Gaylord, Mich., Treetops Resort, The Signature Course

Sep 1, 2014
2014 / August 2014

Treetops Resort has been around for quite a while and actually started as a ski resort in the 1950s. It wasn’t until the golf boom of the late 1980s and ’90s that the property added a handful of championship courses.

Harry Mellon, the founding owner of Treetops, brought in Rick Smith in the late 1970s to turn Treetops into a ski and golf resort. The resort boasts five courses: The Masterpiece, designed by Robert Trent Jones, Sr.; The Premier, designed by Tom Fazio; The Tradition and The Signature, both designed by Rick Smith; and The Threetops, designed by Rick and made famous by ESPN’s Par 3 Shootout.

Smith, one of the premier golf instructors in the world, boasts a roster of students including PGA Tour winners such as Jack Nicklaus, Lee Janzen, Phil Mickelson and Rocco Mediate. Rick celebrated one of his best years in 1993: His son was born, Lee Janzen won the US Open, Jack Nicklaus won the Senior Open, and his Signature Course opened at Treetops. Rick traveled the world and combined some of the best design elements from Ireland and England as well as top U.S. courses to make this playable but challenging course.

I teed up on a beautiful Monday morning with Mike Donahue, chairman of Global Traveler’s Advisory Board; Kevin McKinley, Treetops’ director of golf and ski; and Russ Glasby, director of sales, Treetops. Mike and I were without our clubs and golf shoes as American Airlines did not transfer them at O’Hare. So we met Russ and Kevin like troopers with rented clubs, Mike in his fancy loafers and I in my topsiders. The show must go on!

Hole 3 | 467 yards, par 4

This dogleg right offers a very generous landing area. Morning dew coated the fairway, and the sun glistened off each blade. Rick saved the bracken ferns growing in this area when the holes were constructed and dispersed them throughout the course. Interesting note: Koreans add bracken fern fiddleheads (the immature, tightly curled, emerging fronds) to bibimbap, one of their national dishes.

The next shot to the green can be precarious, as the green runs from front to back and shots often do not hold. I found the bunkering quite beautiful with its mixture of high grasses and wild flowers crowning the edges — reminiscent of the European courses Rick visited when preparing to design The Signature.

Hole 4 | 186 yards, par 3

The green features a distinct shape, so balls tend to roll into a dip on the left side. If your pin placement is in the bowl, you will be golden — lots of easy birdies here. Our pin placement was on the left side but back. Russ, Kevin and I had an uphill putt to the pin for par. Mike struggled and took a “Euell Gibbons” walk on the left of the green but still came out with an impressive recover bogey!

Hole 5 | 421 yards, par 4

This is the No. 1 handicapped hole on the course, as the entire fairway gradually rises up to the green. Note the beautiful position of those bracken ferns from the front of the tee box to the fairway. Drives should be right center of the fairway, requiring an extra club to reach the green. I walked away with a bogey, which was very good, as both Russ and Kevin took a diversion in the primordial woodlands and Mike’s wheels came off, scoring a quadruple!

Hole 5 with bracken ferns © Francis X. Gallagher

Hole 5 with bracken ferns © Francis X. Gallagher

Hole 10 | 556 yards, par 5

Jack Nicklaus liked this hole best. Rick found it to be the only place on the course not densely populated with trees that had to be removed to sculpt the hole. Off the tee, I drove my ball to position “A,” left center, while Russ nailed his shot to the clearing to the left and into trouble. My second shot, another beauty, landed on the right side of the fairway within 100 yards of the green. I was ready to show off my skills, then bladed my wedge, skidding the ball across the green to land just off the back but puttable for par.

Hole 11 | 175 yards, par 3

Rick Smith liked to call this “The Pine Valley” of Michigan, as it has a similar look and feel of one of golf ’s greatest courses. The area was so tight, the hole had to be hand-carved with a small excavator. Initially, the cart path did not reach the hole, requiring golfers to take a beautiful walk to the green. This was changed for speed of play and, sadly, golfers now miss this experience. The green slopes left to right, but that had no effect on my shot, which was pulled left into the woods. Due to the heavy snow the winter before, the dead leaves in the woods were flat, making it a cinch to find errant balls.

Hole 15 | 485 yards, par 5

Rick designed this hole to allow golfers to get back some shots late in the game. It is not a particularly long par 5 but is very deceiving, as the approach narrows and severely elevates to a two-tiered green. Many golfers underestimate the approach and come up short, landing in a series of bunkers on either side in front of the green. Russ landed on the green in two and putted in for an eagle. I was more distracted by Mike, who hit a lousy third shot to the green and immediately redropped a practice ball, nailing the green for a questionable par.

Hole 18 | 363 yards, par 4

Rick selected a beautiful finishing hole which allows big hitters to cut off yardage on the slight dogleg left. Mike came out of his loafers here, hitting a great drive that cut off yardage and shortened the hole. He was in a rush to catch his flight back to Philadelphia, and a car was waiting at the clubhouse. Russ and Kevin also nailed their drives, showing us what PGA professionals can do. The hole continues to rise to the green with a nice center bunker just short of the green ready to ruin your day. I overcooked my shot to the green, flying over and requiring a sloppy chip for a bogey. Mike landed in regulation and two-putted for par, ending a very enjoyable round at a fantastic course in Michigan. I highly recommend Treetops and hope to return soon to try my skills at the other courses.

The Signature Course

Treetops Resort
3962 Wilkinson Road
Gaylord, MI 49735
tel 866 348 5249
treetops.com

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