Michigan Golf History Series: Grand Hotel and the Jewel
The Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island has been attracting "sports," as islanders used to call summer visitors around the turn-of-the-century, for well over 100 years. Built during the Civil War's Gilded Age, the Grand opened in 1887. It served as the summer playground for families arriving by lake steamer from Chicago, Detroit and as far away as Montreal.
The island, long a landmark, is a draw in itself. Motorized vehicles have never been allowed. The beauty of the island and its many historic landmarks - including Fort Mackinac - remain as they were 200 years ago when the Americans and British fought over its ownership. Horse and carriage, walking and cycling not withstanding, is still the preferred mode of transportation. Guests can stroll the Victorian kitschy-but-quaint village with its T-shirt, antique and fudge shops, or explore the island's natural scenic beauty via a network of paved roads and rocky trails on bike and horseback. Billed as the world's largest summer resort, the island is 11 miles in circumference, and most of it can be explored.
The old hotel, perched high atop a bluff with its famous 660-foot verandah, is one of the most visible landmarks on the island. It still offers the same white-gloved, elegance it did in the 19thcentury. The same swimming pool, used in the filming of the 1949 Esther Williams movie This Time for Keeps still plays today to the happy shouts and sounds of vacationing families. Activities on the rolling, sculptured lawn like croquet, bocci ball and duck pin bowling are still summer main stays. Little has changed, but continuous updates and restorations of the world-famous landmark, by its longtime owners the Musser family, have kept the Grand in excellent condition.
Over the years it has played host to presidents, vice-presidents, heads of state and entertainment icons too numerous to mention. Two movies, the other being Somewhere in Time, have been filmed on location at the hotel.
William Stewart Woodfill, uncle of current owner, R. D. Musser II, started at the Grand Hotel in 1919 as a desk clerk. He went on to purchase the hotel in 1933 and brought his nephew into the business in 1951. Musser was appointed president in 1960 and purchased the Grand from his uncle in1979. Today he remains chairman of the board, but his children R. D. Musser III and Mimi Cunningham, respectively, serve as president and vice president, and have taken over the day-to-day operations.
Golf came to the island as early as 1901 when the front nine of the present 18 holes was constructed. For a long time it was thought of as just another amenity, according to Ken Hayward, VP of sales and marketing. "It wasn't until the big golf push hit the northern Lower Peninsula in the mid-1980s that it was thought of as another potential draw to the island. We weren't sure we could even put in another nine holes at that time."
At about the same time construction was being completed on the new Woodfill Conference Center, the original nine holes went through a renovation. "We knew we needed golf to help bring in the conference business and the decision was made to renovate the existing nine holes," Hayward said. "We couldn't lengthen it much, but some of the holes were rebuilt, adding water and sand with some new contours making it a short, but very enjoyable, playable course."
They still wanted another nine holes and, finally, another parcel of land opened on the island large enough for the additional nine. It wasn't contiguous, but as Hayward said, "Nothing is very faraway on the island."
The second nine, called The Woods, was opened in 1994. Designed by Jerry Mathews and cut through a heavily wooded section of the island, it's the antithesis of the more open Jewell. Featuring bent grass tees, greens and fairways, the holes play around the island airport . A horse drawn buggy transports you and your clubs the one and a quarter miles between the two nine-hole courses. Golf carts are available at each nine-hole layout, but you can't take them from one to the other.
The par-67 layout features only one par-5and six par-3s. A short, playable course, it measures about 5,500 yards from the tips and slightly over 4,200 from the forward tees. As Hayward says, "You can probably leave the driver in the bag on many of the holes. It's a shot maker's course, and with all the water (over five acres of ponds) it still offers a stiff challenge."
Hayward says that someday they hope to acquire another piece of land near The Woods that is large enough to add another nine holes. "If we had 18 contiguous holes similar in nature to The Woods, coupled with the easier nine-hole Jewell, we would have an excellent 27-holes of golf that would cater to all ability levels."
Combining the ambiance of island life and the understated elegance of the Grand Hotel, make for an unusual golf vacation that you won't find anywhere else around the Great Lakes. It may be a short ferryboat ride across the Straits of Mackinac, but once you arrive, it's a world apart.
For more information on the Grand Hotel and its many package plans, call 906-847-3331 or click on http://www.grandhotel.com. The 2002 golf season extends through October 30. MG
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