Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Fox Hills Golf and Banquet Center features something for everyone

The Fox Hills Golf & Banquet Center has always been southeast Michigan’s most unique public facility. The story lines are almost endless.

• First and foremost, with 63 holes, it is the largest golf facility in metro Detroit.
• The course is owned and operated by two sisters, Kathy Dul Aznavorian and Sandy Dul Mily. They are a formidable duo in an industry dominated by white males.
• The Golden Fox, the signature track by Arthur Hills, was one of the region’s first “country club for a day” experiences built for public players, opening in 1989, the same time as Pine Trace Golf Club in Rochester. The success of the pair spearheaded the state’s building boom.
• The construction of the par-3 Strategic Fox, a new breed of executive courses created to help grow the game among juniors and women, helped Fox Hills win National Golf Course of the Year honors in 2002 from the National Golf Course Owners Association and the state’s course of the year in 2001 and 2002 from the Michigan Golf Course Owners Association.
• Fox Hills’ commitment to the environment earned the prestigious “Certified Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary” by the International Audubon Program in 1996, becoming among the first 40 in America (and third in Michigan) to achieve this award. The Audubon status continues today with a review done every two years.

But what struck me during my first visit in years last week was its versatility. I've written about this before, but it was great to see the facility come to life before my own eyes. I saw the stereotypical country club types – guys with the logo shirts carrying big-headed drivers – enjoying the Golden Fox during an outing. I witnessed women and seniors tackling the easier, but no less fun, Strategic Fox and finishing all 18 holes in less than three hours. What a cool concept!

And then, on the 27 holes of the classic Fox with 18 holes that date to 1921, there were golfers of all shapes and abilities and attire. And that’s the ultimate storyline of Fox Hills. There’s something for everyone.

The junior program is thriving with 700 children taking advantage of the Strategic Fox and its separate clubhouse and driving range that encompasses the golf school, staffed by a number of excellent teachers. People like Brian Cairns, Jordan Young, Joal Harding, Top50JuniorTour founder Dan Thomas and Eastern Michigan University men’s golf coach Bruce Cunningham make it hum. Aznavorian says the junior program explodes once school gets out in June, so be sure to sign your future Phil Mickelson up early. Programs range from individual lessons to day and weeklong camps.

I’ve never played any of the holes on the Classic Fox, but the Golden Fox is a solid test. The signature hole (and most talked about) is the 396-yard 15th hole, featuring a blind green hidden behind a giant mound.

Playing the Strategic Fox can be fun for all ages. Envision a foursome of buddies reveling in a par-3 shootout for some cash or a family of four enjoying a day of bonding on the course without the stresses of high scores.

Architect Ray Hearn designed big greens, so beginners can experience that “rush of accomplishment” when they hit them in regulation. Seasoned players should hit every green on the front nine – the longest hole is 163 yards – but the course toughens up on the back with two 195-yard and two 171-yard shots.

Hearn says he gets satisfaction every time he sees pictures of the range of customers using his unique creation. “I’m not here to say it is the total answer (for growing the game), but it is part of the answer,” he says. “We get more requests for (building) these kind of facilities (than full courses).”

Monday, May 17, 2010

Boulder Pointe a tasty treat in metro Detroit

It’s been years since I’d tee it up at Boulder Pointe Golf Club & Banquet Center in Oxford.

And unfortunately, by getting older, I can’t always visualize golf courses hole by hole like I used to when I was a young buck with a memory as sharp as a tack.

I knew there were some solid holes at the 27-hole facility off of Telegraph Road 10 miles north of The Palace of Auburn Hills, but I just couldn’t get a grip on how much I liked it. I’d written stories in the past ranking the Conroy/Dewling design among the top 10 public courses in metro Detroit, but just how good is it? That’s what I set out to prove.

Last week’s round rekindled my love affair with the place. It plays firm and fast, just like I love. It has some sweeping terrain and some dynamic elevated tee shots, another favorite of mine. Several of the par-3s are down-right knee-knockers, another thumbs up from me. The water-laced the 197-yard third and the 141-yard fourth, both on the Peaks nine, come to mind.

The Peaks-Dunes combination provides the best 18 holes. The Peaks is my favorite with a unique mix of challenges. The first hole demands a blind wedge shot to a green protected by water in back. A peninsula green on the par-5 third juts out into the water. The short par-4 ninth provides an opportunity at birdie, provided you don’t choke on the wedge shot over a marsh pond like I did. The Dunes has some nice land, but the killer stretch of five par-4s over 400 yards in a row is too repetitive for me. The last of them, the 453-yard seventh, is one of the toughest holes in metro Detroit with a monumental carry over water to approach the green.

An A-list clubhouse completes the amenities of Boulder Pointe, tucked inside a huge residential subdivision. Nowhere on the course, though, did I feel crowded or intimidated about tight quarters. At the spring rate of $40-$50, playing Boulder Pointe is a steal.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Consider Traverse City's Great Wolf Lodge for a fun family golf vacation

Over the past decade, water parks have sprouted up all over Michigan. Even so, the Great Wolf Lodge in Traverse City continues to stand above the competition.

This ultra-cool indoor water park, one of a family scattered nationwide, isn’t known as a golfer’s haven. I’m here to argue otherwise.

It’s a no-brainer for a golf trip/family vacation, a perfect place for guilt-free golf. While you’re off playing a round at any of the area’s great courses, the family you left behind will hardly notice you’re gone. Great Wolf Lodge is a wonderland for children. Throw in a massage at the onsite Elements Spa or some downtime for your significant other to create a great getaway for all.

The lodge in Traverse City sits off a main drag near a Meijer store but its northern woods d├ęcor gives off the vibe of an out-of-the-way escape. You never have to leave to be entertained or fed (the food is high quality with menus for breakfast, lunch and dinner).

Many of the unique suites sleep a family of 4 to 8 people comfortably. The KidKamp suites my family of four stayed in recently featured a main room with a couch, bed, TV and fireplace. The “den” where the children slept was enclosed with a bunk bed, a third bed and another television so we didn’t have to fight over the remote. A kitchenette with a fridge, sink and microwave were convenient additions.

During the spring and fall -- when the weather is good enough for golf, but iffy for the beach -- the constant climate of 84 degrees at the indoor water park seems like a perfect way to spend a day.

You can get wet any way imaginable on the four-story Fort Mackenzie, but the most dramatic way is when the 1,000-gallon bucket on top the play structure dumps its load. The walk-in kiddie pool is perfect for toddlers with a slide and climbing playhouse on a smaller scale. The bigger pool offers leap pads and a giant snake to play on with a separate area for water basketball. The lazy river attracts younger children, while the more adventurous love the speedy waterslides.

The outdoor water park and putt-putt course with animatronics open between Memorial Day and Labor Day.

Since he’s not much of a swimmer, my son probably liked the dryland activities the most, the arcade and an addictive game called Magiquest, an interactive scavenger hunt where players gather pixie dust and slay dragons. It’s great fun for the crowd ages 7-14.

At Christmas time, the “Snowland” festivities celebrate the holidays in style. It really snows three times a day inside the polar-themed lobby, thanks to snow-making machines hidden in the rafters. My two children loved that they could decorate Christmas cookies and send letters to Santa.

As for the golf, Traverse City is loaded with great courses … the three at the Grand Traverse Resort & Spa are the headliners. The Bear is celebrating its 25th anniversary. Six more fab courses at A-Ga-Ming Resort and Shanty Creek Resorts are less than 45 minutes away.

Golf and goggles … it doesn’t get much better than that for a family that wants it all on vacation.