Brian Walters Photography
Our knowledgeable crew of course raters have played golf just about everywhere. Many of those courses you’ve probably heard of, but some are less renowned — at least for most golfers. In Best Course You’ve Never Heard Of, we celebrate those sneaky-good designs.
An hour north of the last town anybody knows in Northern Michigan is a timeless, charming course that belongs on your radar. Belvedere Golf Club sits in the small city of Charlevoix, on a narrow bit of land between Lake Michigan and Lake Charlevoix.
Opened in 1927, it was designed and built by Scottish-born William Watson, who was then the head professional at Chicago Golf Club and is known today for his work at White Bear Yacht Club, in Minnesota, the Olympic Club and Harding Park, in San Francisco, and many other respected projects. Armed with a team of horses on roughly 175 acres of farmland, Watson created a sublimely strategic course that remains remarkably unchanged today.
The land on which the course sits is divided by a ridge that is among the higher points in the area. Rather than simply route the course up and down that ridge, Watson worked up, down, alongside and across it, creating great variety while leveraging the features of the property.
As with many courses of its time, the par-5s are on the short side, but the par-4s range in length from the diminutive 16th to a daunting 18th that stretches nearly 460 yards. A terrific set of par-3s, highlighted by the spectacular 240-yard 4th, presents a similarly comprehensive test.
But the true stars of the show at Belvedere are the greens. Some have argued that they’re the finest in Northern Michigan. It’s an argument worth making. Watson didn’t just rely on one style or feature. There are greens benched into the ridge; greens that sit comfortably in a bowl; false-fronted greens that reject too-cute attacks; and greens with such dramatic internal contouring to make you feel as though you’re a sloop, riding chop on one of the nearby lakes. They provide a masterclass in design and shaping, marrying the land’s natural features with an appropriate style of green to suit the strategy of the hole.
Though Belvedere is a private club, its members have embraced a Scottish model and open their course to the public during certain times. Mark it on your map. If you find yourself in Northern Michigan, Belvedere is well worth the trip.
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