Northern Michigan is noted for its range of golf resorts, but that phenomenon is relatively recent. The very first development in that trend occurred at Boyne Highlands Resort. Between it and Boyne Mountain, the resorts were very popular skiing destinations but ownership ultimately wanted to attract Summer visitors as well. That plan came to fruition when Robert Trent Jones and his associate Ron Kirby designed the Heather course at Boyne Highlands during 1968.
The course remains the toughest in the Boyne collection, stretching to nearly 7,200 yards and requiring well-placed drives to get around the trees for those hoping to find the green in regulation on the many dog-legged holes at Heather. Three of the four par threes on this route require long forced carries over water.
The success of the course fed into the development of numerous golf resorts around the region, and it also resulted in two other courses on the Boyne Highlands property: the Donald Ross Memorial and the Arthur Hills courses.
The Heather course at Boyne Highlands was a surprise to me when I played it. I usually don’t get thrilled with RTJ but he has surprised more than a few times. The course has good variety and I really enjoyed the speed of the greens some of the fastest public greens you will play and in immaculate condition. The course overall is one of the better courses in the area and worthy of boasting a top 200 public offering in the US.
Boyne Highlands Heather is a classic Robert Trent Jones design, thus, pretty predictable. However, if you can only play one of the Boyne courses in northern Michigan, this is the one. I know some naysayers will ask about the Links and Quarry at Bay Harbor. My response is, eye candy.
To the course, the first is a welcoming par 4, slight dogleg right. Don’t get to greedy, a decent drive will give you a short iron to the green that has bunkers right, front and left. The 2nd is a long dogleg right. Level of difficulty higher due to length and swamps left and right. If you get a feeling of déjà vu on the 3rd hole, don’t be alarmed. It is eerily the same as the 2nd. The 4th is a strong long par 3 all carry over water. The 5th is a dogleg left with water in the elbow. A good risk/reward hole that big hitters can get home in two. For us mortals, pick your favorite wedge yardage and go pin seeking, unless the pin is cut left near the water hazard. There is no way this is the toughest hole on the course. Déjà vu all over again, this par 3 is the kissing cousin of the 4th just shorter. The par 47th is a dogleg left. I would not muck around with the corner, favor left of center to avoid driving through the fairway into the bunker on the elbow and the water hazard right. Guess what hole the 8th looks like? You got it the 7th. The 9th is a big boy, demanding, thought provoking par 5. It is an S dogleg left. You can cut the corner a bit, but don’t be crazy. For your second shot favor the right to avoid the water hazard left. The elevated green is protected by bunkers right, center and left.
The 10th is a slight dogleg right, favor the left off the tee. However, be forewarned there is OB left. On the approach do not be fooled by the bunkers left. The first two are not greenside. The 550 yard straight away par 5 is the number 2 handicap hole. Crazy, yes the green is surrounded by 4 bunkers, but 3 average shots and you should be able to make par. The 12th is another Florida par 3. The par 4 13th is a dogleg left to a well bunkered green. Favor the left off the tee but there is limited value in trying to cut the corner. On the 14th, whatever you, don’t go right. I almost hurt myself trying to extricate my ball from the deep fairway bunker. More bunkers surround the green. The par 5 dogleg left 15th is a good risk reward hole that is reachable. The corner can be cut, but in our group there was no upside as the only guy who played conservative carded the only birdie. The16th is the 18th handicap hole and I thought it was one of the tougher par 3s. Uphill, long two bunkers leftt and a deep BAB right. Did I mention the nefarious green? The par 4 17th is a dogleg right that appears relatively innocuous on the card. Favor the right side off the tee. I would advise taking an extra club on your approach and definitely aim 5 yards right of the flag. Tilts hard right to left. We arrive at the zenith of the Heather. I am pretty sure the 18th tee box is the highest altitude of the course and what you have in front of you is a spectacular finishing hole. A long downhill par four with the water hazard coming into paly about 250 yards off the tee. Straight off the tee and short of the water will leave you about 180 all carry to a long narrow green with bunkers behind it. Do not despair, if you go left there is a throat that is about 10 yards wide. This is an awesome finishing hole. We had 13 guys playing and managed top splash 11 balls.
I really enjoyed this course. The deja vus, inappropriate handicap rankings and incessant bugswere the only negatives.
The complex at Boyne Highlands is a golfer's paradise with several different courses to enjoy. Arguably, the best of the bunch is the Heather -- the handiwork of the renowned Robert Trent Jones, Sr. The course has not been altered in a major way from what Jones originally provided -- although the 18th, which I will examine shortly, was changed just a bit.
The RTJ Sr. philosophy is certainly alive and well. The Heather features extended tee boxes and often large flanking bunkers - especially greenside.
Jones made famous his "heroic" style of architecture and there are a few examples of that at the Heather. The par-5 5th is a smaller version of the type of hole Jones famously created with the 13th at The Dunes Club in Myrtle Beach. Here the holes moves left instead of right and the overall yardage at The Heather is far shorter than the Palmetto State counterpart.
Three of the par-3's play over water and frankly the style of hole is overdone here. The 4th is especially demanding with a shot of 200+ yards needed to safely reach the center of the green. The 6th, the second par-3 on the outward half, is nearly a facsimile image of the 4th. The most interesting par-3 comes late in the round with the striking uphill 16th which features a quality green split into different subsections and highlighted by a demanding far right pin location protected by a large solitary bunker.
Although dense woods flank nearly all the holes-- there's more than enough sufficient space to play shots. The facility also has been proactive in making sure the canopies do not extended unnecessarily too close to the line of play.
The issue with The Heather is that the architectural style of Jones has moved out of fashion given the type of top tier courses available today. When the Heather opened there was not the depth of competition that exists today. The bunkering pattern is often way too predictable and redundant.
The most talked about hole comes with the closer -- one you will not forget. Originally, Jones did not see the need for a large water hazard being included but ownership saw the location as being ideal on two fronts. The water would provide a source for usage property and be an ideal detention basin. In addition having the water would beef up the demands of the 451-yard finale. Golfers must decide how close to play to the edge of the hazard. From the back tees the end of the fairway comes at 292 yards. Playing from an elevated tee can shorten that distance a good bit. Even when finding the fairway the approach must be played over the same pond to a green protected fiercely in front. The slightest mishap can easily mean a quick splash in the pond. There are bailout options so the playability of the hole is preserved. Frankly, the 18th really carries the day at The Heather.
All in all, The Heather is a fine layout. The subtle details and varying elements with bunker placements and green designs is not as sophisticated as one sees with other nearby courses but the layout still holds up well and is worth a play when in the neighborhood.
by M. James Ward