GAYLORD, Mich. -- With 17 courses in the Gaylord Golf Mecca, getting a good deal is never a concern in this Bavarian-themed town in the heart of northern Michigan.
There are price points in all ranges. The splurge comes by playing any of the four championship courses at Treetops Resort, the place that put Gaylord on the map with the opening of The Masterpiece by Robert Trent Jones Sr. in 1986. As long as you don't blow your budget at Treetops, a three-day golf trip spending $200 or less on green fees can be done even in high season. Summer days stay light past 10 p.m., so twilight rounds will stretch your dollar even further.
Start your trip on the fringes of town at Black Bear Golf Club in Vanderbilt. It's built with a mix of wide-open and wooded holes on some gently moving land. Its $49 summer rate during the week (or $35 twilight fee) will make up for the time and gas money it took to get there. There's also a bonus par-3 hole to use as a warm-up before the round or to settle bets afterward. If you want to stay closer to town, play the Pines at Michaywe, a straightforward but fun track by Don Childs, for $54 midweek or a mere $34 after 3 p.m. weekdays.
The budget can still afford a 36-hole golf-a-thon the second day if you stay away from the more heralded tracks such as Black Lake Golf Club ($60-$75, $40-$50 twilight) in Onaway. A morning round at Gaylord Country Club will cost $49 midweek. Its pride and joy are some of the area's best greens. The routing has just enough challenge to be interesting. If you're not too tired, take on one of Gaylord's toughest tests, the Black Forest Course at Wilderness Valley. The Tom Doak design can be had for $45 after 3 p.m., almost half off of its prime-time rate of $75. The setting, well off the beaten path, sets the stage for a round of solitude in the northern woods.
For those who secured a twilight tee time the first day still have enough cash left for a twilight date with The Tribute at the Otsego Club (a $65 round after 3 p.m.). Thrills come from hitting shots up and down some appealing terrain unspoiled by civilization. Trees are the only witnesses to your journey.
Others who spent less wisely will have to settle for The Loon, where a weekday rate runs $49 or a weekend twilight rate after 2 p.m. costs $50. Don't get me wrong: The 6,677-yard course, altered in recent years by instructor Butch Harmon, delivers a good golf experience. It just doesn't have topsy-turvy land golfers expect from northern Michigan.
Mixing and matching other choices, if you don't like any of these courses, is simple. The Elk Ridge Golf Course in Atlanta might be a bit of a drive, but at $50 Monday thru Thursday, that's a super deal. Marsh Ridge ($45-$55, $35 after 3 p.m.) has a few quirky holes on a short, tight layout, but it's still a treat to play. In Gaylord, the choices seem endless.