Boyne Mountain, the first of the group’s three Michigan destinations to open, is celebrating its 75th anniversary. The Highlands, a few miles down the road, is celebrating its 60th and long-time senior vice president of golf operations Bernie Friedrich has been named the winner of the prestigious PGA Golf Executive of the Year by the PGA of America.
All that is secondary to the ground-breaking for the new nine-hole short course and Himalayan-style Putting Course near the Lodge at The Highlands. Described as “fun’’ and “ultra-inclusive,’’ the still unnamed layout will be Boyne’s 11th course in Michigan.
“It’ll add an entirely new dimension to our portfolio,’’ said Josh Richter, senior vice president of golf operations for the three resorts. “We have plans to build short courses at our other facilities in coming years as well. Non-golfers and families can enjoy them as an activity while avid golfers can play a few more holes without playing another 18.’’
This one was designed by Michigan architect Ray Hearn. It’s located on the site of the former Cuff Links nine-hole par-3 course. The new one will be lit to allow for night-time play and will be a big upgrade from Cuff Links.
“My favorite part of the project are the famous approximate green complexes I was able to create, drawing inspiration from some of my favorite greens in Scotland, Ireland and America that I have played and studied over the years,’’ said Hearn. “I was able to create fun, scaled-down versions of the originals and route them along the ski slope with uphill, downhill and sidehill holes creating some thrilling golf shots.’’
Two to three fairway options are available for each hole. Construction began in mid-July and is expected to be completed by the fall of 2023. The planned course opening is the spring of 2024.
In reality, though, it’s just the latest in a ton of projects completed or planned around the resorts.
“In the 15 years I’ve been at Boyne I’ve never seen as much re-investing and as many golf course improvements as I’ve seen in the last year and a half,’’ said Ken Griffin, the director of marketing and sales.
It all started in the aftermath of the pandemic and will continue for years.
“Ray and Bernie (now focusing on renovation projects) put together a 10-year plan for enhancements and improvements on every hole on every course at our resorts,’’ said Griffin.
Hearn’s first project was making the Highland’s Moor course more playable. He did that last year. He also started hole-by-hole upgrades at the Donald Ross Memorial. One hole was done last year. Now five have undergone major upgrades.
The Alpine and Monument courses at Boyne Mountain underwent major upgrades and the sand in all the green-side bunkers was replaced on all 18 holes at the Arthur Hills course at The Highlands. Fourteen bunkers were removed at Crooked Tree, one of the courses at Bay Harbor. Over eight miles of new cart paths and five new irrigation pumps were installed at the courses since last fall.
Golf-wise, those were the biggest projects in the start of the 10-year plan but more will come down the road and one possibility is particularly interesting.
It’s not impossible to think that Boyne might one day have a Pete Dye course. At least Hearn and Friedrich worked one into the 10-year plan, which is a tentative thing for projects further down the road. Dye, a legendary architect who died in 2020, designed a course for the resorts in 2002 but work on it stopped abruptly to shift resources to the creation of a water park. It opened in 2004 and remains the largest indoor water park in Michigan.
By no means have all the recent upgrades been in the golf operation. Most noticeable is SkyBridge Michigan, built at Boyne Mountain at a cost of over $10 million. It opened last October as the world’s longest and tallest timber-towered suspension bridge. The bridge is 1,203 feet long and the five-foot wide walking surface is 118 feet above Boyne Valley. Resort guests who choose to walk it get some spectacular views and there’s also an eatery that can add to the adventure.
Newly renovated lodging accommodations were added at The Highlands and Boyne Mountain got a 32-room boutique hotel, Chalet Edelweiss. Upgrades priced at $4 million were made at the airport at Boyne Mountain. The speed in which all these projects were completed is impressive, and they’ve initiated a change in Boyne’s perception.
The Boyne resorts have long been popular for golfers and skiers but now it’s beyond that. Boyne is approaching the same level as North Carolina’s Pinehurst Resort as far as golf goes.
“We’re the two resorts with the most holes of golf under our control,’’ said Griffin. “It’s not just the holes. It’s the resort golf experience. We’re the two biggest in the U.S. We’ve gone from a national to an international destination.’’
Next June the Boyne resorts will host 350 tour operators from around the world at the International Association of Golf Tour Operators convention. They’ll see what a great golf experience Northern Michigan offers. No doubt they’ll be impressed.