an empire.

Today the father’s son is taking that company to new heights, growing it into the third-largest mountain resort company in North America, with 11,000 employees in 14 properties, from Vancouver, Canada to Maine and plenty in between.

“Each one of these resorts have a 10-year vision of where they’re going,” Kircher explained. “Each has a unique opportunity, a unique DNA, unique attributes … some of them have golf and some don’t have golf, and obviously our Michigan footprint is heavy on a four-season concept, but we’re not a golf resort, we’re an and. We’ve got a lot of different reasons to come to us than just the golf.

“The resort communities around us and the natural attributes of Northern Michigan are all part of that amenity set that makes our destination unique in the summertime in North America.”

The Moor is quintessential Up North golf. Photo by Nile Young Jr.

It’s that kind of vision that makes Boyne unique, along with the inherent (and, per- haps inherited) ability to bridge the gap between vision and reality. And there’s no better example, literally and figuratively, than Boyne’s new SkyBridge Michigan project.

When it opens later this fall at Boyne Mountain Resort in Boyne Falls, Michigan, SkyBridge Michigan will become the world’s longest timber-towered suspension bridge, spanning a massive, 1,203 feet between peaks, 118 feet in the air.

“The SkyBridge Michigan project is going to blow people away,” Kircher said. “It’s going to be an attraction that’s going to prob- ably drive traffic unlike anything else we’ve ever done, honestly. To put it in perspective, it’s twice as long as the Tennessee incarnation (Gatlinburg SkyBridge at sister property, Gatlinburg SkyLift Park), and it’s going to be quite attractive.”

Guests will ride a chairlift to the top of the mountain to walk the SkyBridge, which also connects to the resort’s extensive paved trail system. The panoramic views provided might just be the best in the Midwest.

SkyBridge Michigan is one of several “tentpole” projects outlined in the company’s 2030 plan (2030.boynemountain.com), which also includes expansion and rebuild- ing of the airport runway in Boyne Falls, addition of the world’s first eight-person chairlift, significant lodging upgrades and even an outdoor waterpark, adding on to the company’s successful Avalanche Bay indoor park at Boyne Mountain.

But Boyne and Kircher’s vision spans even further than that SkyBridge, with an ear to the market, and an eye on the horizon. Exhibit A is the company’s plan to add solar arrays as part of its “Forever Project” push for sustainability, setting a goal to be carbon zero across its North American operations by 2030. All of the company’s grand plans are laid bare on their websites for all to see, in an effort to increase community connection, and to spark inspiration.

SkyBridge Michigan is set to open this fall, offering expansive Northern Michigan views.

“It is a way to instill a sense of connection and direction and leadership within those communities,” Kircher said, “and embracing what’s possible and the potential for each of these resorts. And we’re trying to do that, obviously, with the sustainability efforts with trying to be net carbon zero by 2030, which is going to be a tall task. But we know we’re on track to do that. I mean, obviously there’s growth, but sustainable growth — both economically and being a good steward of the land.”

The Highlands Chalet Edelweiss recently underwent a massive renovation.

Being good stewards of the land also includes improvements to the company’s extensive golf offerings. While a relatively small portion of the resorts’ revenue (the company sees roughly 200,000 golfers across its 13 courses each year, compared to 4 million skiers), Kircher is undoubtedly passionate about the game. He’s also proficient, hav- ing played golf for Big Ten power Michigan State, and still carries a sub-single-digit handicap today, despite playing infrequently due to his other duties.

“I’ve been averaging about 15 rounds a year for about a decade,” he laughed. “I haven’t played 36 holes in at least five to eight years. I’m a .7 (handicap). I hit balls a fair amount, but I still struggle being dialed in under pressure. I’m always optimistic that somehow I’m going to get to the next level (I guess every golfer says that). But I’ve got new equipment — the new Titleist TSi3 and I’ve picked up 24 yards (off the tee). It’s incredible how much further those clubs go, and that’s always fun.”

Kircher has worked for the company full-time since 1988, and worked in the golf shop in the summers since 1978, cleaning range balls for Bernie Friedrich, the longtime senior vice president of golf operations for Boyne, who recently became director of golf course renovations and development.

Friedrich is a busy man these days, with several renovations, revisions and additions on the docket for several of the company’s 13 courses, including 10 in Michigan alone (see sidebar). The company has big plans across its golf properties, starting with the renovation of the Donald Ross Memorial course at The Highlands Resort, to be closer to the eponymous architect’s original classics.

Expertly handling the renovations is Michigan-based Raymond Hearn, who’s been in the midst of a “rebuilding” boom the past decade in the industry. A five-time Design Excellence Recognition Award winner, “Renovation Ray” is an expert in restoring classic clubs to their past glory, as well as a true student of the game’s greatest courses and architects.

Hearn’s partnership with Boyne also includes three new short courses, one at The Highlands, another at Sugarloaf Golf Club in Maine and at Boyne’s Big Sky ski resort in Montana. Some of his other work includes renovation of practices areas, as well as helping Boyne build a master plan for its golf properties.

“Boyne has been a ton of fun, a great partner, and Stephen Kircher has been a good friend,” Hearn said. “For the par-3 course at The Highlands, I said, ‘Let me pick out my nine favorite greens, and let’s not try to replicate them, but let’s have some fun with them.’”

The Monument has been ranked one of Americas best resort courses. Photo by Nile Young Jr.

Boyne’s bid to bolster its golf isn’t just good business, it’s also great timing, Kircher said.

“It’s an unexpected golden period for the golf industry,” he said. “And certainly that part of our business has flourished and done very well and it’s allowing us to refocus capital and to elevate the experience. It’s an area that’s healthy right now and not overbuilt like it was, and there’s probably opportunity to expand and enhance the product at Boyne. “We have three courses we could build, and the (proposed) Pete Dye course is still sitting out there, and I’d love to build a Pete Dye, and have someone who’s worked with him execute it on his behalf. We have an amazing routing for that, and there’s also two courses in The Highlands we could build.

“So is the future more golf? Probably, eventually. We have the short course that’s about to start next summer. But we’re focused on elevating existing facilities first, and then looking at new down the road.”

While the future remains to be seen, Kircher believes the pandemic’s golf boom is here to stay.

“We don’t know, definitely,” he explained. “But what we do know is, last summer, with arguably post-COVID for most people, we saw the strength continue nationally in golf. People picked up the game during COVID and they seemed to stick with it. Our cur- rent patterns are the same as last summer, if not better. I think that the COVID bounce is going to stay for a number of years. Can we maintain it? Keep people in the game? Making golf more fun, more accessible, those are great additions to introducing people to the game.

“Golf is addictive. It’s like nicotine. You’ve got to be committed to it, but once you get to that level, it’s the greatest game ever invented.”

Back here at Bay Harbor, sipping a drink on the clubhouse deck as we watch the sun slowly dip behind the green into the bay, we couldn’t agree more.

Visit boyneresorts.com for more information.


A Look at Boyne’s Midwest Resorts


The original resort Everett Kircher founded in 1947. Boyne Mountain is the site for the magical Mountain Grand Lodge.

Golf Facilities
THE MONUMENT — par 72 — 7,086 yards
The Monument course opened to rave reviews in 1987, and features a mile-long cart ride to the sum- mit of the mountain, so bring a camera. Boyne has plans to upgrade elements of the Monument course, with the help of Ray Hearn.
THE ALPINE — par 72 — 7,017 yards
Named one of America’s best resort courses, the Alpine’s summit is also the peak of Boyne Mountain, and the course has views of Deer Lake.

The fantastic finishing hole of The Heather.


Everett Kircher purchased Boyne Highlands in 1964, and Boyne has made the recently renamed The Highlands one of the Midwest’s best golf destinations, complete with a massive upgrading of the resort’s main lodge in 2020.

Golf Facilities
THE MOOR — par 72 — 7,179 yards
The Moor plays through woods and (plentiful) wet- lands for a decidedly rousing round.
DONALD ROSS MEMORIAL — par 72 – 6,840 yards
The Memorial features 18 of the famed architect’s greatest holes, painstakingly recreated here. St Andrews, Pinehurst, Royal Dornoch and Oakland Hills are all represented, among others. Architect Ray Hearn is busy renovating some of the holes to be closer to the Ross originals.
THE ARTHUR HILLS — par 72 — 7,312 yards
The Arthur Hills features some of the most dramatic elevations and greens in the Midwest. The signature 13th drops nearly 200 feet from the tee to the wide fairway below. It’s a roller coaster of a course.
THE HEATHER — par 72 — 7,218 yards
Designed by Robert Trent Jones, Sr., the Heather is the course that started it all back in 1970, and remains one of the country’s best resort courses, offering a challenging test from the first to the memorable 18th.
Boyne Highlands also features a 9 hole par 3 course (due to be rebuilt next summer), extensive practice facilities and teaching center.



Owned by Boyne and operated by Marriott, the Inn at Bay Harbor is situated on the shore of Lake Michigan’s Little Traverse Bay, offering an elegant experience for guests. The Inn offers 105 guest rooms, including one-, two- and three-bedroom suites, as well as fine dining, spa and beach amenities. The Inn also underwent a $2 million renovation a few years ago, as it joined Marriott’s exclusive Autograph Collection Hotels brand, one of just 100 in the world. It’s easy to see why.

BAY HARBOR, MICHIGAN bayharborgolf.com
Bay Harbor opened in 1996 and quickly became one of the country’s finest golf resorts, ranked No. 20 by Golf Digest. Designed by Arthur Hills in collaboration with Stephen Kircher, the course features three distinct nines, with each nine unique and memorable. The Links nine has been compared to Pebble Beach, with views of Little Traverse Bay.
The Preserve nine is true Up North golf, through forest and wetlands, and the Quarry nine plays around, over and through the old limestone quarry in dramatic fashion. Extensive practice facility and teaching center.


Located “across the street” from the Inn at Bay Harbor, the Crooked Tree Golf Club is perched on bluffs high above Lake Michigan. The 18 holes have been sculpted from centuries-old pine and hardwoods of old Michigan farmland, and the back nine opens to breathtaking views of Lake Michigan.

Visit boynegolf.com for more information and packages.