Gaylord Michigan’s Golf Mecca Championship Courses

Golf Adventure: Playing Nine Courses in Six Short Days

Gaylord Country Club, Gaylord, Michigan

For the past 30+ years, Gaylord (pronounced Gaylurd) has been at the center of the golf scene in Upper Michigan.

Fifteen world-class golf courses joined forces in a cooperative effort to market what Golf Digest and Golf Magazine have ranked one of the best “play and stay” golf destinations in the country. Together, they are known as Gaylord’s Golf Mecca and from early spring through late fall, the fairways are filled with golfers of all skill levels, seeking an extraordinary golf experience. From champions to amateurs, the Golf Mecca has something for everyone.

This month I joined with seven golf reporters in a whirlwind tour of the Mecca, playing golf and staying at some of the regions best venues.

Day 1: Treetops Resort

A short drive north from Interstate 75, nestled among the breathtaking views of northern Michigan, you will find Treetops. With five distinctive golf courses on site, the resort has something special for all golfers, no matter the level of expertise.

  • Premier – a Tom Fazio design with rolling fairways, plenty of doglegs and steep slopes – A fun challenge for most players
  • Signature – named as one of the best golf courses in the Midwest, designed by Rick Smith
  • Masterpiece – the most challenging course at Treetops. Robert Trent Jones Sr. designed this golf course with hazards galore including deep ravines, water hazards, dozens of sand traps and elevation changes on every hole. This course is NOT for the faint of heart.
  • Tradition – Player-friendly, with only a few blind shots making this golf course a good choice for the mid to high handicapper.
  • Threetops – It may be only 9 holes, but with very steep fairways and trouble on all sides, Threetops has been named one of the toughest par-3 courses in the country. You’ll play it once for the experience, and a second time just to get over your first round’s debacle. (NOTE: Do not attempt to play this course in the rain. The cart paths are VERY slippery when wet. It’s easy to lose control and end up in a gulley!!! Don’t believe me? Read Day 3 below.)
The Tradition Golf Course at Treetops Resort
The Tradition Golf Course at Treetops Resort

Our first golf round was played at The Tradition golf course at Treetops Resort. With gentle terrain and short distances from the forward tees to the greens, it was a good choice for the first round of golf of the week. Our foursome only played the front nine as it was late in the day. The course is the most player-friendly of the five courses at the resort, and I’d love to play it again.

Big Buck Brewery Rack of Beer

Next stop: Big Buck Brewery for dinner surrounded by some great Upper Michigan atmosphere. Beer is their specialty. Diners can choose from a wide variety of flavors. Can’t decide? Choose a Rack of 4 to 6 flavors, served in a real rack of horns. Wisely, I followed the suggested pairing of a “Midnight Velvet” brew with my Filet Steak entrée. Delicious!

The Lodge at Treetops – By the end of the day I was ready for a comfortable bed and a restful sleep and found both.

Treetops Resort offers hospitality and meeting spaces for groups in addition to private rooms. Guests at the Lodge can choose from Queen, Queen Deluxe, King and Presidential Suites. Visit the Treetops website for additional accommodations including The Inn, Condos, Jones Cottage and Lodge Chalets. Corporate outing? Wedding? Treetops can handle your special event.

Day 2: The Tribute at Otsego Resort

The Tribute Course at Otsego Resort

Wide fairways and undulating greens make The Tribute at Otsego a challenge. From the tips the course stretches to over 7,000 total yards. I played from the forward tees which came close to 5,000 yards from 1st tee to the 18th green.

The scorecard follows the “Play it Forward” concept giving tee/handicap recommendations for every level of golfer. Playing from the correct tee for my handicap made my round of golf enjoyable.

Golfers at The Tribute at Otsego Resort
Amanda Raymond, Richard Styles of Back9Boys Radio, Ed Stone from Tennessee Golf and that’s me on the right.

We were joined by Otsego’s Sales Specialist, Amanda Raymond, pictured in this selfie. Her job is to make every golfer’s game as enjoyable as possible. Contact Otsego Resort to make your reservation.

After a full day of golf we were all ready for a hearty dinner experience and the Alpine Tavern, one of Gaylord’s award winning restaurants, did not disappoint. I chose the special BBQ Bacon Brisket Burger with a side of onion rings. I know!!! too much and too big to manage. But one of their specialty brews helped wash it down.

Day 3: Threetops & Signature at Treetops

Threetops is rated the Best Par 3 Course in the Country by Golf Advisor and a “must play” if you travel to the Gaylord area. It’s only 9 holes and takes less than a couple of hours to play, but the experience is unforgettable. The course is carved out of the side of a mountain with terrain that is extremely challenging. The bent grass fairways are well maintained but the elevated tees and greens make for a “roller coaster” style round of golf.

It rained the morning we played Threetops, making the steep cart paths a challenge to maneuver. The Starter warned us to take it very slow on the down slopes. It was difficult to drive without sliding on either wet pavement or leaves that had collected across the pathway. At one point it was less terrifying to walk the cart path than drive it.

As the tee boxes were so elevated it was not easy to see the golf course below. At hole #6 my fellow golfer was surprised to discover a large pond as well as sand bunkers surrounding the green. Good thing we looked! In spite of the conditions, we managed to play all nine holes.

Call it one of the most challenging par-3 courses you will ever encounter. Some of the world’s best golfers have been stumped by the unexpected elevations. Which club should you play? The distances from tee box to green are deceiving.

Lee Trevino made a hole-in-one at #7, winning a million dollar prize!

Threetops. Play it once and I guarantee you’ll be hooked and want to try it again.

Day 3 continued: Signature at Treetops

By the afternoon of day 3, the sun had come out and we were all set to play the Rick Smith designed Signature Treetops. I was fortunate to be partnered with Mike Pearson, the pro from nearby Black Lake Golf Club, (see Day 4 for more info about Black Lake) and to participate in the Mecca Challenge, a yearly golf competition between all 15 Mecca golf courses.

Mike kept our momentum going with long drives and I helped out with a few good putts. We didn’t win the competition but I learned a few golf tips along the way and enjoyed one of Michigan’s best golf courses in the bargain. The day ended with dinner and awards at Treetops Vista Room.

Signature Golf Course, Gaylord, MI
View from the forward tees, Signature golf course, Treetops

Day 4: Black Lake Golf Club & Indian River

Black Lake, a Rees Jones course, has won high praise for its environmentally responsible design and the way the course blends with the landscape.

“The holes were here, we just had to find them,” Jones said. “We strive for holes blending with the natural terrain. There is nothing artificial or contrived at Black Lake. We were trying to build an old-style, course,” Jones said. “You’ll notice we don’t have mounds or moguls. We just have sweeps and natural grades.”

With five tee markers the course is set to challenge golfers of all levels. Distances tee to green: the forward tees play from a little over 5,000 yards and 7,030 yards from the tips. A great course for long ball golfers who can easily clock a drive straight down the fairway; more challenging for high handicappers—but the forward tees afford a good advantage.

Golf Digest named Black Lake Golf Club as a top 100 public course in 2013 and one of the top 50 Golf Courses for Women in America.

That same afternoon we played nine holes at Indian River Golf Club. Known as “the Friendliest Club in the North.” With seven tees to choose from, every golfer in our party had a chance for a great round of golf. Designed in the early 1920’s by Pete Henry and Wilfrid Reid, the course was redesigned in 1984 by Warner Bowen to meet today’s demanding standards.

The par-3 9th hole at Indian River.

I played “alternate shots” with one of our group and had a fine time. The course was in excellent shape, and definitely worth a spot on our golf tour.

The day ended with dinner and lodging at the Hilltop Lodge at Otsego Resort. The resort is a popular vacation destination in northern Michigan for both summer and winter sports.

The resort features meticulously groomed, family friendly ski hills, 36-holes of championship golf lead by the Tribute course, which meanders in and around the Sturgeon River Valley, and the parkland style Classic course. In addition, the resort offers a variety of lodging rooms, suites, and condominiums. There are more than 24,000 square feet of meeting space, romantic wedding spaces and the award-winning Duck Blind Grille, a multi-year winner of the Wine Spectator Award of Excellence.

From the resort’s website.

Day 5: The Loon & Michaywé Pines

A full day of golf! 18 holes at each of these great golf clubs.

The Loon has three 18 hole golf courses for 54 holes of golf. You could stay and play for days on end!

View from the 9th Fairway, Loon Golf Course
  • The Loon course features gently rolling fairways, large greens, and scenic views. Known as a “Friendly Championship Golf Experience.” Four sets of tees give both hi and low handicappers a chance for a satisfying round. (Unfortunately, we only had time to play The Loon course. But it would be fun to return and test the remaining two. Something to add to my bucket list!)
  • The Ridge has a woodland trail design and a dramatic landscape.
  • The Lakes combines a links-style layout with traditional parkland.

Michaywé Pines is a classic parkland style golf course. Opened in 1973 as part of a four-season recreational and residential community, the golf course is set among the pines and hardwood forests of northern Michigan. Six sets of tees set the distance tee to green from 5,200 to 7,000 yards. Perfect for both high handicappers and long-ball hitters.

The course was upgraded by Donald Childs in 2004 and consistently receives 4 and 5 star reviews.

Day 6: The Natural at Beaver Creek Resort

Our final day in Gaylord found us at one of “Northern Michigan’s best kept secrets” – The Natural at Beaver Creek Resort.

The resort is located on the west side of Otsego Lake and serves as a special golf destination. The 18 hole championship course was designed by golf architect, Jerry Matthews, with a focus on maintaining the natural environment. The beauty of The Natural “fits” with the coexisting landscape.

Finishing hole at The Natural.

The rolling terrain and surrounding wetlands are home to a wide variety of wildlife. Don’t be surprised if a deer or two crosses your fairway during a round of golf.

Stay and Play at The Natural — a perfect location for your next vacation. With 17 spectacular golf courses within easy driving distance and northern Michigan’s forests surrounding the resort, both golfers and hunters visit and stay at The Natural all year long.

On site log cabins are available for groups, large or small. Contact the resort and ask for the group golf and lodging specialist.

Final Thoughts…

I had heard that northern Michigan had a reputation for good golf, but until I took this media tour I did not realize how rich this area of the country is in great golf! With such a wide variety of challenging courses, Gaylord, Michigan is what they claim — a fabulous Mecca for golfers. Be sure to add it to your bucket list of great places to play.

For more information about America’s Golf Mecca, visit

  2 comments for “Gaylord Michigan’s Golf Mecca Championship Courses

  1. Jeanne Concannon says:

    These courses sound both amazing and challenging. Thank you for sharing them with us. Now to plan my next road trip.

  2. Amanda Raymond says:

    Pat –

    Great article! It was an absolute pleasure getting to know you! I look forward to you visiting Otsego Resort in the future!


    Amanda Raymond

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