Midwest golfers are a hardy bunch.
If a sunny 45-degree day pops up in January, they'll show up at a snow-free course in droves, some in shorts. The passion for the game runs deep. They know they have to take advantage of every moment to tee it up. Old Man Winter is always lurking.
It's this same passion that inspires Midwest golfers to hop in the car and drive hours in any direction for a golf getaway with their buds. In summer, north, south, east, west. Any direction is fair game. Spring and fall are pretty good options, too, depending on the destination.
We've rounded up a collection of the best road trips in the region for all budgets and tastes. You can find courses from fun $60 munis to bucket-list major championship venues that cost up to $300. With gas prices cheap, now's the time to go!
Michigan's 'Yooper' country
The Upper Peninsula is a rugged landscape of few people. There's actually more golf resorts than people realize: two casino properties, Bay Mills Resort & Casinos (Wild Bluff) in Brimley and Island Resort & Casino in Harris; and a ski resort, Pine Mountain in Iron Mountain, home to TimberStone. Island Resort has been growing steadily the past five years, adding a new course, Sage Run, to complement Sweetgrass. The gem of the region remains Greywalls at the 36-hole Marquette Golf Club, an adventurous layout through rocks and hills by Mike DeVries.
Minnesota's Iron Range and Brainerd
Northern Minnesota doesn't get the publicity of northern Michigan, but it's equally compelling backwoods golf. Brainerd's top golf resorts - Madden's, Cragun's and Grand View Lodge - surround Gull Lake three hours from the Twin Cities. Further north, Breezy Point Resort offers up perhaps the best local course, Deacon's Lodge, one of Arnold Palmer's most memorable designs. The more remote Iron Range is worth the drive to discover a trio of scenic Jeff Brauer designs: the Quarry course and Legend course at Giant's Ridge in Biwabik and the Wilderness at Fortune Bay in Tower.
Unsung value, remarkable designs in Southwest Michigan
Grand Rapids, the state's second-largest city, has thriving arts and craft beer scenes. The closest courses worth playing would be The Mines downtown and Pilgrim's Run a half hour north, both worthy DeVries designs. Lining Lake Michigan's shoreline is a collection of tourist towns with fine golf -- St. Joseph/Benton Harbor (Harbor Shores), South Haven (HawksHead), Saugatuck (The Ravines), Holland (Macatawa) and Grand Haven (which debuts the new American Dunes by Jack Nicklaus this summer).
If you're tired of driving, park and play at Gull Lake View Golf Club & Resort in Augusta near Kalamazoo. Six courses - ranging from the classic Bedford Valley to the new-old linksy Stoatin Brae - will keep everybody busy.
Michigan's Cherry Capital and golf on the bluffs
Traverse City's proximity to Grand Traverse Bay and blossoming foodie and craft beer scene have made it the chic summer hang in the Midwest. With 54 holes on-site and a casino down the road, the Grand Traverse Resort & Spa in Acme offers a perfect home base for golfers. Now with an on-site lodge and additional 18-hole course, Arcadia Bluffs has matured into an elegant retreat on Lake Michigan 50 miles southwest of Traverse City.
Don't forget the family-friendly 36-hole Crystal Mountain in Thompsonville or The Homestead (including Arnold Palmer's Manitou Passage) in charming Glen Arbor right on the Lake Michigan near the famous Sleeping Bear Dunes.
Pick your game in Boyne Country
Boyne Country consists of three golf resorts owned by Boyne Resorts - Boyne Highlands, Boyne Mountain and Bay Harbor - and two charming Lake Michigan beach towns, Petoskey and Harbor Springs. Combined, that's eight courses for your golfing pleasure. The 36-hole Boyne Mountain's strengths are its indoor water park (Avalanche Bay) and proximity to beautiful little Deer Lake. Boyne Highlands attracts diehard golfers with four courses on-site. The debate about which layout is the best, The Heather or The Arthur Hills course - never ends. The elegance of the Inn at Bay Harbor and its stunning lakefront 27-hole Bay Harbor Golf Club take any vacation up a notch.
North-central Michigan: Forest Dunes and Gaylord
Although the Great Lakes are a draw, golfers don't need them to find nice courses. Both Forest Dunes and the Gaylord Golf Mecca, a collection of 20 courses and 20 lodging properties, are located in the heart of Michigan just off of Interstate-75. The 81-hole Treetops Resort anchors the group. Forest Dunes in Roscommon is more remote, hidden in the Huron-Manistee National Forest. Tom Doak's reversible course, The Loop, can be walked with a caddie or ridden in a cart. Many favor the original Tom Weiskopf course. A ten-hole par 3 course by Riley Johns and Keith Rhebb will debut this summer.
Tiger joins the Ozarks
It's probably too long of a hike for Detroiters, but Chicago and Indianapolis residents regularly trek the eight hours south to Missouri's outback destinations of the Lake of the Ozarks and Branson. Central Missouri's Lake of the Ozarks Golf Trail includes 13 courses and eight lodging properties. An 84-room lodge and Tom Weiskopf course make Old Kinderhook Golf Resort a favorite. Johnny Morris, the founder of Bass Pro Shops, has built Big Cedar Lodge up from nothing but wilderness. His new Payne's Valley course by Tiger Woods gives the resort five diverse courses worth playing. That is if you can break away from the fishing, Fun Mountain or shooting academy.
Milwaukee fun and Destination Kohler
If all goes according to plan, the 2020 Ryder Cup will shine a bright spotlight on Whistling Straits and the American Club, the Midwest's only five-star golf resort. With four Pete Dye courses, Kohler is where serious players get their games on, then retreat to the award-winning spa. Within a 50-mile radius of downtown Milwaukee, you can head north to Palmer's The Bog in Saukville and super-munis Brown Deer Park and Washington County, west to 2017 U.S. Open host Erin Hills or south to Lake Geneva (home to the 54-hole Geneva National and 36-home Grand Geneva). There's architectural variety galore.
Back to school in Central Wisconsin
Don't let the surrounding farmland fool you. A central Wisconsin loop starting in Madison can turn into one of the coolest golf trails north of Alabama. Begin your education at University Ridge, the University of Wisconsin's home course that happens to host the PGA Tour Champions. Head north to the Wisconsin Dells for rounds at the 27-hole Trappers Turn and Wild Rock. Keep truckin' north to the Midwest's hottest new resort, the 49-hole Sand Valley Golf Resort. Mammoth Dunes by David McLay Kidd might be the most enjoyable round you play all summer. Thirty more miles north, SentryWorld in Stevens Point is building its own boutique hotel to serve corporate guests and golfers who want to play the "Flower Hole", a par 3 surrounded by 36,000 colorful flowers. The longest drive of the trip, 75 miles southeast, is worth it to discover the Golf Courses of Lawsonia in tiny Green Lake. The William Langford and Theodore J. Moreau Links course lives up to its name with back-to-back blind tee shots to start. The Woodlands, cut through hills and trees, adds contrast.
Canada: Toronto and Muskoka Cottage Country
Once border travel restrictions are lifted, Michiganders with passports can head north to Canada. Oodles of courses encircle Canada's largest city, too many to list. The best golf for the general public, however, is in Muskoka, which is cottage and lake country several hours north of the city. The courses cut from the rocky Canadian Shield are beautiful but demanding. The Rock, Muskoka Bay, Highlands at Deerhurst Resort and Bigwin Island (private in the summer with limited public times in spring and fall) are a terrific foursome with other more wallet-friendly options available. It's also worth noting that Canada provides a nice shortcut to golf around Niagara Falls.