Golf resorts come in all sizes and styles. If you visit enough, you realize it's hard to bring everything together coherently. Either they have too many amenities and are spread out, or they simply don't offer enough of what you're looking for. Some are just plain stuffy, while others don't grasp the concept of customer service.
It's refreshing to find a place that has it all. Garland Resort in northern Michigan is one such place. Garland is remote, with the nearest town being Lewiston, population less than 1,000. But that's okay, because everything you need is right at your fingertips. Once you enter the log cabin lodge, you never need the car again. The lodge is classy and comfortable. It has a wonderful restaurant, lounge with live music, tiki bar and back patio for relaxing, indoor pool, outdoor pool, indoor jacuzzi, outdoor jacuzzi, volleyball, basketball, fitness center, and even an old guy named "Coach," who sits on the patio, shines your golf shoes, and tells a few tales.
Golf at Garland is an interesting story. The resort was founded in 1951 by Detroit businessman and German immigrant Herman Otto. It was designed as an upstate retreat for his employees. Over the first 30 years, Otto and his son, Ron, pieced together four nines to make 36 holes. Herman died in 1983, and a gas explosion destroyed the lodge in 1985. At that point, Ron stepped in and took over the resort from his sister and mother. First, he rebuilt the lodge. Then he turned to golf.
Although not a course architect by trade, Ron Otto designed four excellent layouts at Garland, incorporating a few of the old holes he built with his father. The courses are: Fountains, Monarch, Swapfire and Reflections.
Fountains is generally considered the premier course and carries a premium fee, but I think Monarch or Swampfire might be best. All are good tracks; no gimmicks or goofiness. As Ron told me, "When you're on the tee, you should have a target, the hole should be framed, and you should know what you're getting into."
There is only one blind shot in 72 holes ... an over-the-hill approach to No. 2 on Reflections. Ron doesn't like that hole, but needed to avoid neighboring property. A great hole is fifth on Swampfire, a par-3 over water. The tee box is maybe 200 yards long and frames the pond like a boomerang. You could play that hole every week and never get the same look!
Two of Garland's courses have equal numbers of par-3s, par-4s and par-5s. Otto is not afraid to end with a par-3, either. "A guy makes a good shot and a putt and can win. That's where all the money changes hands," he says.
Otto is neat and organized in his personal life and that carries over to the resort. It's landscaped with 35,000 flowers and trash is not allowed. Employees are expected to be sincere, and loyalty is rewarded. The house band, Jeff and Sue: A Cult of 2, has performed in the lounge since 1988.
Another nice touch -- All scorecards come with yardage guides. They don't charge an extra $5-$10.
Check out the photo album of Garland on this site, and visit Garland online at www.garlandusa.com.