Michigan Golf History Series: Drummond Island Resort
One of the most unusual golf resorts in the Midwest is located on rustic Drummond Island just off the eastern end of Michigan's Upper Peninsula. Known more for its outstanding hunting and fishing opportunities, The "Gem of Lake Huron," as the island is known, is the Untied State's largest freshwater island.
Its 150-plus miles of rock-bound shoreline are a fisherman's paradise. The interior of the hardwood and pine covered island is home to deer, turkey, snowshoe hare, bobcat, black bear and even some suspected wolves and a mountain lion or two. It's not your typical backdrop for a golf resort - even an "Up North" golf resort.
Drummond Island Resort had a humble beginning. Typically, as you might expect on the island, it began in the 1950s as a 200-acre hunting and fishing camp for Detroit-area resident Mel Rinehart and his buddies. After he passed away in the early 1980s, his estate went on the market. At the same time, pizza mogul and Detroit Tigers owner Tom Monaghan was searching for an island to purchase so he could dock his yacht The Tigress closer to Lake Huron's yachting haven, the North Channel. He didn't find an island to buy, but instead found Rinehart's beautiful piece of land located on a sheltered cove along Drummond's north side. He closed on the deal in 1984 and immediately began building the corporate retreat he envisioned for his Domino Pizza employees and Tiger baseball players. Complete with lodge, conference rooms, restaurants and even a bowling alley, he spared no expense in building the hideaway.
About the same time, Jack Nicklaus' The Bear at the Grand Traverse Resort and Spa and Arnold Palmer's The Legend at Shanty Creek opened in the mid-1980s, ushering in the northern Michigan golf boom. To top off his multi-million dollar corporate retreat, Monaghan began construction on The Rock in 1987. A stunning golf course designed by, at the time, an aspiring golf course architect named Harry Bowers, many golf writers consider it to be the "Crown Jewel" of UP golf and one of the best "getaway" courses in the Great Lakes region.
At the same time the golf course was being built, Woodmor Lodge was constructed. Fashioned after the sawmill that once occupied the land, the 40-room lodge reflects a turn-of-the-century logging camp, complete with sheet metal, logs and brightly painted woodwork. The wood décor, perfect for the rustic setting, is both unique and memorable.
Monaghan didn't have long to enjoy his corporate playground. His high-flying days came crashing down in 1991. Some say it was an economic necessity, and others say he found religion and was inspired by his devotion to the Catholic Church. Whatever the reason he paired down his acquisitions and sold both the Tigers and the Drummond Island property.
Recognizing an investment opportunity and an opportunity to preserve a unique portion of island history, Denny Bailey, a native islander whose family helped settle the island, got together a couple of partners and purchased the Monaghan property for a fraction of its original cost.
Bailey, who won't tell you what a good deal they got, did say, "It was a great opportunity. How many times can you buy a resort that was basically a turnkey operation? It was ready for business the day we closed on the property. We really didn't have to do a thing to open the doors to the public."
"Even the septic system was a commercial grade that could handle everything Monaghan had built and lots more," said his partner Cliff Haley, a former CEO for Budget Rent-a-Car who moved to the island in 1993. "It's allowed us to add the log homes that we're building along the waterfront and along the golf course."
The property is still a corporate retreat, but it attracts more corporations today than just Dominos and Tiger personnel. The property, under the ownership of Bayside, Inc. - Bailey, Haley and their respective wives, Suzanne and Carolyn - now boasts 2,000 acres with a quarter-mile of lakefront. They've added close to 30 individual homes, many in a rental pool, and the Bayside Dining Room, which is the closest thing to gourmet dining you'll find in the eastern UP. In the last couple of years they've added lots of other outdoor recreational activities including kayaking and canoeing, mountain biking, sporting clays and more hiking trails scattered throughout the nature preserve-like grounds.
To play The Rock is not just another round of golf; it's an experience. Cut out of limestone, the individual tree-lined holes meander gracefully over 400 acres. You'll see more deer on your round than other golfers. Ponds, lakes, wetlands and even a waterfall complete this picturesque course. The18-hole, par-71 course plays 6,830 yards from the tips to just under 5,000 yards from the forward tees. Four individual sets of tees allow players to customize the course to a comfortable length. If you play from the back tees with its 142 slope rating, expect a challenging round. Sporting a thriving wildlife habitat on the property, Drummond Island Resort and Conference Center is a member of the Audubon Society.
For more information on this unique island retreat, call (800) 999-6343. MG
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