Playing Sweetgrass and Sage Run At Island Resort Casino

Playing Sweetgrass and Sage Run At Island Resort Casino
The Mackinac Bridge, seen from the Upper Peninsula side.

Playing Sweetgrass and Sage Run At Island Resort Casino

This past week, I made my way across the mighty Mackinac Bridge to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula to play the two excellent courses at Island Resort Casino: Sweetgrass and Sage Run. Island Resort Casino is located near Escanaba and is owned by the Hannahville Indian Community, a band of the Potawatomi Nation.

Both courses were designed by Michigan based architect Paul Albanese.

Sweetgrass has long been in the conversation for top ten courses in Michigan, and I believe that in time Sage Run will be in the same conversation. As it is, Sage Run is significant for even opening in an economic environment that has hundreds of courses closing. I had previously played Sweetgrass and am grateful to Island Resort for giving me the opportunity to try Sage Run and make a return trip to Sweetgrass.

Playing Sweetgrass and Sage Run At Island Resort Casino
Sweetgrass Golf Course at Island Resort.

I published a Sweetgrass golf course review several years ago, and upon return, my appreciation for it has only increased. It is a really good course, kept in lush and immaculate conditions. Interestingly, the two best conditioned courses I’ve played were both at Native American Casinos: Sweetgrass at Island Resort, and Atunyote at Turning Stone in central New York (read my Atunyote golf course review.)

Playing Sweetgrass and Sage Run At Island Resort Casino
Prairie grasses at Sweetgrass at Island Resort Casino.

Sweetgrass is a relatively flat, largely open design. If were seaside (or perhaps even alongside Lake Michigan), it could be called a “links.” As it is, however, Sweetgrass is more properly described as a prairie course. Natural prairie grasses abound (including of course, Sweetgrass, which is sacred to Native Americans).

Sage Run takes advantage of a “drumlin” to create elevation changes. This is the par four sixth.

Sage Run, on the other hand, takes advantage of a large “drumlin” running through the property to create significant elevation changes. A “drumlin” is an elongated hill formed by glaciers — in this case, presumably the same ones that created the Great Lakes.

The par five twelfth at Sage Run. The drumlin is to the left.

Sage Run at Island Resort Casino has a lot of really interesting decisions for golfers. The steeply uphill par four eighth is a good example. With a fairway split by a large tree, players must make a decision off the tee: play it safe right to a lower fairway with a long and difficult shot to the green or; go to the steeper left side over a patch of rock and scrub for a shorter and straighter second.

The third hole at Sage Run

Another decision that stands out for me is on the par four third. The inside of this dogleg features a large, scrubby dune with a facing bunker. Players must decide whether to significantly shorten the hole by blasting a tee shot over the dune — risking adding more shots if they don’t — or; playing to the safe left, and leaving themselves a very long way from the uphill green indeed.

Eleven has a similar decision.

Like Sweetgrass, the fairways are very generous, but placement is key.

One neat feature of Sage Run are the “natural” teeing grounds. Wherever the terrain makes it possible, the tee boxes just flow into the fairways. Further, the markers are only one one side of the grounds. The photo of the third hole above shows this. A player can thus position his tee shot anywhere from extreme left to right, and with some latitude moving forward or back along the imaginary line. Without the confines of placing the ball between two distinct markers, players are asked to use their imagination to position their tees. It is a small, but significant decision.

In addition to their own two courses, Island Resort has some neat stay and play packages that include rounds at Sweetgrass and Sage Run at Island Resort Casino as well as at (relatively) nearby Greywalls and Timberstone. If you’re going all the way to the Upper Peninsula, you can’t do so without taking in those other courses. Read my Greywalls review and my Timberstone review.

I’ll have a full review of Sage Run soon.

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