Our travel group visited Boyne Highlands Resort in Harbor Springs, MI from July 22 to July 27. Until last year, I never knew of Boyne, but one of our Myrtle Beach golf partners suggested the location was to die for as far as quality golf went, so we decided to mix things up and booked it. Boyne is about as far north as you can go without crossing into the upper peninsula and is on the west coast of the state just north of Little Traverse Bay.
Because of its remote location, travel to the resort is not simple. We priced out flights and flight times from Washington and decided to drive it in two days, with a stop in Ohio. Total driving time was about 11-12 hours. Our playing partners booked flights from Phoenix that connected in Chicago and terminated in Grand Rapids. They drove the remaining 3-4 hours in a rental car. We are thinking of returning next year and will continue to research flight/rental car options.
When you talk to the locals, you quickly learn that Boyne is a split season resort and caters to golfers in summer and skiers in winter. I asked the reception agent about the popularity of the various sports and seasons and learned that ski season brought in about 25% more customers than golf did. Our accommodations had the look and feel of a ski lodge. The unit was in the Heather Highlands Inn and was at the base of the mountain with a ski lift right out back. It consisted of a bedroom, a loft with two queen beds, two full baths, a fireplace, and a pull-out sofa. Perfect for four guys. The resort was running that ski lift and let resort guests ride up and down the mountain for free – which I did. You could just ride up and explore or bring your mountain bikes up and ride down the ski trails.
Boyne is a big resort and employs a large staff. All the employees were super friendly and accommodating. Interesting factoid: I noticed that several of the golf courses had women staffing the bag drops. A little unusual but a welcome site. I was curious so I asked them about their story and found most were working the golf clubs in summer and at the ski resorts in winter, some as instructors. In either case they handled the work with ease, and it was good to see them get the additional job opportunities. Some of the wait staff told me they loved their jobs because they could play as much golf as they wanted for free at any of the Boyne courses. Nice gigs.
The Golf Package
Boyne has 10 courses at multiple sites and I played nine rounds on seven of them over five days. We played on the Great Escape package which ran from Sunday night through Thursday night and extended it an additional two days on the Unlimited Package. The whole shebang included a welcome party on Sunday, full breakfast and dinner daily, unlimited golf every day, an $85 gift card to any of the pro shops, and a $25 casino voucher. They threw in a Wednesday scramble tournament for package players, but we skipped that because we had 36 holes booked every day. Our Arizona guys stayed through Sunday and I played Monday through Friday and left on Saturday. My total package cost was around $1,100 plus gratuities. We were eating filet, rib-eye, lobster tail every night and quality of dinner and breakfast choices was outstanding. With the food, accommodations, and unlimited golf, this was an incredible value.
There were other activities such as zip line, horseback riding, and spa treatments that you can purchase. At the end of the week, I was hurting from all the golf and could have used a spa treatment but passed. Swimming pool, nine-hole natural mini-golf, tennis, fishing, and paddle-boating are also available and are free, and many families were present to take advantage of these amenities.
At the end of the day, we were there to play golf and the list of offerings was impressive. At the resort center, there are four courses. Heather plays out of a clubhouse across the parking lot from the main lodge. A one mile drive gets you to the Donald Ross Golf Center where there are three courses: Arthur Hills, Donald Ross, and Moor, and an extensive practice facility.
14 miles away in Bay Harbor is Crooked Tree where we played twice on Wednesday. And 30 miles to the south in Boyne Falls are Monument and Alpine, that both play out of the same clubhouse. We played both on Thursday.
Normally, I’ll do individual reviews for one or two courses, yet my experience was almost overwhelming playing seven new tracks in such a short period of time. I just wanted to immerse and play rather than capture intricate details on each. So, enjoy some photos and I’ll provide some memories of each course but not a comprehensive review. At a high level, what impressed me most was the variety of layouts and awesome course conditions. Due to the northern climate, all courses play on Bent grass and there was rarely a blade out of place. Each of these courses is a must play but since we are a society of rankings, I’ll note them in my order of preference.
#1 Arthur Hills. I have a bias for this outstanding layout because we played it first and were overwhelmed with its grandiose appearance and perfect conditions. It’s a fabulous course to get your golf vacation started on. No two holes are alike, and they give you ample room to hit your driver. The par-5 #13 is the signature hole. When played from the tips this monster measures 570 yards (see short video) and you need to carry a drive 250 yards (downhill) just to reach the fairway. We played it once from the tips and once two sets up at 516 yards. It was here that we learned we should not be playing this course from the tips.
As mentioned, I played my first and last round and the beast beat me up on the later, but I played it well on day one. We observed ample wildlife as well, with many wild turkeys, and we actually saw deer in the middle of a lake on #17 feasting on aquatic plants.
#2 Donald Ross. This track is a collection of classic holes designed by Donald Ross and is another outstanding conditioned golf course. Admittedly, I’m not a huge fan of rendition type courses and I couldn’t recognize any of the holes we were playing, but the layout and routing was incredible. I was loving the holes I was playing whether the scorecard said, Pinehurst, Oakmont, or something else. Many of the holes had extensive bunkering around the greens and you need to be a solid ball striker to score on this one. My sand game got tested too.
#3 Crooked Tree. This course runs along the south shore of Little Traverse Bay. You enjoy great elevation changes on some of these holes starting with #1 where you have a huge drop on a downhill dogleg right par-4. #2 is a par-3 with a giant hump in a two-tier green. If you miss this one left you can forget about keeping a chip shot on the green with bogey not a bad score.
The par-4 16th is the signature hole and plays 389 from the tips and has tremendous lake views. The tee shot drops down a huge hill and if hit well, can leave you with a flip wedge in, but you can just as easily lose your ball if you’re not straight.
I had my best round here in the morning but ran out of gas in the afternoon which was my 6th round in three days. My ball striking began to falter as I became fatigued, but I was in love with the greens and managed to go around in only 25 putts (10 on the back nine) despite shooting an 11-over 82. Crooked Tree is a great course. My only ding was that the snack bar was small with only about five tables. It got very crowded in there as we were hit by a rain shower between rounds and several golfers came in and packed the place.
#4 Monument. Monument and Alpine play out of the same clubhouse and required the longest road trip from the resort area. The practice area is awesome for a 36 hole facility. They boast a large driving range, full pitching and bunker green, separate chipping green, and another green for putting only. I could definitely spend a full day here working on all aspects of my game.
Both courses start at the top of the ski slope and the cart ride is about a mile up the mountain and takes about 10 minutes. Monument was the toughest of all the courses we played with the front nine weaving its way through the mountain with tight tee shots, elevation changes, dog legs, and incredibly fast / undulating greens. One of my playing partners equated the putting experience to rolling a ball on a Pringles potato chip.
You get hit right out of the chute on #1 with a big downhill dogleg right par-5 with a beautiful approach to a green protected in front by a bunker framed with railroad ties.
Oddly enough, I was the only one in the group that didn’t struggle on the greens and managed to take 29 putts with no three jacks – that’s the good news. Unfortunately, I was playing with some serious pain in my left neck / shoulder area as this was round seven in day four. It prevented me from making a full swing, but on a golf trip and you gotta play through it. Monument chewed me up and spit me out because I could not control my golf ball and I shot 90.
#5 Alpine. We welcomed the warmest temperatures of the golf trip Thursday afternoon as the thermometer hit 80 degrees and after nine Advil, my neck finally loosened up and I played much better on Alpine. Alpine is the sister course of Monument and was a little wider open off the tee and the greens were just as fast but were not as undulating. In the morning, everyone was a little shell shocked from our experience on Monument and found Alpine more playable / more score-able. As it was, I found Monument slightly more scenic. Both were fantastic plays.
#6 Heather. Heather has won several regional and national awards for course of the year. The clubhouse was walking distance from the main lodge and our accommodations. If you feel like taking a few putts on an off day, just stroll over and enjoy.
The pro gave us the preview and set expectations that we would see a lot of doglegs and that if we hit our tee shots at the 150 yard poles, we’d be fine.
Of course, I tried to cut too many of the doglegs in the bend and got in trouble off the tee. The course was in excellent condition and was another enjoyable play, but I learned after playing that I favor holes where you can see the flag from the tee. If I can’t, for some reason, it’s a struggle to concentrate on my tee shots. Along with the collection of doglegs, Heather has a stunning par-4 finishing hole with a forced carry over water.
I was thrilled to flush a 4-iron and carry the beast only to three-putt. Oh well. I got several pictures from the tee and from the lift going down the mountain. When we finished up, I was pleasantly surprised to see the pro come out and assist the bag staff in unloading our clubs. Excellent customers service bonus points there. Finally, the driving range at Heather is a short drive from the clubhouse and plays up the mountain on one of the slopes which I thought was an excellent use of real estate.
#7 Moor. We played Moor on Monday afternoon after Arthur Hills in the morning. The front nine presented tight tee shots with lateral penalty areas in seemingly every landing spot. Conditions on the front were good but not great. The back nine was much stronger and our mood was re-elevated as the quality of layout and conditions improved markedly. I’m not sure of the reason for the change, but I relaxed and played much better on the inward half.
The consistency of course conditions made for some of the best quality golf I’ve ever experienced on a trip. All week I putted exceptionally well on the smooth fast Bent greens. The extensive work I had done in the previous month paid off. My short game was sharp, and I was particularly pleased with my bunker game. It was clear that as the week wore on, I became more fatigued and my ball striking was affected. Woods, irons, and wedges were off after my 5th round. The last four were a struggle and I only played 18 on Friday because the tank had run completely dry. On future trips, I need to find a way to conserve energy over the course of the whole week and that will probably involve only 18 per day in the early rounds. Getting old sucks 😊
Hope you enjoyed the review! Play well.