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Sweet Getaway: Sweetgrass offers the perfect array of options for couples

By Paul Knowles
May 12, 2017 - 0 comments

We’ve all heard the phrase “golf widow”. It could be argued that the phrase, itself, has become politically incorrect – sexist and out of date.

But it probably can’t be argued that the underlying reality is an issue in many relationships – one half of a couple (usually, let’s be frank, the guy) wants to play golf, the other half doesn’t. But they both want a nice getaway.

Turns out, that “nice getaway” can be found in what might be seen as an unlikely location – on Michigan’s Upper Peninsula (or “the U.P.” as locals know it). We’re talking the Island Resort and Casino, home of the excellent Sweetgrass Golf Course. It’s located 20 minutes west of the Escanaba airport, a little more than three hours’ drive from Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario.

There are several great things about the Island Resort – and one more being added this year.

First, from a golfer’s perspective, there is the Sweetgrass course itself – a beautiful, well-cared-for course that manages to bridge that often challenging gap between being accessible for the everyday golfer, while still being, frankly, a very good course. Golfers have a choice of length, of course, with tees ranging from 5000 to 7300 yards.

I played the whites – halfway up the tee blocks – and it was more than challenging enough. Some companions, younger and fitter, played it from the tips, and loved it.

Sweetgrass attracted a lot of positive attention right from the first – it was named one of America’s Best New Courses by both Golf Digest and Golf Week, and has also been rated as one of the best courses in Michigan – a state not lacking in good golfi ng opportunities. Sweetgrass is host to an annual Symetra Tour “Road to the LPGA” tournament.

Without doing a hole-by-hole analysis, suffice it to say that Sweetgrass is beautiful, with spectacular scenery and some lovely holds, including an island green, and – reminiscent of St. Andrews – a shared green.

But at the Island Resort, while the golf is great, it is not the only attraction. There is, of course, the giant casino, operating 24/7, with slots, gaming tables, a poker room and more. There is the very new, very professional and welcoming Drift Spa. And there is a lot of top-end entertainment on offer – the walls of the resort are literally covered with posters of the entertainment greats who have performed here – and who will, again. There are also, of course, several restaurants, a sports bar, an RV park and a convention centre.

And here’s one surprise – the cost is relatively low. Room rates, concert tickets, and golf – all come in at a surprisingly low total. For instance, the high-season rate for a night (shared accommodation) and a round of golf is only $105US.

Island Resort and Casino – including Sweetgrass – is owned and operated by the Hannahville Indian Community, a band of the Potawatomi. Sweetgrass Golf Club is named for the sacred plant used in Indian peace and healing rituals, and found all along the course.

The management team has recognized that golfers like to play more than one course – so, to date, Sweetgrass offers package play that also includes the Greywalls and Timberstone courses.

That package continues, but the Hannahville Indian Community has opted for a bolder solution – their new Sage Run golf course, a few minutes from Sweetgrass, will open – at least for part of the course – this year. Tony Mancilla, Island Resort and Casino General Manager, says that the plan is for a “soft opening” this fall and a grand opening in 2018. Sage Run is also named for a plant important in traditional tribal medicine.

The course design takes full advantage of the signifi cant changes in elevation on the property. An ATV tour during the construction phase at times felt like a full-on thrill ride, because of the steep inclines – created by a drumlin that runs along the spine of the course – that golfers will have to negotiate.

Sage Run is designed by course architect Paul Albanese, who also created Sweetgrass. He talks about “really dramatic holes we believe players will enjoy immensely.”

The two courses will be quite different one from the other – Sweetgrass, is a prairiestyle course, while Sage Run is 75 per cent tree-lined. Comparing the new course to Ireland’s Royal County Down, Albanese says, “Sage Run will have that kind of rough and tumble appearance, with lots of earth tones, browns and tans – it’s what the landscape calls for.”

Golfers will love it – and their spouses, relaxing in the spa or intent in the casino, will never even notice they are gone.


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