Monday, August 31, 2009

Gaylord Golf Mecca continues to amaze

I've been playing golf in Gaylord for more than a decade now.

The amazing thing is I still haven't seen all the courses. It seems every time I visit there's something new to discover and explore. That's what's so cool about a golf destination stocked with 21 golf courses and 20 lodging options.

Last week, I teed it up at two Gaylord stalwarts I'd never seen before, Black Forest at Wilderness Valley and the Fazio course at Treetops Resort. Funny I've never played them before, because they are two of the best.

I've always been told the Rick Smith Signature course is lauded as superior by the critics and The Masterpiece by Robert Trent Jones is the toughest course at Treetops but surprisingly I've never heard much about the only Fazio in Michigan. It might be the most fun track at the resort. There are some shocking features -- mammoth ridges in several greens and greens that require elevators to reach in regulation.

Black Forest, an early Tom Doak design, is a bit too penal to be a regular stop for most Gaylord golfers. Yet it's a visual stunner, rich with forest and bunkers.

After golf, I got my first taste of the improvements Osprey Golf has made to the Otsego Club & Resort. I stayed in the new Hilltop Lodge, which features all the advancements of modern technology like flat screen TVs and wireless internet. Yet it still melds seamlessly with the other log Alpine lodges that give the resort its charm.

Even if you have seen every course, the Gaylord Golf Mecca, the self-proclaimed "America's summer golf capital," never gets old. I've played the Pines at Michaywe more than any other course in Gaylord and it's always a treat to tee it up on a course easy enough to enjoy but tough enough to pique your interest.

I didn't get to play at Marsh Ridge Resort this time around, but owner Larry Bowden, a mover and shaker in the Gaylord golf scene for more than a decade, hosted a fabulous meal at Jac's Place, showing off the resort's talented chef and varied menu.

Even if you've seen Gaylord, it's time to go back. There's always something more in store. Even if your budget is tight, consider the free golf weekend Oct. 16-18. That's a deal almost too good to be true.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Dan Pohl at home in Michigan this summer

One of Michigan’s golf legends has been hanging around this summer, probably under the radar a bit more than he’d like.

Dan Pohl, a Mount Pleasant native who is probably most famous for losing in a playoff to Craig Stadler at the 1982 Masters, has been a regular at The Huntmore Golf Club in Brighton Township, giving lessons and playing golf with friends. He’d love to be back on the Champions Tour, where he won $786,093 the past four years before injuries halted his career. Pohl, 54, is a two-time winner on the PGA Tour in 1986, earning roughly $3 million in his career.

But he’s endured 11 surgeries, including elbow, knee, neck and back operations. Pohl, who played in five Champions Tour events in 2008, said doctors told him he might need another back surgery if he didn't quit the grind of professional golf.

"Golf is demanding on the body," he said. "If you play professionally, you can't play halfway."

The July day I met Pohl for the first time, he was in rare form, jovial and friendly in recalling his playing days. He took me out to the range at The Huntmore and demonstrated his shot-making by working with a young golfer who had never even picked up a club before. Pohl told his pupil to swing hard – “We can teach control later, but you can’t teach distance” – and demonstrated a drill or two about balance. Pohl even hit shots standing on one leg, then on the other, to showcase his balance and rhythm in the swing.

"It's been exciting to have Dan," said Ron Cortese, the club's general manager. "To have a PGA Tour pro of Dan's caliber in Brighton is unheard of. Everybody loves him. His personality makes people drawn to him."

Pohl has experience in all areas of golf. He’s been popular at corporate outings in the Phoenix area where he lives and he’s even designed a few courses, notably the Pohlcat in his hometown. He’s having to reinvent himself in this down economy, but if anything, he’s shown he’s resilient.

He might beat himself up once in a while about that Masters loss – he admits wondering how different his life would have been had he won – but he’s content with a solid career that was longer than most players could ever dream. For information on lessons with Pohl, contact the club at 810-225-2498 or visit

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Top Michigan golf courses worth every penny

If you didn’t know already that Michigan is among the best states in the country for the value of your golf dollar, a recent Golf Digest story just confirmed it.

In its feature about best municipal golf courses in the country, the magazine ranked the top 100 public courses by price, from least expensive to most. Amazingly, Michigan had four entries among the top 11 least expensive top-ranked courses. They were:

· No. 2 (tie), Shepherd’s Hollow in Clarkston at $60. The Arthur Hills designed 27-hole course is ranked 42nd among public courses in the country.
· No. 4, the Gailes at Lakewood Shores Resort at $65. The links-style course is ranked No. 69 among public courses.
· No. 9 Blake Lake in Onaway at $80. The Rees Jones layout is ranked No. 34 in the country among public courses.
· No. 11 (tie) Eagle Eye in Bath at $89. The course with an island green is ranked No. 47 among the country’s best public courses.

Four other Michigan courses are also among the top 52:

· No. 35 (tie), Tullymoore in Stanwood at $140. The Jim Engh design ranks No. 15.
· No. 37 (tie), Forest Dunes in Roscommon at $150. The Tom Weiskopf design ranks 18th.
· No. 46, Arcadia Bluffs at $180. The scenic gem ranks No. 10.
· No. 52 (tie), Bay Harbor in Petoskey at $199. The combo of the Links-Quarry nines ranks No. 62.

Most Michigan courses were already great buys, a byproduct of the competition of 800 public courses, the most in the country. But prices in the state have gone down dramatically the last three years, following the tumble of the auto industry. To keep customers coming in, courses have had to discount their rates. Some more than 15 to 20 percent at off-peak times.

Dave Richards, a golf marketing specialist, says that the golf packages Boyne USA Resorts has been advertising this summer for Boyne Highlands or Boyne Mountain are among the most value laden in the country for resorts of their caliber.

There are many ways to find a discount. The best one is to join a course’s e-mail marketing system. Owners and operators usually dole out impressive specials to the inboxes of loyal customers. Whether owners like it or not, discounted golf is here to stay in Michigan. It’s the best way to combat the rising unemployment and sour economy in this state.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Fouch wins Michigan Women's Open; Buick Open gone for good

This week's "news" isn't really news at all.

But it's still worth blogging about.

Two things that were sure gimmees happened -- Allison Fouch won the Michigan Women's Open and the Buick Open announced it was leaving Michigan for good.

Fouch, an LPGA Tour player from Grand Rapids who is ranked among the top 80 players in the world, birdied the last hole, the par-5 18th on Mountain Ridge, to win the $5,700 first prize at Crystal Mountain Resort in Thompsonville. She finished at 8-under-par, one shot better than Whitehall's Laura Kueny, who led the tournament the whole way.

“That’s the way I prefer to win. I did what I had to do. The adrenaline was flowing pretty good but I tried to stay calm and handle my emotions. Whew! What a nice way to win,” said Fouch, who lost the championship in a playoff in 2003. “Competition like this helps. I haven’t been in game face mode in a while. I never lost my confidence. I stayed patient.”

Even though Fouch was clearly the favorite, she still performed when she had to and is to be commended for her first Michigan Open win in her eighth try. Fouch has earned just over $79,000 on the LPGA Tour this year, including a T-12 finish at the Jamie Farr Classic in Toledo in July. She's arguably the most successful pro golfer from Michigan on any Tour. Former PGA Tour golfers like Tom Gillis, a Lake Orion native who won his first Nationwide Tour event in July, and Doug LaBelle, a Mount Pleasant native with just two top 25s on the Nationwide this year, have never been able to achieve Fouch's lofty world ranking.

As for the Buick Open, its impact on Michigan is profound, financially and psycologically. It is just another blow to Michigan's image. Now we're lumped with golf's ugly stepchildren -- states like Indiana, Wyoming, the Dakotas, etc. -- that don't host the Tour.

Its also a another blow to the Flint area economy, from the non-profits to the local hotels and restaurants that counted on the tournament for cash flow. The Tour has indicated it hasn't given up on Michigan yet, and would like to return, but without the deep pockets of the Big Three, it's highly unlikely. Maybe somebody can convince Compuware or Little Caesars want to switch their corporate dollars from hockey to golf.

The Little Caesars Open has a nice ring to it.