“Si quaeris peninsulam amoenam circum spice” is Michigan’s state motto. If you don’t happen to read Latin, the English translation is, “If you seek a pleasant peninsula, look about you.” And a more apt state motto you will not find. No matter where you are standing in Michigan, you’re on a peninsula. The lower peninsula is the “mitten” most people picture when they think of Michigan. The upper peninsula, aka The UP (usually pronounced “Da Yu-Pee”), is a rugged spike connected to the lower peninsula by the Mackinac Bridge (the 5th-longest suspension bridge in the world) and to Wisconsin by land. The UP shares many characteristics with the lower peninsula, but also has an atmosphere and ethos all its own. One characteristic it shares with the rest of the Great Lakes State is spectacular golf.
Golfers unfamiliar with the Great Lakes region may be intimidated by visions of winter blizzards, but the five months from May through September—with maybe a couple bonus weeks on either end—are prime golf season. And because Michigan is on the bleeding edge of the Eastern time zone, mid-summer light hangs on until nearly 11pm.
The UP offers topography unique in the Eastern U.S.: dramatic elevation, sheer rock cliffs, vistas across hardwood forests and over the seemingly endless expanses of the Great Lakes. For golfers in the know – or those curious about a new destination – there is one obvious choice for a home base in the UP: Island Resort and Casino. Located in Harris, Island Resort and Casino actually lies on the line between Eastern and Central time zones, and the resort vibe is equally Januslike. Island is one of the largest casino, golf, and entertainment resorts in the Midwest, with every amenity imaginable: Drift Spa, indoor waterpark, golf, exhaustive gaming options, fine dining, convention center, national headliner entertainment. With the addition of the North Tower, opened in 2022, the resort now has over 450 guest rooms, including new golf suites.
At the same time, there is a deep history here, and a local, family atmosphere deriving from the resort’s full ownership by the Hannahville Indian Community. The Potawatomi community, established in the early 1830s by Peter and Hannah Marksman for Potawatomi people who had escaped the forced marches of the Indian Removal Act of 1830, has remained strong and proud ever since. Potawatomi means “Keepers of the Fire,” and the casino resort is a shining symbol of that fire, their resolve to not just survive, but to thrive.
Golf at Island Resort and Casino
Island Resort and Casino boasts two 18-hole championship golf courses, both of which were recently ranked among the top 50 casino courses in American by Golfweek. Both courses were designed by Paul Albanese, but nevertheless contrast sharply in feel and philosophy.
Sweetgrass Golf Club opened in 2007 and has been ranked by multiple golf publications as one of the top-ten courses in the golf-rich state of Michigan, including inclusion among Golf Digest’s Best New Public Golf Courses in 2009. Many of the holes pay homage to classic golf course architectural features, including Redan, Biarritz, island, and double green complexes. At the same time, holes are named after traditional Potawatomi clans, villages, medicines, and symbols. Sweetgrass, itself named after a traditional medicinal herb that is planted throughout the course, hosts the EPSON Tour’s Island Resort Championship, one of the major events on the Road to the LPGA.
Sage Run opened in 2018 and was also ranked by Golf Digest as one of the Best New Courses in America. Located just five minutes away from the main resort property, Sage Run has a more rugged feel, with fescue-lined fairways pocked with massive flash-faced bunkers that rise and tumble through hardwood forests. Sage Run hosts the Island Resort Collegiate Championship annually, which draws a dozen of the best college teams and players in the nation.
The Perfect Foursome
Island Resort and Casino has partnered with two other legendary UP golf courses, Greywalls in Marquette and TimberStone Golf Course in Iron Mountain. Both of these breathtaking layouts have been ranked in the top-10 courses in the state, and fully customizable stay-and-play packages are available. At Greywalls, players will marvel at panoramic views of Lake Superior and maybe fear a little for their lives as they traverse the jagged, heaving landscape. At Timberstone, players will find one dramatic tee shot after another as the course wends its way up and back down Iron Mountain. Depending on options and season, prices for this supremely memorable golf experience range from $95-$758, and it’s a steal at either end of that range.
As someone who began seriously playing golf at age 30 in Michigan, I feel like the state motto could just as aptly be “If you seek a pleasant fairway, look around you.” There are over 650 public golf courses in the state alone (not counting a myriad private clubs). The four bundled in Island Resort’s “Perfect Foursome” are honestly among the very best.
Logistics, Victuals, and Libations
The drive from Chicago to Island Resort and Casino is only about 5.5 hours, shorter actually than from Detroit, which is about 6. The closest airport is in Escanaba (15 min), and Marquette (1.5 hrs) and Green Bay (2.5 hrs) are also within reach.
Be sure to book at least one dinner at Horizon’s Steakhouse in the resort’s new North Tower. The crab cakes are a highly-recommended appetizer. Off-property, Stonehouse Restaurant in Escanaba is a local favorite—and wildly popular, so it would be wise to make a reservation.