Sweetgrass to be named National Golf Course of the Year on Jan. 25
HARRIS — Sweetgrass Golf Course has received extensive recognition and platitudes since it opened in 2008. Jan. 25 the course will land its highest honor.
Sweetgrass will be named National Golf Course of the Year in Orlando that day, joining such venerable venues as Pebble Beach Golf Links and Georgia’s Reynolds Plantation. It will become the sixth Michigan course to achieve that honor from the National Golf Course Owners Association.
The Jemsek National Course of the Year Award is based on outstanding contributions to its community, exceptional quality of the course, exceptional quality of ownership and management, and significant contributions to the game.
“We were all just speechless,” said Sweetgrass director of golf Dave Douglas. “We are very honored to win that award.”
The Island Resort & Casino is operated by the Hannahville Indian Community of the Potawatomi Nation and just recently opened a $33 million expansion as part of an 11-story Palm Tower that expands lodging capacity to 454 rooms and includes the Horizon Steakhouse and Splash Island, a new family waterpark.
General manager Tony Mancilla said the expansion was developed out of necessity, noting demand and a lodging backlog on weekends that extended to 150 to 200 people.
“Golf (lodging) was getting crowded out (by other activities),” acknowledged Mancilla.
“Hannahville has always strived to be the best and offer the best,” said long-time Tribal Chief Ken Meshigaud. “We’re very proud (of the award). We know we have the product to offer that people will be pleased with.
“We are very pleased with what it has done for our facility and the central U.P. We have always given accolades to our staff. What a fantastic group we have there. It shows Hannahville tries to do the best in anything we do.”
Meshigaud said the Sweetgrass development in addition to the 2018 opening of nearby Sage Run Golf Course “is one of the most beneficial additions. It has made quite an impact.”
Sweetgrass had been named Michigan’s course of the year for Region 2 last fall, putting it in line for the national award. Other regional honorees were vaunted Streamsong Red of Bowling Green, Fla. in Region 3, Swansea Country Club of Swansea, Mass. in Region 1 and Silverado Resort in Napa, Cal. in Region 4.
The NGCOA’s board of directors then selected Sweetgrass as the Jemsek National course of the year.
“This was a bonus for us,” Mancilla said of the national award. “It is pretty neat. Michigan has so many great courses. That was pretty much our goal (state award). We were excited about that (just being considered for the national award).”
Mancilla will attend the Orlando awards program with Douglas, Scott Herioux and John Holberton.
Previous Michigan winners of the national award were Stoatin Brae of Augusta in 2021, The Heather at Boyne Highlands in 2019, Forest Dunes in Roscommon in 2016, Scott Lake Country Club in Comstock Park in 2012 and Fox Hills Golf and Banquet Center in Plymouth in 2003. Another previous Michigan state winner was TimberStone Golf Course of Iron Mountain.
Among other past notable national recipients are the Pete Dye Course in French Lick, Ind., World Tour Links in Myrtle Beach, S.C. and Atlantic Dunes by Davis Love III in Hilton Head, S.C.
Sweetgrass was nominated by Kevin Frisch of Gaylord, who owns a public relations firm that has worked closely with Island Resort & Casino over the years.
Mancilla said hosting the Symetra Tour since 2011 has been a major boost for women’s golf, with ticket sales reaching $4,000 annually. That profit goes to the YMCA of Delta County for its’ youth programs.
“That (Symetra Tour) has really promoted women’s golf,” Mancilla said, noting Sweetgrass and Sage Run are also used for Upper Peninsula high school finals golf tournaments. “The more you grow, the more it benefits everybody,” said Mancilla. “We are on a good trajectory.”
The tribe donates a practice round and the finals day to the preps.
Frisch said he nominated Sweetgrass because “of the quality of the golf course. They base the criteria on the quality, ownership and management and contributions to the community. What they have done with the Symetra event, what they do to give back to the community. Everything around it warranted the nomination. I felt it would be a perfect nomination, well deserved. They do an incredible job.”
Frisch said Sweetgrass’ selection “further solidifies the quality and quantity of good golf in Michigan.
“It really sets it apart from other places. It is always in great condition. The quality of maintenance really sets them apart.”
He also said the green complexes “are really cool. You always walk away thinking about the green’s complexes. They are always in great condition.”
The greens, which are heavily contoured and usually quite slick, stand out because of their unique variety. The No. 15 island green is probably the most memorable hole as it is very visible – and intimidating – from the eighth and 12th tee boxes. The 12th is a biarritz green, with a valley in the middle that has generated several aces during the Symetra tournament.
No. 4 is a difficult redan green requiring a tough 5-iron or 3-or-5-wood approach to a long, narrow green sloping down sharply from front to back.
The complex on 9-and-18 is also memorable as the large green shaped like the Upper Peninsula is connected. Those greens are switched for the Symetra tourney, with the normal No. 9 serving as the decisive final hole.
Five former Upper Peninsula highway bridges — topped by the former Nahma bridge on No. 15 – are standouts on the Sweetgrass course. Another course highlight is the environmentally reclaimed water filtration system that pumps water into the ponds on nos. 9-18, which Frisch noted in his nomination.
The architect of Sweetgrass is Paul Albanese of Albanese & Lutzke Golf Designs.