Reader’s Trip Report: Mackinac Island, Michigan

IMG_20130804_104132Jim Doherty, a reader in Chicago, wrote to me toward the end of the summer about a family vacation he had taken to Mackinac Island, Michigan—which is in Lake Huron all the way up next to Canada. (Mackinac, incidentally, is pronounced Mackinaw.) Jim is one of the guys in the photo above; the other is his brother-in-law, Mike. Because male golfers are essentially interchangeable, it doesn’t matter which is which. Here’s what the island looks like from the air.

Mackinac

Jim wrote:

Mackinac Island doesn’t allow any motorized vehicles. You ferry over with bikes, and there are horses and carriages that you can use to get around as well. The island had some military importance way back in 1812 and is now a beautiful spot to visit. There are a lot of fudge shops, for some reason. Anyway, even though our wives had chosen this non-golf-hotspot for our vacation, Mike and I brought our sticks on the theory that at some point our families would be equally sick of us (seven-hour drive) and be happy to see us exit to a golf course for a while.

Mackinac has two courses. One belongs to the Grand Hotel, where Jim, Mike, and their families were staying. It’s made up of two non-contiguous nines, called the Jewel and the Woods, and golfers are transported from one to the other by horse-drawn carriage. According to the hotel’s website, “The leisurely 15-minute ride includes parts of the island unseen by many visitors.” That sounds mildly interesting, but I think Jim and Mike were right to skip it. Jim wrote, “I try to avoid non-golf resorts that have a course. I find that they are usually full of very slow, non-regular golfers who are just trying to kill time, theirs and mine.” (The hotel and its golf course are visible in the photo above, in the lower part of the island.)

Instead, Jim and Mike played a nine-hole course called Wawashkamo Golf Club, which you can see, sort of, in the clearing in the woods near the runway at the top of the photo of the island. Here’s what the club’s front gate looks like:

Wawashkamo

Jim continued:

Remember, there are no motorized vehicles, so we rode our bikes, with our bags on our backs, up to the course. The inclines early in the ride were steep enough that we needed to walk the bikes, but it was worth it. Wawashkamo is a gem. No irrigation in the fairways or rough. Fescue-lined holes. Tiny hand-mowed greens in great shape, and tees that are literally about twenty square feet. I guarantee that the area rug under your dining-room table is bigger.

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Wawashkamo was laid out in 1898 by a Scotsman (from Carnoustie!) named Alex Smith. The club’s first pro was Frank Dufina, a Chippewa Indian, who played in the 1911 Western Open. He was fourteen years old when he went to work at Wawashkamo, and eighty-four when he retired, in 1968. Among the course’s unique features is its third green:

IMG_20130804_092803The putting surface (as you can see in the photo above) is surrounded by a thick fescue collar, which is called a Circus Ring. Its purpose is explained in the sign in the photo below:

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Jim continued:

Wawashkamo has two sets of tees, which change the length and angle of the holes a bit. It’s an easy walk: ninety minutes, max, for nine holes, then back on the bikes for the downhill ride to our families. The club’s pro, Chuck Olson, invited us to leave our clubs overnight and return to play the next morning, to ease our bike ride. We got the idea, from talking to him and a member, that the club’s budget is nil.

Here’s the clubhouse:

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And here are two of the amenities, which are available to visitors as well as to members:

IMG_20130804_104341Wawashkamo is closed for the season (I’m pretty sure, based on the website), but it will be open again in early May. Fifty dollars for eighteen holes, walking. Let’s go!

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