Above: The Hades 360 at one of the world’s best waterparks, Mt. Olympus.
AHHHHAHAHAAAA!! WOOO-HOOOO!!! AYEEEE!! (SPLASH!)
No, those aren’t the sounds you make watching your tee shot sail toward an island green (well, sometimes they are.) Those, friends, are the sweet, innocent sounds of summertime fun at one of the Midwest’s many world-class amusement parks. Is there a better place to take the kids for a few fun-filled days under the hot summer sun? While we’re lucky to have some seriously super parks across the Great Lakes, we know you might want to pack up the clubs along with the kids as you head off to your weekend getaways.
Here’s a look at some of the great golf you’ll find within a coaster’s length away, as well as some of the other hotspots to hit while you’re in town:
PARK HIGHLIGHTS: Cedar Point is famous for being the King of Coasters, including Valravn, the tallest, fastest and longest coaster in the United States, and Steel Vengeance, the tallest, fastest and longest hybrid coaster in the world! First opened in 1870, Cedar Point’s the second-oldest park in the U.S. and sees nearly 4 million visitors a year. It also has Cedar Point Shores waterpark to help keep you and the kids cool.
WHERE TO PLAY: Sawmill Creek Resort (sawmillcreekresort.com) is home to a highly rated Tom Fazio design owned and operated by Cedar Point Resorts. Built in 1974, Fazio’s early gem offers the Creek Nine around the eponymous Sawmill Creek, with the back nine skirting the shores of Lake Erie. Just a short drive away in Huron, Ohio, is the 36-hole Thunderbird Hills Golf Club (thunderbirdgolfcourses.com), with two terrific tracks for you to tame, including the Bruce Palmer-designed South Course.
OTHER EATS & TREATS: The Sandusky area has become a playground for grownups, too, with excellent big-kid offerings like the Firelands Winery (firelandswinery.com), home to a gold medal-winning Gewurztraminer and fine dining on site. Take in the panoramic view of Sandusky Bay at the Dockside Cafe, feasting on fish tacos and adult beverages. And after a long day at the park or course, Small City Taphouse (smallcitytaphouse.com) has just what you need with more than 80 beers on tap plus a big lineup of steaks, sushi and more. Top if off with a trip to Toft’s Ice Cream Parlor (toftdairy.com), with more than 50 different flavors such as Lake Erie Cookie Island Monster, Buckeye Bites and of course, Cedar Point Cotton Candy. Mm-hmm.
SANTA CLAUS, INDIANA
PARK HIGHLIGHTS: Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus — Indiana, that is — where you’ll find the fun-filled haven called Holiday World & Splashin’ Safari. Holiday World is home to dozens of family-friendly rides and coasters, including The Voyage, the No. 1 wooden coaster in the nation by TIME Magazine, which goes underground in its mile-long adventure. The waterpark offers a wave pool, water slides and even the Cheetah Chase Water Coaster, which is exactly as awesome as it sounds.
WHERE TO PLAY: Christmas Lake Golf Club (christmaslakegolfclub.com) is a classic Edmund Ault design built in ’67 and remains a championship test. And just 30 minutes up the road in Jasper, Indiana, is the sanctuary known as Sultan’s Run (sultansrun.com), a delicious Tim Liddy design filled with waterfalls, woods and wildlife. And a little further still (but well worth the trip) is the fabulous French Lick Resort (frenchlick.com), home to the state’s top-rated Dye Course and the wonderful Donald Ross course, in addition to a casino and two spectacular hotels (including the incredible West Baden Springs Hotel), among many other amenities.
OTHER EATS & TREATS: When you’re in Santa Claus, Indiana, you’re kinda obligated to visit the Santa Claus Museum (santaclausmuseum.org), aren’t you? Don’t want to end up on a naughty list, after all. While you’re there you can check out the exhibits featuring the story behind the town’s famous name, artifacts from the town’s unique history, and gaze upon the 22-foot stone Santa statue out front. For some sweet treats, head to the Holly Berry Farm (no, not Halle Berry, sorry). The fourth-generation family farm was started in 1913, and offers the freshest of strawberries, asparagus and more (hollyberryfarmindiana.com).
PARK HIGHLIGHTS: Just a stone’s throw from Lake Michigan, Michigan’s Adventure is the biggest amusement and waterpark in Michigan, with more than 60 rides and attractions. Part of the Cedar Point family, Michigan’s Adventure offers the Corkscrew coaster and The Ripcord, with an 80 mph, 180-foot free fall! (You’ll feel your heart in your stomach, trust me.)
WHERE TO PLAY: Almost across the street from Michigan’s Adventure is the fun, friendly track called Lincoln Golf Club (lincolngolfcourse.com). Just down the road in the beautiful beach town of Grand Haven is the newly reborn American Dunes Golf Club (americandunesgolfclub.com). The much-heralded Jack Nicklaus design is a rollercoaster of a course, a stunning sandscape with dramatic views, and proceeds benefit the Folds of Honor Foundation.
OTHER EATS & TREATS: The Muskegon area is home to some of the Midwest’s best beaches, including P.J. Hoffmaster State Park and Grand Haven State Park. With towering dunes, clean campgrounds and miles of nature trails (not to mention spectacular sunsets), the beach is the perfect place to take the family after a day at the park. For some great lakeside eats and drinks, check out The Deck BBQ & Beer (thedeckmkg.com), with live music, cold drinks, and fantastic barbecue — all with a lakefront view. For fancier fare, check out the new Noto’s at the Bil-Mar in Grand Haven (gh.notosoldworld.com), with steaks, seafood and those sunsets from its unbeatable location right on the beach.
SIX FLAGS GREAT AMERICA
PARK HIGHLIGHTS: Part of the famous Six Flags chain, Six Flags Great America first opened in 1976 and now has more than 15 roller coasters (including the twin-tracked American Eagle coaster), three themed children’s areas, and the 20-acre Six Flags Hurricane Harbor water park. One of America’s most popular parks, Great America has more than 3 million visitors each year.
WHERE TO PLAY: Just up the street from Six Flags is the terrific, Robert Trent Jones Jr. track named Thunderhawk Golf Club (thunderhawkgolfclub.org). Opened in 1999, Thunderhawk is the crown jewel in the Lake County Forest Preserve’s three-course line-up, and one of three RTJ designs in the Chicagoland area. Clocking in at 7,011 yards from the tips, with plenty of woods, water, and Mr. Jones’ beautiful bunkering, it’s no secret why Thunderhawk is one of the most beloved tracks in the Windy City area. A little south of Six Flags is the beautiful, Tom Bendelow-designed Bloomingdale Golf Club (bloomingdalegc.com), featuring the same picturesque parkland feel of the architect’s other famous creation, Medinah Country Club. Opened in 1924, Bloomingdale Golf Club has stood the test of time as a championship test in the northern Chicago suburbs.
OTHER EATS & TREATS: When you’re in Chicago, you’re almost required by law to enjoy some of the city’s trademark deep-dish pizza. Gurnee is home to a few fine options, including Kaiser’s Pizza & Pub (kaiserspub.com), which is better known for its thin style, and the long-revered Giordano’s (giordanos.com), home of arguably the best deep-dish on the planet. If you’re hungry for deals instead, check out Gurnee Mills (simon.com/mall/gurnee-mills), the largest outlet mall in Illinois with nearly 200 stores, from Abercrombie & Fitch to the Zales Outlet, and plenty in between. Happy hunting.
WISCONSIN DELLS, WISCONSIN
PARK HIGHLIGHTS: The Wisconsin Dells itself is one giant amusement park, from go-karts to coasters to ziplines and much more. The Dells are most famous for their world-class waterparks, most notably Mt. Olympus (mtolympuspark.com), home to Triton’s Fury and Triton’s Rage dueling raft slides. Wilderness Resort (wildernessresort.com) is another dynamite Dells destination, as America’s largest waterpark resort, featuring four indoor and four outdoor waterparks.
WHERE TO PLAY: Oh boy. Maybe the only thing better than the Dells’ waterparks are the great golf options. Start your golfing thrill ride at Trappers Turn (trappersturn.com), home to 27 holes of excellent Andy North and Roger Packard design, then for the nightcap take on the brand-new 12North short course, a 12-hole par-3 course North designed and opened July 20. A slip-and- slide away is the wild and wooly Wild Rock Golf Club (wildrockgc.com), a spectacular Dr. Michael Hurdzan/Dana Fry design that plays over prairie, woods and an old rock quarry. To keep a good thing going, head up the road to Nekoosa, Wisconsin, where you’ll find the sensational Sand Valley Resort (sandvalley.com). With the David McLay Kidd-designed Mammoth Dunes, the Bill Coore/Ben Crenshaw-designed Sand Valley course, and the “Sandbox” short course, it’s the perfect place to unwind after a few days in the Dells — or any other time.
OTHER EATS & TREATS: For starters, treat yourself! Head to the serene, stunning Sundara Inn & Spa (sundaraspa.com), to fully recharge your body and mind with a healing stone massage and a dip (or two) in the infinity pool. For some sumptuous fare, find your way to local eatery High Rock Cafe (highrockcafe.com), home to the “Truffle Shuffle” — a 1/2-pound hunk of cheese curds — and many other delights. Once sated, take in some of the Dells’ natural wonders, with a riverboat cruise through the Witches Gulch, an incredible area of natural rock formations to explore by sea and by foot. Take an Upper Dells boat tour from one of the many companies, like Dells Boat Tours (dellsboats.com).
MALL OF AMERICA
PARK HIGHLIGHTS: The Mall of America is kind of an amusement park for adults, with 520-plus stores in its 5.6 million square feet of space. There’s also Nickelodeon Universe and the Sea Life Aquarium to keep you busy. A short drive away is Valleyfair Amusement Park (valleyfair.com), home to more than 75 rides, including eight roller coasters, and Soak City, a seven-acre waterpark.
WHERE TO PLAY: In the time it takes to fin- ish your Cinnabon, you can be at revamped Braemar Golf Course (braemargolf.com) in nearby Edina. Richard Mandell took the former 27 holes and rebuilt them into a more modern, more forgiving championship 18 in 2019. Another fine option is Legends Golf Club (legendsgc.com), a championship Gill Miller design featuring a 30-acre lake, cascading creeks, scenic wetlands, deep ponds and dramatic topography. For a true test, take on The Wilds Golf Club (golfthewilds.com), a stunning Jay Morrish/ Tom Weiskopf collaboration tipping the scales at 7,012 yards from the tips.
OTHER EATS & TREATS: Aside from the 50 (fifty!) restaurants within the Mall of America, the area is absolutely overflowing with fantastic eats. Try Hazelwood Food + Drink (hazelwoodfoodanddrink.com), with its wood-fired pizza, walleye fish tacos and fine steaks and seafood, a great place to indulge that appetite you’ve worked up walking around the Mall. For simply some of the best Italian in the Twin Cities metro area, check out Ciao Bella (ciaobellamn.com), with handmade, locally sourced old- world dishes, inviting atmosphere and stellar service. Bellissimo.
Have a favorite hotspot we missed? A favorite course or coaster? Let us know! Email firstname.lastname@example.org.