Northern Michigan in the summertime is quite possibly the most pleasant place on Earth, with all sorts of activities geared towards the delightful climate: boating, hiking, swimming, sightseeing, and of course golf. The charming town of Charlevoix is right in the center of it all – a reasonable drive to literally dozens of excellent golf courses, among other attractions. That said, quite possibly the most enjoyable course in the area is right in town: Belvedere, designed by Willie Watson of Olympic (Lake) fame after he settled in Charlevoix, is a classic test in a pastoral setting. The greens are firm, fast, and big and undulating enough to be receptive to all types of approach shots. Every single one of them has uniquely varied contours and many add a highlight to some rather mundane terrain, particularly on the front nine.
I was lucky enough to stay in Charlevoix for several days immediately across from its fun little 9-hole municipal layout on the northeast side of town (also designed by Willie Watson!), where I enjoyed playing with several friendly locals. I discussed with them driving around the area to play several courses since I would only have time for one 18-hole round on the trip, and all of them recommended Belvedere over Bay Harbor, True North, Boyne, Treetops, and even the 2-hour drive to Arcadia Bluffs. I had been leaning towards Belvedere anyway as it is the more classic style I enjoy, but this recommendation cemented it.
Belvedere begins with a series of par fours in a creek valley, all of which have elevated, undulating putting surfaces. The real jewels of the outward nine are #7 through #9, which climb out of the valley. #7 is a long, uphill par four that requires two really good shots and then some to get down in par. #8 is a short, but uphill par three to a massive green of 45+ yard depth with undulations on all portions. Finally, #9 is a reachable short par five that provides a bevy of options as well as dangers (OB, hazard, bunkers, humps and bumps) across its 480 yards; shockingly, it features another massive, sloping green complex.
The back nine begins in earnest on #12, a par four featuring a very difficult sloping fairway forcing the player into an uncomfortable approach to a large but well-protected green. #15 is a bit of a forced layup hole with modern equipment, but it provides a birdie opportunity for those who dare attempt to cut the corner with a massive fade. #16 is a nasty little short par four that plays uphill with a semi-blind approach to a long and narrow green with a massive false front on the right side. Surprisingly, it falls off to the left as well into a little swale, which makes even a bail out shot tricky. #17 is a slightly uphill par three that acts like a quasi-redan; while the green complex is mostly circular, the player can still bounce the ball on from right to left using the sloping terrain. And naturally, the finishing hole is one of the best on the course. The optimal angle to the green is found by driving the ball as close to the fairway bunkers to the right as possible – bailout left can find tree trouble – and arguably the most undulating green on the course provides all sorts of challenges in and of itself.
It’s a fair position to say that things like weather, course conditions, and quality of play affect course ratings; after all, you’re more likely to enjoy a course when you play well on a beautiful day with great condition than if you play poorly on a miserable day with aerated greens. I was lucky enough to experience the former at Belvedere, posting a solid score on a spectacular 75-degree day in early summer, with the course firm and fast. That said, I think the course itself merits 6 balls, because it makes me want to come back and play it again more than nearly any other course I’ve ever experienced – even if the conditions aren’t perfect, I’m sure I will still enjoy it immensely.
Played June 13, 2017
Date: February 20, 2019