A summer golf mecca like no other: The 10 best golf courses of Gaylord, Michigan

For sheer convenience and depth of quality courses, no summer golf destination beats the Gaylord Golf Mecca in northern Michigan. The marketing alliance, which celebrated its 25th year in 2012, is comprised of 17 courses and 20 lodging options.

Most of its courses reside right in Gaylord, a golf hub unlike any other in the Midwest. Every course at Treetops Resort is so good that I easily could have included all five on this list of the 10 best golf courses in Gaylord . For the sake of variety, I didn't (with apologies to the four-and-a-half-star Tradition Course ).

Drum roll, please ...

When RTJ Sr. stared out across the Pigeon River Valley from the elevated sixth tee of his Masterpiece Course, the name Treetops was born. His 7,007-yard course, a brawny challenge that opened in 1986, spearheaded the course construction boom in northern Michigan. It's still one of best.

Smith, the managing partner at Treetops, might have gone a little overboard on elevated tees. You won't hear me complain, though. The more the merrier, in my opinion. The 13 elevated tees on the 6,653-yard, par-70 course bolster a golfer's confidence and add to its overall aesthetics.

Architect Rick Robbins and former pro Gary Koch used a sprawling canvas, some 1,100 acres in the Sturgeon River valley, to paint their 7,347-yard Picasso. Of all its elevated tee boxes, the most spectacular comes early in the round. The par-4 third hole offers views that stretch for 30 miles.

Only one hole on the Premier Course at Treetops, no. 11, holds water. Other troublesome obstacles -- bunkers, false fronts and hilly lies -- engage golfers on their journey through the only Fazio course in the entire state. This 6,832-yard gem tends to get overlooked the most among Treetop's talented lineup.

Normally I'm not a fan of nine-hole executive courses. Threetops isn't the average par 3, however. Smith's unique routing created in 1992 hosted a made-for-TV shootout for seven years, providing some memorable highlights. Lee Trevino sank a million-dollar ace on the seventh hole in 2001. No. 3, a 219-yard hole called "Devil's Drop," calls for a four-club change in elevation.

The shortest course in town (besides Threetops) checks in at 6,231 yards. It's more about course management than golfing muscle at the par-71 Marsh Ridge Golf Course. Two monster par 5s longer than 570 yards -- no. 3 and no. 15 -- are its two hardest handicap holes. They are offset by two par 5s under 485 yards (holes 11 and 18). Wetlands and ponds haunt four of the five par 3s.

Everybody who plays Michaywe Pines G.C. walks away with a smile. There's nothing tricky or spectacular about Don Child's design, just a fine 7,007-yard public course that's priced right and won't beat anybody up. Golf needs more courses like Michaywe Pines.

Black Forest Golf Club, one of Tom Doak's earliest efforts dating to 1992, might be the toughest to score upon, an oddity considering how the Traverse City resident champions playability for the average Joe. Rumors of Doak returning for some tweaks have been raging for years, although nothing's come to fruition.

This semiprivate country club, established in 1924, moved to its current location in 1975. The 6,497-yard golf course at Gaylord Country Club doesn't play long. There's still plenty of intrigue thanks to rolling fairways and fast greens.

Famous instructor Butch Harmon put his stamp on the 6,677-yard course at The Loon Golf Resort by revamping a couple of holes in 2011. The 14th hole, at one time a perplexing short par 4, now plays as a stout 212-yard par 3. A back tee added to the tough par-4 eighth hole stretched it into a more manageable 491-yard par 5. Recent upgrades have reshaped bunkers, removed others and added trees.

Jason Scott Deegan has reviewed more than 700 courses and golf destinations for some of the industry's biggest publications. His work has been honored by the Golf Writer's Association of America and the Michigan Press Association. Follow him on Twitter at @WorldGolfer.
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A summer golf mecca like no other: The 10 best golf courses of Gaylord, Michigan
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