Teacher’s Comments: It is like a slightly upscale muni.
If The Natural were located anywhere but in the Gaylord, Michigan, Golf Mecca, I think that it would be noted as a very nice municipal course. Located as it is in a resort area, The Natural falls short of expectations.
The Natural, laid out by Jerry Matthews, passes through wood and marsh, with plenty of elevation changes. Most of the holes are laid out in a classic straight back-and-forth fashion. Ball sprayers can very easily end up on a different fairway.
The Natural measures 6,245 from the back tees and plays to a 68.7/131. From the whites, it measures 5,865 and plays to a 67.3/127. It is walkable, but you’ll need to be in good shape.
Accuracy and distance off the tee are key on this relatively tight course. It is going to be a long day if you can’t hit it straight. There also are a few intimidating carries. The one at eighteen (above) is particularly hard, as it requires a shot across a marsh / lake to a wide, but narrow elevated green with absolutely no room for a shortfall. Eight requires a similar shot.
The first hole (top of page) was one of my favorites. A part five measuring 545/495, it curves gently left. The tee shot is slightly uphill, then the second requires a carry over a bisecting marsh. From there, it’s a short iron into a green tucked amongst some trees.
The third, a relatively straight 420/395 par four, is gorgeous. A good tee shot will take you to the edge of a fifty foot drop downhill to a green tucked around a pond.
Fourteen (above) is a par three with a hundred foot drop from tee to green. Holes like that are sort of an “Up North” Michigan cliche.
I enjoyed the mix of holes at The Natural. It has three par fours that are 300 yards or shorter (from the whites), as well as two at 400+. The par threes measure 120, 130, 150 and 100 (again, from the whites, which is where most people should play), giving a nice respite from the two five hundred yard par fives.
The Natural is a pretty course, with lots of sweeping fairway views from heights.
Conditions on the day I played were mixed. Some of the fairways and greens were in good shape; others not so much.Tree seedlings were actually sprouting out of several sand traps. As a whole, the conditions were what I might expect to find in a municipal course that didn’t quite have the money to keep things in tip-top shape. Around the edges, the course was somewhat shaggy. Some overhanging branches needed to be trimmed, non-playing areas along the holes needed attention.
I was also jarred by the abandoned boat, trailers and general junk piles off the path between holes ten and eleven. Those may not have belonged to the course, but surely they could impose upon the owners to clean it up.
Prices are very good for the Gaylord resort area. You can ride for $49 and walk for $25. That’s around half what you’ll pay at, say, Treetops.
For what it is worth, I will note that the parking lot was virtually empty on a late morning in the middle of the week on Fourth of July week. That was good for me, because I played on virtually empty course. It made me wonder, however, why that would be.
In the final analysis, I think I would put The Natural near the bottom of courses that I would play in the Gaylord area in terms of course quality. The price, however, kicks it up another notch. For $25 walking, it is a very good value.
The Natural Golf Course Review was first published August 13, 2014. More photos follow