Sweetgrass Golf Course Review

Sweetgrass Hole 1, a 320 yard par 4
Sweetgrass Hole 1, a 320 yard par 4

Sweetgrass Golf Course
Grade A
Teacher’s Comments: Immaculate; long and wide.

Sweetgrass Golf Club is part of the Island Resort and Casino in Harris, Michigan and has been the site of a Symetra Tour tournament the last several years.

Sweetgrass is what I like to call a prairie course, a type which is often and incorrectly referred to as a “links.” While in proximity to both Lakes Michigan and Superior — both inland seas — it isn’t on the water. It is however, mostly open and relatively flat, and influenced by shifting winds. Combined with deep wild grasses on the edges of many of the holes, it is easy to see why the comparison to a links is drawn.

There’s no sea, though, so it isn’t “linksland.” Sweetgrass — as with many Michigan prairie courses – also plays over, through and around large areas of marsh — something I have not seen in photos of classic links courses (there may very well be some of those; I just haven’t seen them.) Water and/or marsh come into play on ten of the holes. Further, four of the holes are tree-lined, but only one — 16 — in a way where you really have to think about them.

Sweetgrass Hole 11, a 656 yard par 5
Sweetgrass Hole 11, a 656 yard par 5

Relatively flat, with grasses and shrubs, a scattering of stands of trees and strong breezes, with no sea in sight. That’s a prairie. Throw in a few marshy areas, and it’s a “Taiga.” Parts of Michigan that fit that description could also be called a “savannah,” or in parts of Michigan and Ohio, “oak openings.” Call it what you like, but it’s not a “links.”

Sweetgrass is a long, long course. From the back tees, Sweetgrass plays to a 75.2/143 and stretches to an absurd 7,273 yards. The more reasonable middle tees measure 6,439 and play to a 71.3/13. That’s still a lot of course for most golfers. Park the machismo and egos when you arrive at this course. Play it forward to avoid a triple digit score.

Sweetgrass Hole 3, a 200 yard par 3
Sweetgrass Hole 3, a 200 yard par 3

My favorite hole on the course was the par three third. It’s a 158 yard shot from an elevated tee to a green nestled into a series of mounds, covered in flowing deep grasses. An elevated tee shot could fly over mounds, or play left to a strip of fairway. Don’t play too far left, though, or a curving bunker on that side of the green comes into play. The hole is called “Wolf” and the description in the yardage book says that “The Wolf clan is a defensive clan of protectors and warriors. This hole is heavily protected by mounds and bunkers.” Yes it is.

Every one holes on the course has a little Native American related story, which is appropriate given that the resort is owned by the Hannahville Band of the Potawatomi Nation. In designing the course, architect Paul Albanese was tasked with building holes that reflected — at least in some small way — the stories of the Potawatomi. Reading the stories as you play makes the experience more memorable.

Sweetgrass Hole 15, a 168 yard "island" par 3
Sweetgrass Hole 15, a 168 yard “island” par 3

The par 5 sixth for example, has bunkers that resemble a white tailed deer. There’s a “serpent” bunker on the fifth near a water hazard to represent the myth of the “serpent and the flood.” The fifteenth has an island green to represent the turtle, a respected animal in native culture, and which is the name of several clans in the nation. And so on.

Another interesting touch is that five old iron trestle bridges are incorporated into the layout. It’s a nice way to “Upcycle.”

If I have one bit of advice on this course, it is to hit the ball as hard as you can off the tee. I didn’t find a lot of place where a slightly wayward tee shot was unduly penal. Approach shots, on the other hand, need to be as close as possible.

Conditions on the day I played were superb. There was some work being done to aerate the outer edges of some of the greens, and the tenth fairway had been aerated in recent weeks. None of that, however distracted from overall conditions, which were as good as anything I have played.

Sweetgrass is regularly on the list of top courses in Michigan, and indeed, of the entire nation. It easily makes the GolfBlogger’s Top Ten in Michigan that I have played (and I’ve played well over a hundred).

The Sweetgrass Golf Course Review was first published July 22, 2015

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