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The Heathlands of Onekama (231-889-5644)

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Michigan Golf Course Review

Heathlands of Onekama | Michigan golf course

The brochure on the Heathlands provides a definition of the term used in the name - Consisting of wonderfully firm, smooth turf, pine birch and native grasses, that on account of the sandy sub-soil, absorbs moisture with rare speed. This description provides some insight on how the golf course can be so finely conditioned from tee to green. We found the tees, fairway, greens and even the rough, to be consistently sculpted, adding allure to a layout that is uniquely interesting. The Heathlands is set amongst the highlands and  rolling hills just south of Portage Lake, and winds through considerable fruit orchards. Water comes into play on only 2 holes and wet lands are sparse, but 45 strategically placed sand bunkers and tall native grasses will punish shots missing the generous fairways. We also found their claim to be a course "of enchantment, rather than menace" to be quite true. The design provides for some rather generous landing areas, with only a scattering of tight, tree-lined fairways. The four sets of tee boxes are set at 6569, 6030, 5336 and 4437, and feature 4 relatively short par threes, with only 4 par fours playing at over 400 yards. Most players will choose the blue tees at just over 6000 yards, with a slope rating of 128.

Heathlands of Onekama | Michigan golf course
Heathlands of Onekama | Michigan golf course

The fairways are thick and lush, and the greens are of medium size and speed, and are soft enough to hold approaches quite well. The easier holes are featured earlier in the round, with the final three presenting the toughest challenge of the layout. The course is well marked, with visible 150-yard stakes making fine targets on the fairways. Sprinkler heads are measured to the center of the green, and pin placements are indicated by color-coded flags. Use the white tee boxes as the reference point for distances measured from each tee area.

On property is a beautiful grass range with target areas, and a large, fine tuned practice green. The clubhouse is unpretentious, with adequately stocked golf accessories and a snack area for sandwiches and beverages. A pavilion is set up outside, featuring great burgers and other fare, available throughout the season until at least 4 PM (and later on busy days). Overall, this is a great golfing atmosphere.

Heathlands of Onekama | Michigan golf course
Heathlands of Onekama | Michigan golf course

The opening hole is very fair, with a fairway dotted with bunkers that bends left to right. Anything hit to the fairway off the tee will set up a reasonable downhill approach. The par three second is the 17th handicap, and is quite open, with bunkers coming into play on shots hit errantly left or right. The next stretch of three holes is wuite challenging, beginning with the long par five 3rd. The tee shot must navigate around a fruit orchard bordered with tall grasses. After a relatively easy 2nd shot, the approach plays uphill to a green well guarded by sand traps.  Anything hit past the green will find the woods. There is plenty of room off the tee on number 4, which doglegs sharply left about 100 yards out. Shots hit to the left side will find the tree line blocking their path to the green. The fifth also possesses a generous fairway, but is the longest par four of the layout. The approach plays 1 club uphill.  Number 6 features one of the widest fairways in the state, and plays easily as a 474-yard par five (from the blues). The most advantageous position to be in off the tee on the short par four seventh is on the right side of the fairway, even or just right of the tree line on that side, Right handers can hit a fade that lands about 100 yards out. The putting surface is tucked in a nook, and plays uphill. This is a tight, tricky approach. If the pin is in back, it is difficult to see. The par three eighth is a beauty, from an elevated tee and is followed by a short par four to finish the front. Aim your tee shot over the center fairway bunker, and avoid the trap 20 yards out and this is a relatively easy hole.

Heathlands of Onekama | Michigan golf course
Heathlands of Onekama | Michigan golf course

The back side opens with another short par four that traverses a rolling fairway. A lay up short of the right fairway bunker will set up a reasonable uphill approach. The 12th is also short in yardage, but plays uphill into the prevailing wind. Pay attention to the pin placement here, as the green is double-tiered. Number 12 has two tee areas, which present totally different perspectives. The boxes on the left play through a narrow opening, with tress on both sides. The tee area on the right demands a carry over bushes and a native area. Be sure to check the yardages, as the tee boxes on the right play a bit shorter. In either case, there is more room short of the green than it appears. Again pin placement is important, as this long green is figure-8 shaped and ridged. Distance off the tee is vital on 13th, which plays as either a long par four or short par five. Stay below the hole on the approach, as this green slopes back to front. The 14th plays from an elevated tee, with a lay up in front of the fairway bunkers being the best way to find an even lie. The approach is 1 club uphill. The par three 15th is a pretty hole (a la Treetops) from another elevated tee. This shot is almost all carry, as the 10 yards of rough in front of the green slopes down into the bog. If the pin is in back - hit it there, as a ridge in the center of the putting surface will feed anything short back towards the front of the green. This is a difficult par if your shot lands on the incorrect tier. Number 16 presents an uphill tee shot, and an approach that demands 1-1/2 to 2 clubs more. It is a beautiful view, from the 15th green that overlooks the tee boxes.  Number 17 is a great links style hole, with a narrow fairway bordered by tall grasses and dotted with fairway bunkers. The putting surface here is tiny! The closing hole is also quite pretty, with the tips and blue tees playing from an elevated area. The fairway seems generous enough, but it gets interesting from there. The second shot plays uphill and must carry quite a ways before you are able to see the green. A drive in your cart up the fairway is recommended here, to ascertain the correct distance to the water hazard. Most players will lay up with their third shot, and approach the green over the water with a short to mid iron. This is a difficult par five - and plays as a par 6 for those on the front tees (484 yards). It is the number one handicap for good reason.

Heathlands of Onekama | Michigan golf course
Heathlands of Onekama | Michigan golf course

This is an interestingly designed layout. It starts slowly, picks up steam, tapers off, and closes with a strong finish. Don't be fooled by the lack of yardage here. Scratch players will be challenged by the 139 slope rating from the tips. Average golfers will have to play well and execute good iron shots to score their handicap from the blue tees. However, novices, seniors and ladies will find the Heathlands to be very playable. This course will not beat you up - unless you are having an extremely bad day. In that case, enjoy the pretty surroundings and wonderful service. The course is easy to get to, just a 5.5 mile drive along HWY 22 from the Little River Casino intersection at US 31. Enjoy the lakefront scenery, and watch for the Heathlands sign across from beautiful Portage Lake. A round here is highly recommended.

Heathlands of Onekama | Michigan golf course

Check out the Two Guys Who Golf detailed information page on this course (which includes a link to the course's website if available) - click here.

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