or a true taste of Petoskey, step inside the Back Lot, an outdoor beer garden and communal gathering space downtown where a wild mix of aromas wafts from the windows of at least a half dozen food trucks. Fish-and-chip platters piled high with fried Great Lakes walleye battle for supremacy in the garden against smoked-potato tacos, Greek-seasoned French fries served with spicy feta-cheese garlic dip, and Hippy Chicken Phillies—adventurous spinoffs of the cheesesteak featuring shredded chicken, dried cherries, red onion, goat cheese and a balsamic glaze.
The Back Lot seemingly has something for everyone, which is an apt description for Petoskey itself—so long as your interests skew toward the outdoors. The Northern Michigan city is home to fewer than 7,000 people, and yet it boasts more than 1,300 acres of parkland and eight miles of Lake Michigan shoreline. The greater Petoskey area also features more than 160 ski runs and 60 miles of Nordic trails. Once spring begins to bloom, however, the slopes and paths give way to about two dozen golf courses, all within a 30-minute drive of downtown Petoskey.
With its windswept coastline, fescue-covered dunes and hilly terrain, the Petoskey area seems custom made for golf. The inevitable comparisons with Scotland extend to the friendliness of the local residents. “Whether they grew up here or whether they made the decision to chuck corporate life to live in Northern Michigan, the people here are very genuine,” says Ken Griffin, director of golf sales and marketing for Boyne Golf, which operates 10 of the region’s courses as part of Boyne Resorts. “They love living here, and they love sharing that experience with the people who visit.”
Boyne Golf’s roots in the area date to 1955, when Everett Kircher, the owner and developer of the Boyne Mountain Ski Area, built a rudimentary 9-hole course at the resort’s base, where the Mountain Grand Lodge and Spa now resides. Championship-caliber golf arrived about a decade later, when Kircher hired Robert Trent Jones Sr. to carve out a 7,143-yard course through the conifer trees at the base of the ski mountain at the Highlands, a 234-room resort located across Little Traverse Bay. His design, known as the Heather course, is widely credited with sparking the golf boom in Northern Michigan, which eventually led to the region’s claim to be “America’s Summer Golf Capital.”
Today the Heather course serves as the nucleus of the Highlands resort, which is now home to three additional 18-hole layouts. Playing through tight, tree-lined corridors, the Heather is a golfing time capsule, one that reflects a distinctive style of midcentury course architecture. With heavily bunkered green complexes and expansive water hazards that penalize wayward shots on more than half of the par-3s and par-5s, the course is idyllic but demanding. It has also influenced all subsequent Boyne-developed courses. “Every golf course we’ve built since has been measured against the Heather,” explains Bernie Friedrich, the director of golf course renovation and development at Boyne Resorts.
In 1989, Kircher tasked Bill Newcomb and Jim Flick with building a composite re-creation of classic holes designed by Donald Ross. Aptly named the Donald Ross Memorial, the 6,850-yard layout features full-length clones of famous holes at courses including Oakland Hills and Seminole. “We wanted to create holes from places that most golfers may not have the opportunity
to play,” Friedrich says, “so there was a focus on the private clubs.”
Novel at first, the Ross course eventually grew tired and dated. However, modern technology is bringing it back to life—and better than ever—by enhancing the replication process. “Today, through technology, CAD and Google Earth, we are able to gather photos and dimensions to create an even more accurate reproduction of any updates,” Friedrich says. “It is our long-term plan to continue making key renovations to the course and keeping the tradition of Donald Ross alive here at Boyne.”
The last course built at the Highlands, Arthur Hills—named after its designer—opened in 1995 and is home to a signature par-5 that drops 350 feet from tee to green. Featuring a subtle punchbowl green, the 570-yard behemoth, nicknamed Everest, presents eagle opportunities and thrills golfers as they’re all but certain to watch their tee shots hang in the sky for what feels like an eternity.
The inevitable comparisons with Scotland extend to the friendliness of the local residents
About 25 minutes south of downtown Petoskey, near the site of Kircher’s original 9-hole layout, Boyne has two additional courses—Alpine and Monument—that trundle their way down the ski mountain to the shores of Deer Lake. But the jewel of Boyne’s 10 Petoskey-area courses is set along the shores of Lake Michigan, just five miles west of downtown.
Bay Harbor Golf Club features a trio of distinctive 9-hole layouts, built during the late 1990s, that offer three equally idiosyncratic experiences. The two most popular loops, the Quarry and the Links, meander across terrain reflective of their names. Encompassing almost 3,400 yards, the former plays through an old shale quarry marked by 40-foot gorges and stone cliffs. The Links, meanwhile, ventures along towering bluffs and fescue-covered dunes, offering panoramic vistas of Lake Michigan in the process.
The Links loop, perhaps more than any of its counterparts in this quiet corner of Northern Michigan, will have you drawing comparisons with Scotland. After your round, however, if the Back Lot beckons, it won’t be long before a food-truck Philly plants you squarely back in Petoskey.
The jewel of Boyne’s 10 Petoskey-area courses is set along the shores of Lake Michigan, just five miles west of downtown