A walk in the shadows of Northern Michigan's unsung golf courses

A Northern Michigan local photographer showcases the many lesser-known, affordable golf courses that make this destination satisfying for all budgets and how he finds his shots. (Pictured: Bear Lake Highlands)

My favorite thing to do as a Michigan-based golf photographer is travel around the state and check out courses I’ve never seen before, no matter how large or small, how well or little-known they are. I'm sure you’ve heard of the heavy hitters in Northern Michigan: Arcadia Bluffs, Forest Dunes, Treetops, Boyne, Shanty Creek. There’s a reason they draw a national audience, but there are scores of other courses around every corner that present a more authentically "local" up-north experience. I prefer to play golf while walking, and the smaller and more historic courses are usually walker-friendly. Even if the course doesn't end up being my new favorite, at least I had an experience that far fewer visitors to the area have had.

What’s not to love about living like a local for a day on your getaway? 

I discover new courses to seek out by browsing satellite maps in my spare time (I’m sure there are easier ways). Even as a resident of the Traverse City area, there are courses in my backyard that are tough to find and not easy to get to. But they are always worth the effort for their gorgeous views, wild terrain and pushed boundaries. For many, their quirks make them incredibly fun to play. It’s rewarding to feel like you’ve experienced something that’s worth sharing with other people.

I use golf photography as a way to offer recommendations and tell the stories of my roller-coaster rounds. What’s an awesome experience if you don’t have anyone to share it with? Unique photos and a cool story can guide others to their new favorite golf course. If you want to see the true Northern Michigan and its wealth of golf, consider teeing it up at one of its coolest courses you’ve never heard of, and bring your camera:

I like to turn my individual experience into something for everyone. I use my unique shot angles for a photo opportunity. The first at Chestnut Hills in Bear Lake has a few blind shots that are hard to show in photos. (Green fees: $25-46)


A different perspective helps show what the golf hole is really like. The first hole at Pinecroft Golf Plantation near Crystal Lake doesn’t have many flat lies; that’s much easier to show when you’re level with the green. (Green fees: $45-63)


Located a short drive north on M-22 from Traverse City, Bahle Farms has a huge amount of elevation change. The best way to show that is by using objects in the landscape for scale. The signature barn gives a little perspective. (Green fees: $75-95)


I always try to find something unique about the course I’m playing and focus on that. Historic Wawashkamo, a nine-hole course in the middle of Mackinac Island has plenty of unique features you won’t see anywhere else, like these Victorian storm shelters. (Green fees: $55-85)


Not everyone has a drone, but taking photos from a different perspective always adds some intrigue. When I get down low or up high I’m always surprised at how much more interesting my shots are. 9-hole Northport Creek looked especially good from up high. (Green fees: $25-35)


Showing the landscape around the golf course can help viewers get a sense of what to expect, especially if the vantage point isn’t the tee box. The par-4 15th hole at Champion Hill near Crystal Lake has some of the best vistas around. (Green fees: $45-63)


When searching for compositions, I always remember where I first looked. More often than not, that ends up being the keeper. South of Arcadia, Manistee Golf and Country Club has no shortage of opportunities for a good shot with its three greens beside Lake Michigan. (Green fees: $50-65)


A zoom (telephoto) lens helps show off more of the golf hole without sacrificing the little details. Even the telephoto iPhone lens works most of the time. Not far from the Sleeping Bear Dunes, the 5th at Dunes Golf Club in Empire has some big features that are hard to see with a wide lens. (Green fees: $26-36)


I love taking photos in the off-season. Golf courses are beautiful even if they aren’t green and perfect. That’s especially true for Ye Nyne Olde Holles and its ski hill and lake views. (Green fees: $18-26)


Sometimes a cloudy day changes the mood. It’s a perfect time to experiment a little bit. Near Traverse City, the bunkers at the Donald Ross-designed, nine-hole Elk Rapids Golf Course look menacing in this imperfect weather. (Green fees: $22-29)


Sometimes looking back at the hole gives the best view. I turn around every once in a while and I’m often surprised at what I find. In Harbor Springs, historic Harbor Point Golf Club, dating back to 1896, looks like it’s all in front of you, but there are a lot of hidden features if you turn around. (Green fees: $50. Harbor Point is private but offers limited public play in the shoulder seasons).


Noah Jurik is a Northern Michigan photographer and GolfPass Local Advisor who has written over 80 course reviews. View his GolfPass reviews here or browse his golf photos on Instagram @NoahJurik

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Noah Jurik is a Northern Michigan photographer and GolfPass Local Advisor who has written over 80 course reviews in Michigan and throughout the country. Browse his golf photos on Instagram @NoahJurik
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A walk in the shadows of Northern Michigan's unsung golf courses