Saturday, May 25, 2024

Golf Getaways

Groups tee up for fairway fun at resorts and courses across Michigan.

By Greg Johnson

Golfers celebrating a successful round at Treetops Resort in Gaylord. CREDIT Treetops Resort

Conferences, conventions, meetings, team-building retreats, expos, trade shows, banquets—almost any gathering can blend with golf. And as resort golf has developed and expanded in Michigan over the last 50 years and made the state a leading summer golf destination, courses and resorts have expanded their facilities and capabilities for hosting such events.

Take Gaylord’s Treetops Resort with its five world-class golf courses. It’s part of the Gaylord Golf Mecca marketing group of 17 golf course members and 21 lodging partners going strong in its 35th year.

As Treetops views it, the idea is to plan your next meeting with a side of adventure. Besides golf, adventures can include rafting, canoeing, and other outdoor activities. Still, a tour of the resort’s two campuses just outside of Gaylord shows that golf is the alpha activity to pair with a planned meeting.

“We have 20,000 square feet of meeting space,” says Barry Owens, Tree- tops’ general manager. “It’s all over the board in terms of taking care of groups of multiple sizes. We have some groups that come in to get business done, and some government groups, and golf clearly isn’t what they come for and (in that event) we mainly work with just some of the individuals who want to make golf part of their stay. Then we have groups that have their meetings and then have their big golf outings or events, too.”

Owens describes a fraternal group that came to Treetops over the Fourth of July weekend earlier this summer. “That included in the neighborhood of 350 people having meetings, some brought their families, they played golf, they took advantage of the spa, they spent time together at the pools, they went hiking or biking,” he says. “It worked for everybody in that group, and it works for groups of all types because that’s what we are set up to do.”

Larry Mack, a Detroit native now living in Florida, has been leading a golf group fittingly called “The Ragtag” to northern Lower Michigan on golf trips for 46 years. The last 23 have been to Treetops.

It started as a social outing for friends from Michigan State University who had played softball and golf together. As other professionals joined in, business networking became part of it. There’s always a large banquet, and Mack even holds a charitable raffle.

“It has what we need for what we have become,” he says. “Over the years we have talked with firefighters, large corporate groups—so many different people there at the same time as us. It works for them, too.”

The ninth hole at The Retreat Manistee National Golf & Resort’s course CREDIT Manistee National Golf & Resort

Leading the Way
Also in northern Lower Michigan, Boyne Resorts is often credited for jumpstarting the golf resort industry in Michigan when founder Everett Kircher wanted to keep winter ski resort workers employed year-round and added golf courses to his ski hills. Boyne operates three properties: Boyne Mountain Resort in Boyne Falls, The Highlands in Harbor Springs, and Inn at Bay Harbor near Petoskey—with 10 golf courses among them.

There are also myriad meeting facilities from smaller spaces to large ballrooms. Groups of 500 or more can be accommodated, with many groups playing golf simultaneously as they spread out to the various courses.

indoor and outdoor areas offer opportunities for groups of all sizes to meet at Crystal Mountain. CREDIT Crystal Mountain

“We work very hard to meet the needs of groups and balance that with golfers who are vacationing or just coming up to play golf for a few days,” says Ken Griffin, Boyne director of golf sales and marketing. “We have group sales and convention services to help groups. … We also have team members who specially oversee golf events, like tournaments, charity events, and others. It takes some planning, a lot of communication and work, but it’s what we do. We want them to have the best meeting experience, and if they play golf, the best golf experience they can have.”

With three championship golf courses, Grand Traverse Resort and Spa near Traverse City hosted the Hall Financial Michigan Open Championship in June of this year. That was the same week it presented a National Cherry Festival committee outing and an excursion for a resort group.

“We make sure the other outings and groups feel they are getting attention and that we care about them being there and having a great time playing golf,” says Tom McGee, director of golf. “The number of rounds attached to meetings groups is a small percentage of our overall rounds because we are heavy on rounds of the social group type, but they are important to us, and the resort has a staff person dedicated to contacting the groups regarding golf opportunities.”

He continues, “Groups that come for conferences and meetings book well ahead— sometimes years ahead—and they are a big part of what we do as a resort. … We have some golf on the books well through 2025 now for those kinds of groups.”

Likewise, the Eagle Eye and Hawk Hollow properties in Bath, just outside of East Lansing, seamlessly hosted the Michigan Amateur Championship in 2022 with 156 golfers over five days on the Hawk Hollow course while still holding outings, golf leagues, and more on the Eagle Eye course. Eagle Eye Golf & Banquet Center has seven banquet rooms and can accommodate meetings and trade shows up to 500 guests.

Meet & Play
Crystal Mountain in Thompsonville finds those who come for meetings often bring their families along, which means other activities at the resort become part of the booking as well as golf.

“Golf is a big draw, and it’s all part of having a lot of activities for guests. The lodging and the restaurants are right here, and the water park and the spa are nearby,” says Manager of Public Relations Brittney Buti. “When they bring their families, it turns into a mini vacation or long weekend, and we build some of those activities right into the itinerary for them. We get a lot of groups that will come, have a meeting, then play 18 holes. It’s very common in the summer.”

Stunning views come with a round of golf at Arcadia Bluffs near Frankfort. CREDIT Arcadia Bluffs

Pohlcat near Mount Pleasant offers reception seating for up to 300 people in a newly renovated banquet facility, as well as a large tent outside as an option for groups. The golf course was designed by former PGA Tour standout Dan Pohl, a Mount Pleasant native who is involved in ownership and as an instructor.

About 90 minutes north of Roscommon, Forest Dunes Golf Club markets its golf courses designed by Tom Weiskopf and Tom Soak as national destinations. Forest Dunes also offers banquet and meeting facilities, and high-end lodging.

A little farther north, Garland Lodge & Golf Resort in Lewiston has four golf courses and meeting space with banquet seating for up to 250 people, as well as other areas to manage groups of many sizes.

To the southwest on the Lake Michigan coast, Manistee National Golf & Resort in Manistee, home to two gold courses and a 42-room inn, can accommodate events up to 225 people.

Downstate near Detroit, Saint John’s Resort in Plymouth announced in late 2021 that award-winning Raymond Hearn Golf Course Designs, a Holland-based firm, is creating a new 18-hole golf course (The Cardinal), a seven-hole par-3 course (The Little Cardinal), and a unique 18-hole putting course (The Greens at St. John’s). “The Cardinal golf course … will have classic lines created by the best of modern construction methods,” Hearn says. “The goal is for golfers to finish playing and realize they have used all their skills, all their clubs, and enjoyed all the things golf provides—challenge, excitement, fun.”

The project is part of expansions and renovations that include a new 15,000 square foot, indoor-outdoor ballroom and 6,200 square-foot outdoor garden pavilion. It’s all designed to elevate the property to the next level as a destination for golfers as well as corporate events, conferences, and meetings, says Paul Wegert, CEO of Boutique Hotel Professionals and managing director of Saint John’s Resort. The new golf course should open in fall 2023.

Arcadia Bluffs near Frankfort offers Thee Bluffs Course, resembling a seaside links course with views of Lake Michigan, and The South Course, described as a tribute to a bygone era in golf course design. Private event spaces can accommodate groups of up to 90, with full audiovisual capabilities.