Mackinac Island offers Wawashkamo...the Jewel
and a putting course, too
By Cynthia Boal Janssens
Mackinac Island, Mich. – When you think of visiting Mackinac Island what comes to mind? Horses, maybe. Or fudge. Or ferries. Or biking. Or Fort Mackinac. Or even the funky little town.
Few people think of golf when visiting this most popular of Michigan destinations. But my husband and I never head for Mackinac without throwing our sticks in the trunk. We play during almost every visit.
An overview of Mackinac Island
There’s fun golf on Mackinac, and it is different than anywhere else in the state. No matter where you stay on the island, there are only three options for golf: The Jewel, the 18-hole course owned by the Grand Hotel; Wawashkamo, the 105-year-old course out on British Landing Road, and the 18-hole executive putting course at Mission Point Resort.
On this trip to the island, we managed to do all three of these in two days.
Every golfer who visits Mackinac Island will want to play the Jewel. It is easy to get to, as the front nine is right across the street from the grounds of the Grand Hotel. But it is not a typical resort course.
Grand Hotel golf course
The front nine, called the Grand Nine, is virtually an executive course. Not surprising, as it was originally built in 1901. The holes are fairly short (there are no par-5’s) and par is 33. There are only three sets of tees: blue at 2,405 yards, white at 2,258 yards and red at 2,053 yards. That said, it is still a delight to play.
That’s because this course has such a prime location. From every hole there is something to see. The Michigan governor’s mansion overlooks several holes. Fort Mackinac can be spotted from others. The little stone church sits by the side of the 9th hole. The Straits of Mackinac are in the distance.
There is a even a plaque at the spot where former governor James Blanchard made a hole-in-one, even though the tee box has since been moved.
Grand Hotel golf course
There are a couple of fountains, a pretty little stream, several wood fences and lots of lovely wildflowers. It is real treat to hear horses clip-clopping by as you tee off. Or perhaps you will spot a Great Lakes freighter moving through the Straits. Many players opt to walk the front nine, although there are some steep climbs involved.
Playing the Grand Nine will probably take less than two hours. At that point, you can grab a beer while your clubs are loaded onto a horse carriage and you are taken on a half-hour trip through the woods (about 1-1/2 miles) where you will continue your round on the Woods Nine.
These holes, which opened in 1994, are somewhat longer but equally as picturesque. They feature bent grass tees, greens and fairways. Here you will play 3.040 from the blues, 2,645 from the whites and 2,159 from the reds…the short distance due primarily to there only being one par-5. Par for the back is 34, for a total par of 67.
The back nine offers views of the Mackinac Bridge and weaves around the island airport, as well. There are some lovely man-made lakes and waterfalls to add to the experience. Architect Jerry Mathews, who also redesigned the front nine in 1987, designed the Woods Nine.
I love playing these holes and there is always a particular treat: the enterprising little folks who sell lemonade and found balls. I mean, how can you resist those grins? Keep an eye out for them on holes No. 11 and 15.
Mackinac Island Lilac Festival
After your round, you can opt to tip a few in Bobby’s Bar or have dinner at the Woods restaurant before returning to the pro shop back at the Grand. The Woods also features the oldest duckpin bowling alley in the United States, so don’t rush off…take time to roll a few.
While motorized vehicles are prohibited on Mackinac Island, they do offer electric golf carts at the Jewel. The rates to play the Jewel reflect the resort atmosphere: $80 for 18 holes if you are a Grand Hotel guest, or $100 for non-guests. But don’t hesitate to splurge as it is a great way to spend a sunny morning or afternoon on Mackinac Island…and it gets you away from the fudgies! (That’s what the locals call the day-trippers who clog the town on most nice days.)
Even further away from town is Wawashkamo, which boasts that it is Michigan’s oldest continuously, played golf facility. This means it has been there a whole long time, since 1898, in fact.
That’s when the island’s cottagers engaged Scottish professional Alex Smith to design a course on what was once the Early Farm. This was the site of an 1814 battle where American troops failed to regain the island from the British in the War of 1812. (Indeed, ten soldiers are buried between holes 5 and 6). Soon after play began, Chippewa Chief Eagle Eye observed that the golfers “wa-wash-kamo”—walk a crooked path. The name stuck.
Today it is a National Landmark and a state historic site. Recently restored, it is also a hoot to play. That’s because it is not easy, from any aspect. Believe me, on Wawashkamo, you will still walk a crooked path.
These nine golf holes are situated in a large clearing, surrounded by woods. This clearing is filled with lots of heavy, Scottish-type rough, including heather. Into this rough, there are cut some fairways, teeboxes and greens…but they are not always easy to spot. Do not expect a manicured resort course here. Rather, at Wawashkamo, you get the real thing.
This “realism” begins at the first tee, where there is a box of sand. A sign explains that in the early days balls were teed up on piles of sand, rather than on tees, and they give you a chance to give it a try.
The day I played this historic course I was the only woman around and, frankly, just about the only person in a cart. I truly felt like a wimp, because Wawashkamo is a course that begs to be walked. But due to time constraints, I had to go the motorized route.
Did I mention that the fairways here are cut fairly long and they are rather bumpy? Within a few holes, you realize that Wawashkamo has maintained its Scottish character over its 100 years.
The course consists of three par-3’s, three par-4’s and three par-5’s for a 36 par at 2,999 yards from the “regular tees.” There is a second set of tee placements on each hole that change the distances so that you can play a full round of 18 holes…which most visitors do because getting here isn’t easy.
To get to Wawashkamo, which is located on British Landing Road just north of the airport, you will have to take a horse-drawn carriage ride that will cost you about $20 per person each way (depending on how many riders are on that particular taxi). Or, you can arrive like the locals do, by bicycle…but can you really balance your clubs on a bike? Think on it.
This course has some authentic touches, like the No. 3 green called the “Circus Ring.” It is totally surrounded by high grass, requiring you to loft rather than roll your ball onto the green. I don’t think I’ve ever seen one quite like it.
Those who do find their way to Wawashkamo are the die-hards. They love this old course for its character, availability and relatively low prices. Most of the players here are people who either live or work on the island. But if you’ve already played the Jewel a time or two, then you owe it to yourself to give Wawashkamo a try.
If you are really short for time, want to involve your children or grandchildren, or simply want to try something different, then head on over to The Greens of Mackinac at Mission Point Resort.
This executive putting course is set around a lovely restaurant and bar called the Euro Garden Café. So, you can have lunch before or after your round or just tip a few between nines and look out over the shoreline of Lake Huron.
The course really is quite tricky and you can play it either very quickly with drink in hand, or very seriously with bets on the table. Because the pins and tees are changed each day, it continually varies.
It is laid out on two acres and features water hazards, stone bridges, elevated greens, sand traps, boulders, thick border grasses and very nice greens (which we found to run very slow on this day).
The course just opened three years ago but on some days it handles as many as 200 rounds. The cost is $12 for non-guests and $10 for guests. Children 12 and under cost $8/$6.
“This little course never plays the same way twice, “ explained one of the staff. The pros at the Hidden River Golf & Casting Club near Petoskey assist Mission Point in maintaining the course.
So there you have it. Three distinctly different plays on an island that embraces only four square miles.
Where to stay?
For the most wonderful experience on the island, I have to recommend the Grand Hotel, which is one of the great summer hotels of the world. Once in your life, at least, you must stay here. It is that special. And the lady in your life will love you for it.
If that is out of your price range, then consider the Iroquois, the Chippewa or the Inn at Mackinac. If you love bed-and-breakfasts, this island has some of the best. These include Cloghaun, Haan’s 1830 Inn and the Metivier Inn. For families, you can’t beat Mission Point Resort.
With the exception of the main dining room at the Grand Hotel (which requires jackets), most of the dining on Mackinac Island is casual. I always recommend the planked whitefish at the “VI” – The Village Inn. The Grand Hotel’s Woods restaurant offers some Bavarian specialties. Other options are the French Outpost and the Great Straits Seafood Co. (Mission Point).
This island also has some great bars. You can’t miss with the Pub Oyster Bar, the Pink Pony, Horn’s Gaslight and the Mustang Lounge. These are all old faithfuls where you are likely to run into some locals, which is part of the fun.
Chances are, they play at Wawashkamo.
For More Information:
The Jewel at the Grand Hotel
Tee times: (906) 847-3331
FAX: (906) 847-3259
Head pro: Jason Horricks
Fees: Hotel guests, $80; non-guests, $100 (with or without cart)
Nine holes: $42.50 for guests, $55 for non-guests.
Pull carts are available.
The Grand Hotel offers a “Tea for Two” package that includes accommodations, full breakfast and five-course dinner daily, one 18-hole round of golf on The Jewel per person, afternoon tea in the Parlor and all gratuities and baggage-handling for $239 per person, per night. Call for available dates. Reservations: (800) 33-GRAND
Wawashkamo Golf Club
British Landing Road
FAX: (906) 847-8600
Head pro: Fred “Fritz” George
Fees: $30 to walk nine holes, $45 for 18; golf carts cost $25 for nine holes and $35 for 18, per cart; pull trolleys cost $3
Twilight rates (4-7 p.m.): $12 for nine, $20 for 18+
The Greens of Mackinac Executive Putting Course
Mission Point Resort
$12 for non-guests/ $10 for guests/$5 for children (18 holes)
Mackinac Island Tourism Bureau
(800) 4-LILACS or (906) 847-6260