With its undulating greens, beautiful scenery and uncomplicated approach, Belvedere Golf Club is simply a longtime favorite in northern Michigan.
CHARLEVOIX, Mich. -- If a golf course holds 39 Michigan Amateurs, it must have something going for it. And if golf legend Gene Sarazen singled out one of its holes as one of his favorites, it must be special. Those are just two of the reasons why Belvedere Golf Club excels.
As the story goes, former U.S. Open champ and TV commentator Ken Venturi once drove up just to see Belvedere Golf Club upon Sarazen's recommendation. Apparently when asked how he had heard about the course, Venturi replied that Sarazen told him he had to play the 16th hole.
And you do have to play the 16th to understand what Sarazen was talking about. Off the tee, it appears to be an ordinary uphill par 4 with trees down the right side. It's only 350 yards or so, which means a good drive will leave a short iron in your hand. But the elevated green slopes heavily to the right, as does the fairway. Finding the right part of the green is critical, and it's easy to roll the ball off the green.
The 16th is a microcosm of the golf course. Designed by Scotsman Willie Watson, the 6,715-yard, par-72 course opened in 1927. The holes are straightforward with a few bunkers here and there, sloping greens with undulations that could have only been created by 150 men and five teams of horses who made great use of the naturally rolling hillside topography that gives Belvedere Golf Club its unique character.
It isn't long by today's standards, but it isn't a pushover either. The greens see to that. The 18th hole, for example, is 431 yards and the golf course's No. 2 handicap hole. It plays longer than its yardage because it's uphill, and the large green, with its own hills and valleys, makes it even more difficult.
The 18th is the exception, though. Most of the holes take more finesse than brawn. Well placed drives are rewarded with short-iron approaches. The par 5s are generally reachable in two by strong hitters, and the par 3s all give the course character.
Inside Belvedere Golf Club's humble golf shop, Venturi's story is confirmed, both by the staff and the pictures. There, you'll find autographed pictures of Sarazen, Bobby Jones and other great players on the walls. Outside the shop, there's a soda machine, some ice and cups. The food and beverage service comprises canned drinks and a few candy bars inside, the way it's been for years.
Belvedere spent most of its existence as a private club, but it opened to the public for limited play about a decade ago. A national private membership still enjoys privileges and preferred tee times, as well as the historic clubhouse, but the course is there for anyone willing to pay a green fee, which is $79 during peak season.
Belvedere Golf Club: The verdict
Quite simply, this is how golf was meant to be enjoyed. Hit it, find it, and hit it again -- and never be bored.
Belvedere is a golf course that almost always offers the chance for redemption. On a few occasions, you can hit it into the tall fescue or a hazard, but on most holes, this parkland course will give you an opportunity to recover, even if it's from another fairway. You may have to negotiate a large willow to do it, but the opportunities exist.
The sloping bentgrass greens are the course's major defense. Get on the wrong side of the hole, and a three-putt -- possibly even a four-putt -- looms. Those greens also hold your interest, especially on the aforementioned 16th, where any two-putt is followed by a sigh of relief.
Although Belvedere Golf Club is revered by those in the know, it's often overlooked by golfers making the trip to northern Michigan to play clubs such as Bay Harbor Golf Club or Shanty Creek. It shouldn't be. Belvedere is in excellent condition, provides great views, and is fun to play.
Lodging around Belvedere Golf Club
There are plenty of great places to stay near Belvedere Golf Club, including the fairly new Inn at Bay Harbor, a Victorian-style resort on the shores of Lake Michigan.
The Renaissance golf resort, which is located across the water from the Bay Harbor Golf Club, exudes relaxation with its beachside lounges, outdoor chessboard and outdoor dining that provides a front-row seat to some of the best sunsets in the country.
The resort offers suites up to three bedrooms, meeting facilities, a spa and superb dining. There is also the nearby Village of Bay Harbor, which features shopping, quaint eateries and bars as well as a marina with luxury yachts.
Another attractive option is the historic Stafford's Perry Hotel in Petoskey. Opened in 1899, the three-story hotel is a landmark in Petoskey's historic Gaslight District. The Perry Hotel's guest rooms hearken back to the early 1900s but are fully equipped with 21st-century amenities such as Internet access and flat-panel, high-definition TVs.
When you check in, it might take you a little while to find your room on this split-level layout, but that just adds to the charm. Highlights include dining in the H.O. Rose Room, which offers panoramic views of Little Traverse Bay.