From Golfweek, 07.02.05
Mecca of the North
A then-and-now look at Northern Michigan’s famed golf enclave
by Gene Yasuda
Stand on the ninth tee at Belvedere Golf Club you can see the valley below, where the previous eight holes unfold amid a burst of red maples and the shimmering purple wave of native fescue.
But close your eyes, and actually can see so much more.
…Walter Hagen and Tommy Armour marching down the first fairway, beginning one of their legendary duels. Well-garbed crowds waiting anxiously by the green. And Willie Watson, the course’s designer, observing it all, smiling proudly at the gem he created in 1927 with the help of 150 men and five tems of horses.
Imagining a bygone era is effortless here because Belvedere, tucked away in the tranquil northern Michigan town of Charlevoix, is a timeless classic — one that has surpassed any aspirations watson could have held. Indeed, all he set out to do was build a comfortable respite for the weary wealthy who summered here to escape the rigors of metropolitan life. But the course he built became much more, hosting legends such as Hagen and Armour at the Great Lakes Open and enduring for decades beyond. Belvedere has been the home of the Michigan Men’s Amateur Championship on 39 occasions, most recently in 2003, and remains on the rota.
“There are not a lot of shots here that make you pucker up, but they’re all good, honest holes,” says Steve Braun, Belvedere’s head professional and a state amateur finalist back in 1979.
Belvedere Golf Club
Belvedere’s emergence in the late 1920s came at the request of members of the Belvedere Club, a summer home association in Charlevoix that still exists today.
“They simply wanted a course to call their own… They certainly didn’t set out to build one that would host a championship,” says Braun, the club’s head professional for the past decade. That motivation spurred members to hire away Watson, a pro with some design experience, from the Chicago Club, another nearby home association.
The members yearned for a lengthy challenge — some things apparently never change — and gave Watson only one major directive.
“They wanted a man-size course, and at just under 6,800 yards, it was long for its time,” Braun says.
Over the years it became a favorite of many, including Tom Watson, who played here countless times during the summers of his boyhood, when his family vacationed at nearby Walloon Lake in Petoskey. The eight-time major champion still drops by here quietly for an occasional round.
One hole in particular, the par-4 16th, best illustrates Belvedere’s appeal. At 346 yards — and with the tees sometimes pushed forward to 297 yards — nearly everyone is seduced to smash driver toward its elevated green. But getting there — and staying on it — with your second shot, even if it’s a short pitch, is an altogether different story. The green is carved out of a hillside, a sliver of a shelf with a treacherous false front. A recovery from above the green is dicey, and it’s no bargain from below, either. The only easy feat? Putting off the green.
During tournaments, especially the state amateur, fans are all too happy to find a seat around this green.
“You can see some tremendous little shots that people really appreciate,” Braun says. And he adds with a chuckle, “They love watching the train wrecks, too.”