Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Crystal Mountain's Michigan Women's Open still going strong

From all indications, the 2009 Buick Open will be the 51st, and last one, for golf fans in Michigan.

What a heartbreak.

Earlier this decade, Michigan hosted a full docket of professional events, two from the Champions Tour, one from the LPGA, one from the PGA Tour, and one apiece from the minor-league Canadian and Duramed Futures tours. It has even lost the second-best amateur tournament in the country, with the Western Am. leaving Benton Harbor for the Chicago area last summer after a 30-year run at Point O' Woods.

Just two smaller events are left standing: the Michigan Open and the Michigan Women's Open, both run by the Michigan section of the PGA. The Women's Open, in its seventh year at Crystal Mountain Resort & Spa in Thompsonville, tees off this week with play Aug. 3-5 on the resort's scenic Mountain Ridge course.

With the Buick Open's pending demise, this is now the only tournament in Michigan to entice top pros to visit the Wolverine state. The $40,000 purse has attracted the LPGA Tour’s Cindy Figg-Currier, Cindy Rarick, Sue Ertl, Anne Marie Palli and Allison Fouch, as will a handful of former champions with LPGA Tour experience on their resumes, players like Elaine Crosby and Suzanne Green-Roebuck.

Fouch, a standout from Michigan State, is currently 82nd in the Rolex World Rankings. Between 1985 and 2000 Cindy Rarick recorded four LPGA Tour victories and collected earnings totaling over $2.5 million. A tournament-record 111 players will tee it up, marking the third time in five years the event has broke its own high standards.

The Michigan Open attracts some solid pro talent as well, but its top players -- like past winners Ryan Brehm, who won at Orchard Lake Country Club earlier this year, and 6-time champ Scott Hebert, who won the 2008 national club pro championship -- couldn't even make the cut at this year's Buick Open.

Michigan has too many good courses, players and fans to see such a shortage of high-caliber tournament golf. Unfortunately, the state of the game greatly reflects the state of our economy. Both are on life-support.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Tiger Woods pumps needed buzz back into 2009 Buick Open

The Buick Open had lost its buzz, but then Tiger Woods stepped up to help his old friends at Buick, giving the tournament a shot of adrenaline it had been lacking.

Before Woods officially committed Thursday, did anybody even know that next week (July 27-Aug. 2) was the only time all year the PGA Tour will stop in Michigan at Warwick Hills Golf & Country Club in Grand Blanc?

I hate to feel self-important, but this fact is true: Without a media day and a lack of advertising -- two problems no doubt due to the bankruptcy of Buick's parent company, General Motors Co. -- the buildup to the Buick Open has been lacking its usual punch. There's nobody trumpeting the tournament's message: This is your only chance to see U.S. Open champ Lucas Glover, Woods and John Daly up close and personal.

There are other issues that aren't helping Michigan's only major golf event. With a third new date in the past three years, fans can't plan for it on a consistent basis.

Getting a quality field has gotten tougher as well. Woods, now that he's not in the Buick family, probably won't be a regular visitor anymore and Phil Mickelson will likely never tee it up here again. This year, defending champion Kenny Perry won't tee it up, either, missing to be with his family.

Don't get me wrong. The Buick Open is good for Michigan. If it went away -- which is still a possibility without Buick's ability to commit long-term -- it would be just another blow to a state reeling with bigger problems.

The tournament is a perfect place for die-hard golf fans to get close to elite players. The tournament setting is intimate and fan-friendly. For tickets or information, visit or call 1-800-878-OPEN.

Another bonus: the lovable Rocco Mediate, the 2008 U.S. Open runner-up, will host a free clinic 7 p.m. Tuesday at Carl's Golfland at 1976 South Telegraph Road in Bloomfield Township. The 5-time PGA Tour winner will no doubt win over more fans with his chatty style and witty sense of humor. For more, visit

Monday, July 20, 2009

King's Challenge a work in progress

I'm not surprised the King's Challenge is just now opening in Cedar, the newest amenity of the fabulous Homestead Resort in Glen Arbor.

When I visited the resort in May, the course, purchased by a group led by Homestead president Bob Kuras, was just starting to awaken from a long winter of neglect, both from the wicked weather and the previous owners. New superintendent Brad Stowe was working overtime to hack down all those dandelions and try to breathe life back into the greens with the ultimate goal to be on track to apply for Cooperative Sanctuary status from Audubon International..

I've still never played King's Challenge, but a drive around the Arnold Palmer layout with new director of golf Logan Price got my juices going to give it a go. It has all the wonders of northern Michigan in place: the elevated tees, the scenery, the tree-lined corridors void of houses. It looks tight and challenging in some spots, so I can't wait to see how my nerves will hold up with a driver in hand.

The clubhouse was in even worse shape during my visit, torn up and being completely renovated, but the pictures circulated by the resort shows that the effort has paid off. The building, which will pursue LEED certification for its new environmental-friendly features, now offers a nice outdoor patio overlooking the pond surrounding the 18th hole. The flow has improved with a little library just inside the door. The pro shop, on the right, and the bar, on the left, are big enough to be roomy, yet small enough to be intimate.

Bigger plans are in the works for the course. Palmer's architects are committed to helping King's Challenge retool any tees that might need to be repositioned or brought back to life.

A grand opening, with a brand new name, could happen as soon as next June. In the meantime, if you're interested in a tee time, visit or call 231-334-5900. I recommend you play it now, then come back next summer to marvel at its ongoing transformation. Only then will players realize how committed Kuras is to great golf at his resort.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Crystal Spa great edition to Crystal Mountain Resort

I don't care how dedicated a golfer you are.

I'd trade a good round of golf for a great spa treatment any time.

Now you can have both at Crystal Mountain Resort ( in Thompsonville. The resort's latest amenity, the Crystal Spa, opened last winter, blending the green philosophy of the resort's owners with a serene, relaxing atmosphere. The northern-Michigan-themed spa features 12 treatment rooms, private locker rooms for men and women, a manicure and pedicure area, and an outdoor meditation garden with a hot tub.

The spa is the Midwest's only LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certified spa that fully incorporated green building practices. It cost $4 million to build the 13,000 square-foot expansion to an existing indoor pool and fitness area, but guests will find the experience priceless.

An array of spa services, extensive fitness programming and healthy cuisine from Crystal’s Peak Performance menu emphasize health and wellness. I chose to unwind with a relaxing Aromafusion, a treatment that begins with a massage on a specific area of the body followed up with steaming hot towell wraps. It awakens your senses and puts you at ease, all at the same time.

I made sure to arrive early and stay late. The men's lockerroom is one of the bigger, more comfortable facilities for men I've seen in a spa. Kudes to resort president Jim MacInnes for going to bat for men not ashamed to spend a day at the spa. Lounging in the steam and sauna rooms was a perfect escape from reality.

I'm not one who has the patience to relax, but the meditation room, with its stone fireplace, cozy chairs and cold towels for your neck or head, worked its magic. The cucumber-mint water and trail mix served there were light and refreshing to snack on.

I didn't have the energy to try the fitness center after all that down time. A quick walk-through, though, showed me that, with four flat-screen TVs and all new equipment, it's a state-of-the-art gym. The indoor and outdoor exercise rooms are spacious enough for intimate classes. I bet the indoor pool and hottub are hopping on rainy or cold days for families with young children.

Crystal Mountain has always been a great vacation spot. These additions really ups the ante. It's grown into one of the Midwest's premier resorts. Doesn't matter your tastes or your age. It has something for everyone.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

First visit to Hawkshead a real treat

There are only a select few good golf courses in Michigan I haven't seen.

After a stay-and-play June 28, cross Hawkshead in South Haven off that list.

Who knew an asparagus farm could look so good as a golf course?

Hawkshead, a member of the Art Hills Golf Trail in Michigan, looks and plays more like a beach that was capped with fairways and greens than a former farm. Bunkers filled with bright, almost-orange sand are splashed throughout the 7,003-yard layout. It's quite an amazing setting considering Hawkshead is surrounded by cornfields and just steps from the highway.

Regulars say the course, opened in 1996 by area restaurateur Al Ruppert, is in the best shape they've seen it in years, another great reason to visit.

The front nine eases into the action. There are wide driving corridors and no forced carries.

The par-4 10th immediately steps up the challenge. A good drive up the left side of this slight dog-leg right sets up a 150-yard shot over a hazard to the green. The 330-yard 11th might be the most exciting drivable par-4 in the state. It's just 230 yards to the green because the dog-leg of the hole over wetlands and bunkers is so severe.

From there the course just gets longer with two par 4s over 430 yards and two par fives more than 525 yards from the blue tees. The 18th might be the toughest of the bunch, a 393-yard dogleg left over another sand pit crossing the fairway.

I love how simple it is to get cozy at the resort after the round. Next to the pro shop is a nice covered porch for a post-round cocktail. The inn, just steps away, features nine themed rooms. I stayed in Room #2, the comfortable Hogan Tradition. I didn't get the chance to sample the restaurant, but its menu came highly recommended from my playing partners. Filet Mignon, salmon, New York Strip, Rack of Lamb, crab legs, duck, lobster and prime rib are just a few of the highlights.

My mouth is watering just writing that last sentence. To get a taste of what Hawkshead has to offer, on and off the course, visit