(Written by Jim Allen) … There are road trips, and then there are … ROAD TRIPS! Golfest 2008 – “The Great Lakes Tour” would rate of the “ROAD TRIP-SQUARED” variety, setting a new group record by tallying up 877 miles on our odometers as we toured what seemed to be … the entire state of Michigan. The kind of freeway bound adventure where you’re in the vehicle so long that the jokes and the B.S. gets deeper than the garbage on the floor. While most people recognize the state for cities such as Detroit or Lansing, we had the luxury of touring backwoods places called Stanwood, Onaway, Clarkston, East Tawas, Oscoda and Bay Harbor. The population of all of those towns combined barely nips at 100,000 people …, and that may include livestock. And on this week during May, we added 14 more to that number.
However, what rural Michigan lacks in population, it makes up with some pretty nice golf courses. Seven ranked courses on Golf Digests coveted top 100 list to be exact, including six in the top 50.
With our new GolfestOnline.com website to update on a daily basis, the Great Lakes Tour featured lap tops to keep everyone informed. So based on that, our Golfest 2008 review is an expansion of our daily journal entries, most of which were posted at 70 miles per hour using a wireless card. …
5/15/08 – It’s a travel day as our group journeys in from California, Nevada, Oregon, Arizona, Utah, and Indiana. Surprisingly, everyone arrives within two hours of each other. A local restaurant called MAD JACKS STEAKHOUSE serves as ground zero. High-fives are the norm, since many of us have not seen each other since our last trip. Due to a variety of reasons … bad weather, work, new babies, and even more lousy weather, all of us have been counting down the days to this trip like a five-year old to Christmas. Some are celebrating more than others, and a few have a serious head start in the drinking department!
Our group is starving, especially the contingent that flew in on Southwest and had to survive on two miniscule bags of peanuts. We literally take over the MAD JACKS bar and order dinner. The food is good and is wolfed down with a take no prisoners attitude.
Spanky Hayes decibel rating is increasing by the minute and he is the first to get cut off by the bartender. A hour or so later, we head up the road a couple of blocks to the Comfort Suites where some rooms are louder than others. The last thing some of us hear before going to sleep is the sound of the glass breaking on the fire extinguisher. Let the games begin!
5/16/08 – Shepherds Hollow Golf Club (27-holes) – 43rd ranked – Clarkston, MI – We kicked off our tour with 27 great golf holes at Shepherds Hollow Golf Course. Many of the locals looked at us like we were crazy when we showed up in shorts — but that is what we do.
I am proud to announce that Golfest 2008 is off to a great start. This place definitely lived up to its top 100 rating as it cut up, down and through the rolling hills and forest in Clarkston. Even better, the weather is cooperating, with temperatures rising by the minute … eventually hitting 70 degrees. The low round of the day was racked up by Craig Decker who posted back to back 41’s.
The scrambles tournament turned out to be a great change of pace, and a display of who could play the best hurt. Spanky was in the process of earning a Purple Heart, due to what can best be described as an acute case of alcohol poisoning. He was hurting badly, as we witnessed back at the hotel, when he either fertilized or killed a bush with his stomach contents. He also added a new definition to the words “bag drop” at the course, when his body purged in that area also. His final scorecard stated that he played four holes of golf and 23-holes of nap in Jim Dee’s Trailblazer. Rickey Berger and Joe Arellanes were also sweating at 80-proof levels.
Mike Werner is struggling, on all fronts, but we can’t figure out why. He has been complaining of having something stuck in his throat after last night’s two-bite dinner. We thought he was joking. Then again, according to roommate Jeffrey Adkins, he barely slept at all last night. Today, he is getting dehydrated because he can’t even swallow water. Two swallows down, and two swallows came right make up. Mike suggests that it would be in his best interest to go to a local hospital. We agree. Our scramble tournament field gets reshuffled as Jeffrey plays the role of the ambulance driver.
Two teams tied in the best ball tournament at 2-under par, forcing a team putt-off for the prize money. The putt-off proved that even the most predictable things … are well … totally unpredictable. The team of Mark Suzda, Craig Decker, Jim Dee, and Art Taylorshould have won easily.
However, one of those players, who would prefer to remain nameless so none of his fellow firefighters will recognize him in Roseville, CA, ended up pulling off a five-putt, including an astonishing four putts from two-feet. It was unbelievable to watch as the $200 purse dropped into the hands of Bob Potts, Mark Pickering, Jim Allen and Kasey Scheidenlein. It was like taking candy from a baby. Poor Art! We are surprised he didn’t snap his putter over his knee, even though some of his teammates suggested that he do so. It was a moment in golf infamy, the stuff that legends are made of.
If there was an award for the shot of the day, Mr. Potts would have earned it. He two-hopped his Titliest into the hole from 80 yards out for an eagle on a par-five.
We’re now off on a 150-mile drive to … oh yah … hold on … hold on … we need a Mike Werner update. The hospital ran some test and discovered that he had two pieces of meat wedged in his esophagus. They ended up putting him under and pumped out the renegade filet migeon from his throat. Up to this point, the worst injuries we’ve ever experienced on a Golfest trip were a few blisters and bruises at Bandon Dunes. But seriously, the doc said he could have died in his sleep, because the meat could have blocked his airway. Now we know why they called the place MAD JACKS steakhouse. Next time he is ordering lobster bisque.
We spend the night at the condos at Lakewood Shores Resort, which are really hard to find when it’s pitch black outside. Apparently, the residents of Michigan don’t believe in street lights. Mike is now fully hydrated and sleeping like a baby … one that snores like a Peterbuilt idling at a truck stop. So is Spanky.
5/17/08 – Lakewood Shores Resort – Gailes – 47th ranked – Oscoda, MI – We quickly find out that the Lakewood Shores- Gailes course is one of those Scottish links style courses that is supposed to resemble the real deal across the pond. On this morning, we truly end up with a true to life experience, because it’s cold and windy just like in Scotland. It’s 44 degrees and the wind is howling at 15-miles per hour off of Lake Huron. Most of us appeared in the parking lot this morning wearing shorts, but quickly returned in search of pants. We also discovered that Jeffrey Adkins didn’t pack a single pair of long pants. The only reason I know that is because he is the only one not wearing any.
As far as the course goes, the fairways are pretty wide, the gorse is thick, the cavernous sod bunkers are deep, and it’s really helpful to know the location of the creeks before you hit your shot. Considering that this Scotland-clone is in the Michigan makes it that much more unique.
By the luck of the draw, the group in front of us is playing from the back tees, but should be playing from the Ladies. We watched impatiently as every member takes three practice swings, and then rockets their ball sideways into the junk. The putting is even slower, causing us to impatiently glance at our watches on a frequent basis. We have a 45-minute drive to get to our second venue of the day — Red Hawk. We are supposed to have a two-hour window, but now it’s down to less than an hour.
Bob Potts, who is dressed more for snowmobiling than golf, knocked it around Gailes in just 83 strokes, which represents a great outing, considering that trouble was abundant at every turn. Mark Suzda had a respectable 84 on his card. Rickey Berger, who is still trying to fully recover from knee surgery is hurting, his steps short and deliberate.
We arrive at Red Hawk with just 10-minutes to spare because even our GPS systems are having a hard time navigating the back roads of Michigan. … “WARNING … you have reached an off-road condition.” The good news is that we don’t need any warm ups.
5/17 – Red Hawk Golf Course – 66th ranked – East Tawas, MI – By the time we arrive, the wind has stopped and it’s about 10 degrees warmer. YES … that’s what I’m talking about!!! Although Red Hawk was allegedly the lowest rated course on this trip (66th), it deserves an equal ranking with its Michigan counterparts. After driving for miles on what seemed like flat farm land, this is one hilly course. It’s an Arthur Hill designed number that wraps itself through numerous elevation changes. The par-3 third hole is awesome as it drops more than 60-feet from the tee to the green. It’s being added to our “killer par-3” list.
Skins and Wolf were the games of the day and all were lively. Speaking of animals, this course should be registered as a wildlife sanctuary since ducks, geese, fox, raccoons, and deer roam the grounds like they own it. And I guess … technically … they do! It was great afternoon until the clouds broke loose with three or four holes of rain. But it cleared up just as quickly. Hey, who pissed off Mother Nature? Is this a test or something?
We ate dinner in the clubhouse before returning to our Lakewood Shores condos. Mike received 13 offers to cut his food for him. He suggests that we all jump in one of the lakes at the course. Our group is already beginning to tire after playing 63-holes of golf in the past 36-hours. Most of us struggled to stay awake to watch the NASCAR All-Star Race. The ear plugs are in.
5/18 – Black Lake Golf Club – 25th ranked – Onaway, MI – There is nothing worse on a golf trip than waking up to the sound of rain. This isn’t supposed to be happening! Golfest 2008 was intentionally scheduled a week later than normal to minimize the chances of bad weather. According to the Weather Channel, it was 72 degrees last week. Today it’s raining!
Breakfast was followed by a 100-mile jaunt north to the United Auto Workers (UAW) owned Black Lake Golf Club I have never seen so many barns in my entire life. We discover that Black Lake is in the middle of nowhere – literally. Our GPS systems are even having “issues.” … Man, is it cold! The good news is that it stopped raining, but the skies still look very threatening. “Hey Jeffrey …, want to buy a pair of pants for $300?”
Our four vehicles double the amount of cars in the parking lot. I am not sure if that is a good sign? When we inquire if we are the only people dumb enough to golf when its 45 degrees outside, the Pro Shop personnel inform us they only fill 20% of their tee times. Black Lake truly does have “middle of nowhere” syndrome.
The nearest population-base is 45 minutes away and they are in desperate need of an on-site hotel to make it a golf destination, rather than a rest stop. In fact, if you’ve got $8M lying around, this place could be yours. Then make sure you call Tom Bodett. I heard he has some hook-ups with a hotel chain.
It’s obvious that Black Lake takes pride in their top 100 ranking. They have a Golf Digest pegboard and a variety of framed articles on their course in their clubhouse. Due to the threat of colder weather and the great staff and service, we ring the register big time. Just about everyone bought weather resistant gloves for both hands … plus long sleeve shirts, beanies, and in Mark Suzda’s case … a full-blown winter jacket.
It begins to sprinkle on us we take photographs on the first tee box. Then it stops, then starts a little later, then stops. But it doesn’t really matter, because it’s a sensational track. There is wildlife everywhere!
Just to go on record, so a claim of favortism is not filed, Kasey Scheidenlein and Spanky Hayes did get revenge on the pair of Jim’s (Allen and Dee) for their 2007 Pinehurst spanking. They pummeled us with a rout at Black Lake. …
We are now off on a 50-mile drive to the population-base of Petoskey and Bay Harbor Resort. If this place looks half as good as the brochure, we are in great shape. … As luck would have it, this place rocks as our amenities included three-story-three-bedroom condos right on Lake Michigan. And when I say “right on Lake Michigan,” I mean like 20-feet away.
The resort restaurant can’t seat a group of 14 hungry golfers on short notice. So we quickly go to plan “B” and soon discover that we have some great options at our fingertips. We load up and head to the nearby Odawa Indian Casino. Can you say “all-you-can-eat buffet?” We can and did! After a casino-profit killing multi-plate meal, most of us roamed the casino floor in search of revenue-enhancement opportunities. Mark Suzda & I get enhanced with more than a grand.
5/19/08 – Bay Harbor Golf Club (27-holes) – 35th ranked – Bay Harbor, MI – A huge breakfast was served up at the Bay Harbor Hotel. Most of the conversations center on how hard the wind is gusting off the lake and the projected wind chill factor. The pro shop later informs us that it is 39 degrees and the wind is gusting at about 20 mph. Coincidentally, their classy pro shop stocks a nice selection of warm clothes. Hey, does anybody notice that we are the only people here?
On tap are 27-holes of golf, including a scramble tournament this afternoon. We are playing the rated Links-Quarry combo this morning and the views are absolutely awesome. So good in fact that it took some of the sting off of the cold. Three-quarter swings were the norm as all of us were layered up to combat the cold. We quickly formed a strategic alliance with Mary-Jo, the Bay Harbor cart girl. She was tipped well to stay close with warmth enhancing coffee, hot chocolate, bloody Mary’s and Vodka cranberries. She did a great job.
The Links nine was right on Lake Michigan and the Quarry nine was inland. The Quarry is awesome with the fairways cut like your favorite baseball stadium. The longer we played, the warmer it got, and the more money Mary Jo made. The course was kind to some (Decker-85, Hayes-86, and Mike Rittner-87) and downright ruthless on others (Art Taylor-118 and Joe Arellanes-122).
The clubhouse served up a satisfying lunch before our tourney on the Preserve nine. The wind shirts finally had a chance to come off and we absorbed the sun on the tee box like tacky tourists in Maui. The three-nine hole courses at Bay Harbor are all unique and have their own different personality. (Jim Dee describes it best in this course review). Craig Decker, Jeffrey Adkins and Mike Rittner pocketed the tourney money at four-under par.
A round or five of cocktails in the bar afterwards accurately determined that Bay Harbor experience rated as one of our best ever. Jeffrey is feeling no pain. That might have been a good thing, especially when Mark Suzda threw him out of our mini-van for interfering with his driving. Pizza, beer, and NBA basketball are on tap tonight in the Cottages. Jeffrey slept right threw it all. 118 holes down — 36 to go. We have a 115 mile drive tomorrow morning to get to …
5/20/08 – Arcadia Bluffs Golf Course – 10th ranked – Arcadia, MI – We are headed to the 10th ranked golf course in the nation. If everything works out correctly, we have it timed to arrive with an hour to spare. After dropping our bags, the pro shop informs us that our tee times were changed and that we are expected on the first tee box in eight minutes – non-negotiable – take it or leave it. What? That’s not good. Our group got separated on the back roads and we have only four golfers at the course. The cell phones begin dialing in search of our next group due on the box in only 18-minutes. As it turns out, this was a sign of things to come, because this turned out to be the most disappointing stop of the Golfest 2008 tour. In fact, it was the worst day we had ever experienced on any of our five Golfest adventures.
It was horrible from the start. Let’s start off with a grueling marathon round that dragged on for just ten minutes shy of six-hours. This surprised us in a big way because the starter spent a few minutes lecturing us that Arcadia Bluffs does not tolerate slow play (coincidentally, neither do we!)
Worse yet, the course marshal, who we only saw once all day, didn’t seem to care. His response was a shrug of his shoulders as he drove away, which wasn’t promising since the place was more backed up then a bathroom at a rock concert. It was so bad that at one point, we had three of our groups standing on the same tee box.
We ordered food prior to the turn on their GPS system, only to have our cheeseburgers sit 20-minutes and get cold. The food staff didn’t seem to care either. Another shrug! Then there were the course maintenance workers who harassed Jim Dee, Kasey and Spanky for five consecutive holes. Apparently, the workers didn’t know anything about the common courtesy of turning off their mowers while players putted – five holes in a row. Heck, they shouldn’t have even seen them more than once all day. (Most courses cut their courses in reverse order to eliminate this situation.)
After this golf fiasco ended, I expressed my dismay to the pro shop staff. When I informed the trainee at the counter that our round lasted almost six hours, he disagreed with me. What? Are you kidding me? He said the rounds had been running at four hours and 15-minutes all day long. Apparently, he was smoking crack during his break. I encouraged him do a little math from my 11:50 tee time to the current 5:45 p.m. time that I was standing in front of him. No apology, just another shrug of his shoulders. I sensing a theme here! The manager finally showed up and didn’t seem concerned enough to say “I’m sorry” until prompted to say so. By that time, it was totally insincere.
Rather than spend a lot of our money in the bar and pro shop, we loaded up and left — vowing to never return again. Ironically, stuck under the windshield wiper of the mini-van was a Arcadia Bluffs business card piece of paper. It read, and this is for real, “After experiencing one of the finest views in America, we wanted you to have a clear view home.” Yah right! The only thing I wanted to view was the golf course in our rear view mirror. Considering that our group has a lot of experience with top 100 establishments, ranging from Pebble Beach to Pinehurst, this was our most disappointing experience EVER. Based on the overall experience, none of us would rate it in the top 100, much less the top 10.
Along those lines, our group has made the decision to go out of our way to NOT recommend this place and we will succeed because bad news travels faster than good. So here is our advice: If you have a chance to play Arcadia Bluffs, or get kicked in the groin, take the kick … it will be less painful.
5/21/08 – Tullymore Golf Club – 24th ranked – Stanwood, MI – After driving 105 miles from the course that we will never mention again … we stayed at the nice St. Ives Resort in Stanwood. Dinner was Baby-Back Ribs from Applebee’s and we arrived at 9:30 p.m.
Our tee time at Tullymore was booked for 8:10 a.m. It came as no surprise that we were greeted with our typical bone-chilling, slightly windy 42-degree weather. But at this point, it doesn’t matter, because we were getting pretty good at it. Despite the fact that there is a 15,000 square foot clubhouse under construction on site, this course has been bumped up to number 14 on the Golf Digest list. Based on the service and the course, we can see why. This place rocks!
The course personnel rolled out the red carpet and backed it up with a stellar course. This included everyone from the pro shop staff and the marshals to the friendly staff at the turn. It warmed up about five-holes into the round and proved to be a great morning. This is a very photogenic course that meanders around lakes, creeks, and rolling hills. The club’s ads read, “It’s like Heaven with golf carts.” You know what? … I would be willing to go there when I keel over, assuming it’s a little warmer.
… Reality is setting in quickly because we are running out of holes to play in Golfest 2008. The final hole is a par five dogleg left with a drive over water. As we finished, we gathered on the hill around the green and watched everyone finish their 144th hole of Golfest 2008. Most of us agree that Tullymore is one of the top two courses in Michigan and will land on many of our top ten lists.
After a series of group photos near the front entrance, we convoy another 180-miles to the MGM Grand Casino in Detroit. Awards for the week will be passed out in about 1/2 hour at the Bourbon Steak Restaurant. It’s hard to believe it’s over.
5/22/08 – Travel Day – Our group racked up a hefty $1926 dinner tab at the Bourbon Steak Restaurant last night. The food and the service were excellent. The steaks were thick, the drinks were strong, and the stories were better. Mike Werner has several volunteers ask to cut his steak for him. He’s waving his steak knife in a threatening fashion. “SECURITY TO TABLE FOUR!”
We also did something new on this trip and that was present some Golfest 2008 awards. Craig Decker had the low score of the week; his 82 at Shepards Hollow. Joe Arellanes’es high score prediction on the inbound flight held true as he took the ominous honors with 122 swings, slices, hacks, duffs, and chili-dips at Bay Harbor.
Mike Rittner, who was one of the most consistent golfers all week, earned Low Net with a stellar 68; also at the Hollow. Kasey Scheidenlein, who caught the golf bug in a big way, earned the Most Improved award. In just a year, he had knocked his scores down by at least a dozen strokes.
We had several viable candidates for the inaugural TRIPLE BOGEY AWARD, which was designed to honor a unique (usually disastrous) event on the trip. The runner-ups in a close battle were Spanky Hayes for PUKEFEST, and Art Taylor for FIVE-PUTTFEST. But the award went to Mike Werner for his near death experience with CHOKEFEST. He became the first Golfest golfer to have outpatient surgery performed on him during a trip.
By the way, the MGM Grand Detroit is a nice place! Heck, until this trip, I didn’t even know that gambling was legal in Michigan. It’s like being in a time warp, because the second you pull out of valet parking, you are in the middle of the economically depressed city. Go figure? …
There is no better way to end a road trip then with a good road trip story. Since we didn’t have GPS, our Mark Suzda piloted mini-van decided to follow Craig Decker’s to the airport. According to our Map Quest, this was a simple 21-mile drive. However, rather than programming the Detroit Metropolitan Airport into their device, Joe Arellanes entered the Detroit Metropolitan Fire Department. That led to four U-turns, one river toll booth crossing, two stops for directions and finally, as a last resort, frantic stares into the sky searching for airplanes. One hour and ten minutes later, we completed the 20-minute drive. You don’t see that everyday!
Golfest … Real Golfers … Real Trips … Real Adventures! Until next year … See Ya!
The Bay Harbor Golf Club was voted the Golfest Golf Course of the Year for 2009! Congratulations!