by Jerry Zgoda
BELVEDERE GOLF CLUB
The old white clapboard clubhouse with its distinctive green-shingled roof has been the backdrop for 39 Michigan state amateur championships. The detached golf shop is a simple space fashioned in the manner of Scotland’s original clubs a century or more ago, when the earthy, weathered club pro was separated from members because he often drank too much and talked too loud.
Nothing about Belvedere Golf Club shouts the excesses of the course construction boom — sculpted by both bulldozer and mason — that has sprouted all around it the past 30 years, transforming this summer-resort corner of northern Michigan into one of America’s most fashionable golf destinations.
Everything about it evokes the soul of the game.
Five-time British Open champion Tom Watson still considers this semi-private club one of his favorite courses in all the world, an evaluation no doubt colored by childhood memories playing with his father during summers spent at Walloon Lake 20 miles away.
You won’t find teenagers waiting to take your clubs here. You’ll never find golf carts zooming around selling beer, because Belvedere doesn’t have a liquor license.
What you will find is golf as it once was: Small, contoured greens created simply by pushing up earth. Fescue-lined fairways, laid out 80 years ago by Scotsman Willie Watson, built by 150 men and five teams of horses in valleys that tumble away from the clubhouse. You’ll also find a brisk pace of play that, club pro Steve Braun promises, won’t exceed four hours, even on the Fourth of July.
“There’s no pretense, just good golf,” says Golf Channel commentator Brian Hewitt. “The presentation of golf there is classic, understated cool. It doesn’t disappoint you. You feel fulfilled at the end of a round.”
1964 U.S. Open champ Ken Venturi arrived there one day years ago because the great Gene Sarazen said he needed to play Belvedere’s 16th hole, short par 4 that requires a precise second shot to a narrow, angled green set on a hillside. Miss even a few feet right of the pin and your ball will spill 40 feet away. Miss too cautiously left and you’ll face a delicate, daunting downhill chip shot.
Esteemed Northern Michigan-based course architect Tom Doak, designer of Oregon’s acclaimed Pacific Dunes, once called Belvedere “exactly the kind of course golf needs more of, but that no one is building.”
“One of the great highlights of golf… is the discovery of the hidden gems along the way,” Hewitt wrote in Golfweek magazine. “Go to Ireland for Ballybunion and, if you are lucky, you will happen upon Dooks. Go to St. Andrews for The Old Course and, if you are lucky, you will be pointed toward Crail. Go to Northern Michigan for Bay Harbor and, if you are very lucky, you will stumble onto Belvedere.”