Yooper Golf Ya Yas

05 06, 2018

Chasing Boats & Birdies In Sault St. Marie

A glacially moving bulk carrier with thousands of tons or iron ore in its hold is making the passage from Lake Superior to Lake Huron. In order to go Great Lakes hopping as big ships like this one are want to do, they’ve often got to pass through the Soo Locks an engineering and marine traffic marvel which fill or up or drain over 10,000 times a year to allow big daddy freighters to pass on through. Camera’s click away as the Algolake, a forty-year-old self-unloading bulk carrier built by Collingwood Shipyards uses its 1,000 horsepower bow thruster to get into position to enter the Soo Locks. The lock lookers are out in force. Some boat nerds are even armed with binoculars to spy on every little detail aboard this seafaring behemoth the length of two football fields. The glass double decker observation deck sees plenty of action all day long and with the time of incoming ships announced in the adjacent Locks Visitor Center to whet nautical appetites.

While many visit Michigan’s Soo just to gawk at giant ships, and I did my fair share too, I also came to also partake in the region’s other outsized obsession: golf. My first port of call was Bay Mills Resort & Casinos’ Wild Bluff, on the banks of Waiska Bay. Raising the ante on the gaming vibe, the money practice facility sports a pair of putting greens, a chipping green, and a double teed driving range with targets in the shape of playing card suits. Dice for tee box markers continues the theme out on the course. The 7022-yard Mike Husby design is a really fun, yet challenging, resort course with very few straight up and straight ahead holes. The key to scoring well at Wild Bluff is you gotta know when to place’em, and if you have trouble reading a hole, which can be the case on a couple dog-legged holes generally landing in the elbow will keep you in great shape. The big visual jackpots are a pair of steep and scenic tee to green 100-foot plunging doozies on the closing stanza of holes on the back nine.

Mom & Pop Golf
These days it’s rare you get the opportunity to rehash your round with the course owner in the pro shop or quibble about a tree you’d like to see shorn of a few branches to improve your score the next time out. But you can do just that at Tanglewood Marsh. Owner/manager Scott Shackelton’s father-in-law built the course in 1994 and then he took it over from him twelve years ago. He jovially greets golfers right as they come in the clubhouse and is more than happy to hear their feedback.

“We are a very laidback friendly place to come too. The people who golf here are friendly and laidback and the people that work her are too,” says Shackelton.

“There are a lot of golf courses who act like they’re doing you a favor letting you play. We don’t look at it that way. We understand that you’re the customer and we’re glad you decided to come play,” he adds. “It’s a different mentality that you get from a small, family owned business.”

As for the friendliness of the course itself, Tanglewood Marsh is a short 5181 yarder track with it’s namesake marsh coming into play right from the first tee and it continues to play a starring role and give golfers plenty of pause worthy risk/reward conundrums. Often the smartest decision is to lay-up to the marsh rather than trying to muster the He-man swing you’ll need to clear the forced carries. There’s water to some extent on eleven of the eighteen holes and if you find your score running up a little on the front nine (the blind doglegs on No. 3 and No. 6 can cause some difficulties), breath easy, the course eases up considerably on the back.

“We’re not the longest course but it’s a course, a lot of people really enjoy it because you need to place your ball, and do some course management. It’s not a grip it and rip it course,” explains Shackleton.

You’ll notice the wood etched ace wall in the clubhouse is quite lengthy for a course of it’s age, but that’s because there’s a couple short par threes on the back that are highly flushable—I admit I had to shoot a second ball on each of these despite landing just a couple feet from the hole on my first attempts.

A newly minted mom & pop is the century old Sault Country Club. The course had gone downhill in recent years until Fred Benoit, a Soo restaurateur, who had retired to Florida, returned home and stepped up to the plate paying $450,000 in cash to rescue it from receivership. Fred and his wife Linda, both former longtime members spiffed up the course, bought all new carts and markedly transformed the clubhouse’s previously humdrum culinary offerings with Grill Room 1901 which serves the tastiest whitefish in town. Situated right downtown, just under three miles from the Soo locks, you can see freighters making their way down the St. Mary’s river on a couple holes. While watching massive boats while trying to make birdies is cool, the odd wail of a foghorn can be disconcerting midway through your takeaway. It’s a is a highly walkable well maintained course and keep an eye out for apple trees. My playing partner thwacked with his nine-iron to gain some healthful mid-round nourishment.

It’s well worth adding an extra day to your itinerary to play Drummond Island Resort’s The Rock. Drive aboard the ferry from DeTour Village (an hour’s drive from Sault St. Marie). It makes hourly crossings onto the island Dominos founder Tom Monaghan put on the map in the 1980s. Sprawling over 400 acres and with literally 1.2 mile cart path drive from clubhouse to the first tee, the sheer massive scope of The Rock is impressive with hardwood framing each isolated fairway and plenty of Bambi sightings to be had.

While Your There:
Ascend the 292 stairs to get to the lookout deck of the Tower of History for an awesome aerial view of the city. Sure, there’s an elevator to spare your calves, but where’s the fun in that?

Cross the bridge over to the Canadian Soo, to check out the couple dozen aircraft on display Bush Plane Museum in a former Ontario Provincial Air Service hangar right on the St. Mary’s River. While your there, work in a round on the rollicking dwarf bluegrass fairways at Crimson Ridge.

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