The Detroit News – July 1998 … Hidden Gems
Photos by Kevin Frisch / Golf Marketing Services

Simple pleasures
Charlevoix’s Belvedere is solid golf without all the fancy trappingsBy Vartan Kupelian / The Detroit News

CHARLEVOIX, Mich. — The beauty of Belvedere Golf Club is in its simplicity. Fancy trappings? You won’t find any here.

In golf’s marketing-driven environment, fancy wins awards.

But fancy does not win the hearts of all golfers. I wouldn’t trade a round at Belvedere for a round at nine out of 10 Tournament Players Club courses.

Belvedere is a hidden gem; the TPC courses are Hollywood, all glitz and glamor.

Belvedere, one of the best courses in the state, was the site of 38 Michigan Amateurs through 1988, when the tournament began its journey around the state. Many were upset by the move. The Michigan Amateur in Charlevoix had become an institution, but Belvedere’s clubhouse and practice facilities were inadequate in this high-maintenance era of golf.

There is no doubt the Amateur has lost some of its appeal — in Charlevoix, it was an event. As it moves from city to city, course to course, the allure and continuity are missing. But that’s a different topic.

Belvedere, opened for play in 1927, was designed by Scotsman William “Willie” Watson, the same architect who designed Olympic Club in San Francisco, site of this year’s U.S. Open. Watson also designed Olympia Fields in Chicago and Interlachen in Minneapolis, both among the most famous courses in America.

Tom Watson played Belvedere frequently as a young man when his family spent the summers in Charlevoix. He ranks it among his favorite courses, alongside Pebble Beach, the Old Course at St. Andrews, and Augusta National.

Belvedere shares many of the same instincts, including the philosophy that par-5 holes should be difficult birdie opportunities but relatively easy pars. Two of the par-5 holes are the ninth, at 463 yards, and the dogleg right 16th, downhill, at 459 yards.

The par-3 and par-4 holes, even with generous fairways, are particularly challenging. For example, the first par 3 a golfer encounters at Belvedere is 236 yards from the championship markers, 213 yards from the regular tees. The next is 156 yards, but demands an accurate tee shot. On the back, the par 3s are 176 and 178 yards — no short irons there.

Belvedere features small, fast greens that demand shotmaking and score-saving skills. After all, the essence of golf is the result, not the methodology. Here, getting it up-and-down is an art form that gives as much joy and satisfaction as a 250-yard drive, and maybe more.

That’s why Belvedere was such an outstanding venue for the Michigan Amateur, a match play event. It leveled the playing field. Short hitters with shotmaking skills are not at a disadvantage.

The strength of Belvedere is in its outstanding par 4s, both short and long. There are so many really good par-4 holes it’s hard to know where to begin. I found several favorites, including the 435-yard seventh hole.

The 11th is 391 yards to a small green — naturally — set in an amphitheater. It’s not particularly imposing until you try to make par. A perfect drive is no guarantee you will successfully negotiate a par, a fact so true on many of Belvedere’s holes.

The 16th is a delightful little 346-yard hole with a shelf of a green that you dare not miss right. Again, not imposing, but you’ll discover that par is a good score once you assess a putt on that green.

The 17th is a terrific par 3 and sets up a glorious finish at the 430-yard 18th. But when I refer to glorious at Belvedere, rest assured I’m not talking waterfalls or railroad ties or hidden hazards. I’m talking about another classic golf hole, just one of 18 at Belvedere.

Belvedere is a semi-private course open for some outside play. Due to shrinking membership — which is by invitation only — large blocks of starting times are available for the public. The club has never done much in the way of marketing, but now is letting outsiders know they are welcome.

For another couple of bucks you can get a sandwich or a hot dog grilled on a barbecue just behind the little pro shop that sits on the other side of the parking lot from the clubhouse. Soda is in the machine. There are a couple of picnic tables, too.

Like I said, no frills. No trappings. Just golf. Just perfect.