DETROIT -- Michigan is golf crazy. It has more courses per capita than any other state. Yet, when most people think of golf in Michigan, northern Michigan or perhaps the Upper Peninsula come to mind. And while those are among the top golf destinations in the country, there's another part of the state, right around the base of the thumb on the mitten, that might surprise you.
Yes, we're talking about the Motor City. It's no secret that Detroit has gone through rough times, and it still has its struggles. But Detroit has plenty of charm and lots of good golf in the area, and the weather in the summer and early fall can be ideal.
Plus, there's a lot to do other than play golf, although with more than 200 courses (half open to the public), you could certainly fill your time on the links.
Adding casinos has been a big factor in Detroit's revitalization. Not only are they helping Detroit retain money that used to escape to the casinos across the Canadian border into Windsor, but with their luxury accommodations, fine dining and gaming, they're also attracting out-of-towners. Outside the casinos, there are more exceptional restaurants and other entertainment options, too.
Start with Arthur Hills' Shepherd's Hollow
Local architect Arthur Hills certainly has his fans and detractors, but Shepherd's Hollow in Clarkston just north of Detroit is one of his best designs. It's 27 holes of adventure on a very well maintained golf course that meanders up and down hills with a smattering of elevated tees, raised greens and formidable bunkers. It's a little on the pricey side, but not too bad ($35-$85), and well worth it.
Even better, you can book stay-and-play packages at Shepherd's Hollow, which also includes a couple of two quality sister courses -- Cherry Creek Golf Club and Pine Trace Golf Club. Packages can be custom designed and include discount lodging at Marriott or Choice Brands hotels, welcome bag, golf shop discounts, and food and beverage discounts (each course has its own restaurant.)
An Alister MacKenzie classic in Ann Arbor
When it comes to golf in the Detroit area, of course, most people think of private Oakland Hills Golf Club or perhaps Detroit Golf Club, but there's another classic gem you can actually play. The University of Michigan Golf Course in Ann Arbor represents one of Alister MacKenzie's best.
And while it's technically private, the course has offered packages and $500 "annual" memberships for out-of-towners that make it most accessible, especially if you're going to stay a while or make multiple trips to the Detroit or Ann Arbor area.
There are so many reasons to love this golf course, which opened in 1931. With greens that make you think, short holes that are truly risk reward and beauty around every corner, this is classic golf restored to perfection by (you guessed it) none other than Hills, a U of M alum who captained the Wolverine golf team in the early 1950s. Plus it's on the University of Michigan campus, providing a great backdrop.
Perhaps a little more difficult to get on (believe it or not) but not impossible are the two courses at Oakland University, the original Katke-Cousins Course and the Warren Henderson-Rick Smith-designed R&S Sharf Course in Rochester Hills, also north of Detroit but a little closer than Clarkston. The facility offers affiliate programs that are more expensive than U of M's, so it's probably best to find an alum or member and play as a guest.
And if you're just looking for a solid daily-fee experience, check out Northville Hills Golf Club in Northville, just west of Detroit. The Arnold Palmer/Ed Seay-designed course runs through a subdivision, but the houses are set far enough back that they don't really come into play. What's left are plenty of lakes, wetlands and native grasses, defining a course that provides a playable yet tough test for any level. There's also a welcoming family atmosphere of the operation, which adds to the experience.
Some other top-notch courses worth considering are: Orchards Golf Club in Washington Township; The Majestic at Lake Walden in Hartland; Moose Ridge Golf Course in South Lyon; Boulder Pointe Golf Club in White Lake; Twin Lakes Golf Club in Oakland Township; Blackheath Golf Club in Rochester Hills; and Cherry Creek Golf Club in Auburn Hills, just to name a few.
Based in downtown Detroit
So you've got a week or so in the Detroit area. Where should you base? I like downtown Detroit, not only because it's in the center of all these townships and suburbs, but because that's where the action is.
Plus, you're going to want to visit the original Motown studios and take in a ballgame, right? Comerica Park, where the Detroit Tigers play, is right on downtown. It's one of major league baseball's new comfort parks, with views of the city and every imaginable amenity at the stadium. It's also within walking distance (I would still recommend a cab if you're by yourself) of the MGM Grand Detroit, which features more than 400 rooms, several restaurants (a couple by Wolfgang Puck) and a sports bar called TAP, which was a great place to hang out after sightseeing or playing golf. There's also gaming, of course, which used to be offered only in Windsor, on the other side of the Detroit River.
Of course, if you go off campus, there are endless dining choices, and they're much better than you think.
One I had the opportunity to try was Pegasus Taverna in Detroit's fabulous Greektown. Hardly an expert on Greek food, most of what I can tell you is that everything I sampled (which was quite large) was delicious, from its famous Saganaki (kasseri cheese set aflame tableside) to its classic Greek salads to its exquisite lamb dishes.
And finally, if you've never taken in the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, you'll want to reserve some time in your schedule for this treat. The museum is about so much more than cars. It chronicles 200 years of invention, from manufacturing to homes to transportation. You'll want to spend several hours there, especially if your golf is rained out for the day like it was when I visited.