CEDAR, Mich. -- Near northern Michigan's hotbed of Traverse City, the King's Challenge Golf Course has a second life and a new name: Manitou Passage Golf Club.
The Arnold Palmer Design signature golf course originally opened in 1998. But last year, a new ownership group, led by Bob Kuras, bought it with the intention of enhancing the remote golf course on Michigan's Leelanau Peninsula. Part of the restoration included making up for some pitfalls during the original design period and coming more in step with the Arnold Palmer Design's original plans.
"The (original) ownership never really finished off the plans of Mr. Palmer," said Logan Price, Director of Golf at Manitou Passage. "We reached out to Arnold Palmer Design and made peace with him, and we're very fortunate to have him bless the changes.
"The new ownership has a very clear goal to make Manitou Passage a destination golf course."
Those who played the golf course as King's Challenge a few years back will notice subtle enhancements, not a massive overhaul. It's certainly a more playable course, with some extra room to hit drives. The par-71 layout has five sets of tees, and a little more length was added -- it's now more than 6,700 yards from the black tees.
The tee boxes were all rebuilt and in many cases repositioned or built farther back. Fairways were widened in some landing areas, and the bunkers were redone. In some areas, trees were removed to create more open vistas, while native grasses were planted in others.
Manitou Passage Golf Club's best view, the par-5 eighth, was improved and can easily be considered the golf course's signature hole. Thanks to tree removal and relocation of the cart path, you can see all the way out to the Manitou Passage to the west, a waterway between the Sleeping Bear Dunes and Manitou Islands in Lake Michigan. It's a waterway that has been home to at least 16 shipwrecks as recorded by the Manitou Passage Underwater Preserve, part of the Sleeping Bear Dunes Visitors Bureau.
The golf course plays through beautiful and remote northern Michigan terrain void of residential development. Some holes wind around the now-closed Sugarloaf Ski Resort hills and old chairlifts, which offers a little more old charm -- and also a reminder that Michigan has seen better days economically. Sea gulls fly overhead, reminders that Lake Michigan and the Sleeping Bear Dunes are just a few miles to the west.
Few holes are flat or straight, relying mostly on doglegs and some sharply elevated tees -- which most great northern Michigan courses have. Two of the par 3s, No. 7 and No. 17, are steeply downhill, while doglegs are both subtle and more defined. On the elevated par-4 fourth hole, the tee box was moved over to offer a dogleg less severe than before, making it easier for more players to unload a driver rather than play shorter.
And in course design, finding ways to put the driver in a player's hand more times usually results in a happier golfer.
Manitou Passage Golf Club: The verdict
Not every struggling golf course in Michigan is worth hanging onto, but Manitou Passage Golf Club is a destination course well deserving of a second life. It's certainly worthy of inclusion among northwest Michigan's top 10 plays and offers a daily fee price tag lower than most of the resort courses in the area.
Into an abbreviated first summer season under a new name and new ownership, there are still some growing pains around some tees and fairways. But by next summer, the new turf should be firm and the course ready to contend well against the Traverse City area's other upscale daily fees.
Aside from the golf course itself, the clubhouse was also renovated and has a bar and lunch menu, plus complimentary coffee and pastries in the morning for golfers. A new cart barn was built that can double as a pavilion for special events.
Stay and play around Traverse City at Crystal Mountain Resort
A lot has been going on at Crystal Mountain Resort near Traverse City, which is about a 30-minute drive to Manitou Passage Golf Club. This ski and golf resort has a wide variety of different accommodation options, from lodges to mountaintop condominiums. It's also home to numerous dining options, a nationally ranked golf school and two 18-hole golf courses, including Mountain Ridge. Staying here puts you within striking distance of some of northern Michigan's top-ranked courses such as the Kingsley Club and Arcadia Bluffs Golf Club.