Wawashkamo Golf Club is certainly one of the more unique rounds available to American golfers, on account of getting there, if nothing else. The course is located on Mackinac Island, which requires a ferry ride from the north tip of mainland Michigan. Unlike other island destinations, such as Martha’s Vineyard, there are no automobiles allowed on Mackinac, meaning you’ll need to arrange either a horse-buggy taxi to arrive for your tee time, or make a significant hike (the island is eight-miles around).
Once there, your round will be just as unique as your commute. Designed by Alex Smith, a prominent club pro from Carnoustie and two-time U.S. Open champion, Wawashkamo features nine holes with alternate sets of tees to arrange for a proper 18-hole round.
The style of golf is historic as one would expect from a turn-of-the-century Scot, but the landscape is even more historic, dotted with cannons and other remnants of the island’s role in the Battle of 1812. It is the longest-operating golf course in one of the nation’s premiere golfing states.
This will be a unique review to match a unique course. Wawashkamo is located on Mackinaw Island in Lake Huron. Mackinow Island is also unique in that by statute no motorized vehicles are allowed on the island. This means lots of horse drawn carriages. Other modes of transportation are bicycle and foot. If you choose to walk, pay attention as the horses are leaving a lot more than footprints in their wake.
There are two courses on the island. The other is called The Jewel and is affiliated with the Grand Hotel. Also, unique, in that the original 9 is across the street from the hotel, classic throwback kind of layout. To play the back nine one must take a horse drawn buggy about 20-25 minutes to the back nine. One of our horses was named Snowball, but was called Slowball. You get the picture. Faster to walk, it is about a mile away. Paradoxically, one must take a golf cart on the back nine, which is a more modern design. If you are a resort golfer, this is the course for you. Getting to Wawashkamo can also be a challenge. We ended up walking and carrying our clubs. There is no easy way to get there, the carriage routes add considerable distance. I am sure we violated several FAA and HSA guidelines as we opted to hop the airport fence and parallel the airport runway to the course.
Wawashkamo was built on the site of The War of 1812 battlefield. The British controlled the island and the Americans unsuccessfully attacked on August 4, 1814. The British cannon were positioned on the high ground and what is now the first tee. At least a dozen American soldiers were killed, including Major Holmes. Many of the Americans are buried between the fifth and sixth fairways on the mound now known as Holmes Hill.
The course was designed and laid out by Alex Smith, a two-time US Open champion, in 1898. No machinery was utilized in the design, it was either manpower or horsepower. As an example, on the 7th and 8th holes there are large grass covered boulders which were too heavy and expensive to remove, so they were left as hazards. Not much has changed since then. Smith, a native of Carnoustie, Scotland mimicked the Scottish designs of the day. While it is not a links course it has very few trees, small tees, small greens and deep rough. Even the name is somewhat of a throwback. Smith utilized local labor in the course layout, this included Indians. Upon completion one of the Indians observed the golfers and described what they were doing as wawashkamo which translated means “walk a crooked path”. Can’t argue with that logic
This is a nine hole course, however several holes have significantly different tee boxes as well as different par. The 1st and 10th hole straight away par 5. If dry, definitely reachable from both. Right is death as British Landing Road runs parallel. The 2nd and 11th are two of the more demanding par4s. Off the tee favor the left side of the fairway. The 3rd and 12th will probably expose you to something you have never seen before on a golf course. The holes are relatively short but the kicker is a ring of heather around the green. When I say heather, think two feet or more high and wide. It is known as a The Circus Ring. Effectively, a moat of grass. When the course was laid out golf was going through a technology transformation. This had huge impacts on balls and clubs. Previously, golf had been a ground game, with the new balls and irons it was changing to an air game. Alex Smith, was also a club maker. This design forced golfers to forego their brassies, niblicks and mashies and utilize the new standardized numbered irons that Alex Smith was more than happy to provide. The 4th and 13th are the easiest and shortest holes. However, this has a severely sloping left to right green. Aim 10 yards left of the flag. The 5th and 14th are par 5s. What you see is what you get, but the small elevated green can be difficult to hit and stick. From the elevated 6th and 15th tee there is a semi-visible cross bunker about 75 yards out. By todays standards this is a wasted feature, but the intent was to get golfers to get the ball in the air. The 7th is a 219 yard par 3 and for the back nine it is transformed to a 284 yard par four. The 8th is an even longer par 3 at 224 yards, while the 17th is a more manageable 167 yards. The 9th is a reachable par 5 dogleg left. The approach shot is all carry. For the back, it morphs into a 378 yard par four.
Wawashkamo is also home to one of the biggest hickory shaft tournaments in the USA which takes place in August. This is not a well-manicured or eye candy course. If you appreciate history and a re looking for a throwback this is it. The location adds to its appeal. If this was in Chicago-land it would probably struggle to survive. I am glad I went and played it and for golf aficionados I would recommend it.
This is a hard one to rate, hard to get to and the golf course situated elsewhere would be 2.5. As it is so unique i will go 3.5