John Dodd has played a lot of golf courses. The coordinator at Northville, MIbased FPS Training, which develops and plans training programs for major companies such as Ford and Chrysler, was a participant in this year's Inaugural Boyne Classic Golf. His assessment of the Boyne USA resort's newest course, The Links at Bay Harbor? "It's the finest round of golf I've played in a long, long time," says the U.K. native. And that was with only nine holes finished.
In fact, the entire Bay Harbor project--the reincarnation of a cement plant and limestone quarry into high-end residential communities with spectacular golf and Boyne USA's exclusive Inn at Bay Harbor--has been drawing rave reviews from all quarters long before its scheduled completion.
Showing off these new jewels in the Boyne USA crown was the primary purpose of the Boyne Classic golf tournament, which attracted senior meeting decision-makers from companies such as Ford, GMAC Educational Services, and Maritz Performance Improvement.
The gracious, 200-room Inn at Bay Harbor, set for a late summer 1998 opening, will become Boyne USA's five-star offering, targeted toward high-level corporate and incentive meetings. With the addition of this property, says Michael Choiniere, director of sales and, Boyne USA becomes "the Midwest's premier collection of resorts." The collection also includes Boyne Highlands and Boyne Mountain. (See box, page 168.)
Travel to Another World Participants who flew in for the Boyne Classic, held in early June, landed in Traverse City. (There is jet service into Traverse City from Detroit; travelers connecting through Chicago now fly on commuter planes, but jet service is expected out of Chicago soon.) The drive to Bay Harbor is less than an hour--a little longer to Boyne Highlands, where the group was housed for the two-day event. It's a relaxing ride along the Lake Michigan waterfront, past a string of charming resort towns. An arriving visitor feels tension easing at every bend in the road, as northern Michigan's low-key atmosphere and that famous Midwest amiability begin to work their magic.
"There is an acceptance that one feels in the Midwest--a welcome that's unparalleled," says Jack Findlay, vice president of VSI, a marketing services firm in Bloom-field Hills, MI, and a participant in the Boyne Classic tournament. The way this natural Midwest hospitality emerges as impeccable service at the Boyne resorts is their greatest feature, says Findlay--after the golf, of course. "Boyne offers exceptional golf, a great variety of course styles," he says, "in one of the most beautiful parts of the country."
That's what the corporate executives had come to see.
"We do a lot of things well at Boyne USA," said Michael Choiniere, welcoming the guests at the opening dinner and pairings party. "We do golf extremely well."
Stephen Kircher, general manager of Boyne USA's Michigan operations (and son of founder Everett Kircher), joined the group for dinner. In his own welcome address, he touched on the history of the site, which has drawn vacationers since 1895, when they came by train and steam- boat. The Victorian-style Inn at Bay Harbor, part of a complex that stretches along five miles of Lake Michigan coastline, is meant to re-create the grandeur of that era.
Rise and Drive Participants gathered for an early breakfast Monday morning, eager to start the day with several hours of golf instruction from the pros of the renowned Nicklaus/Flick Golf School, based in North Palm Beach, FL. After short-game drills and some time at the driving range, the group enjoyed lunch grilled out on a patio atop the Country Club of Boyne--a private clubhouse open for group events.
Following lunch, Boyne Classic golfers rode the short distance to Boyne Mountain and the Monument Course. You know you are playing a mountain course when you have to drive a mile up to the first tee. Signs along the way ("You are halfway there!") reassure you as the path winds through the woods--where you're likely to spot a deer or two. "The course meanders along the hillside with great views of Deer Lake and the hills of northern Michigan," says Bernie Friedrich, Boyne USA's director of golf. "What's different about this course is it plays downhill the whole way, with undulating greens and a lot of breaks, all influenced by the mountain." The Monument Course is so named, he notes, for the monuments at tee boxes dedicated to golf greats such as Sam Snead, Jim Flick, and Kathy Whitworth.
After the afternoon of golf--under partly sunny skies with perfectly balmy temperatures--the group gathered at the Boyne Mountain's Beach Club. The venue's patio and lawns open onto the shore of Deer Lake, into which the red summer sun sets gloriously--and, in June and July, not until well after 9 p.m. The group enjoyed a cocktail reception and dinner buffet, accompanied by a live band--and a local aficionado offering fine cigars and cognacs.
After another early breakfast Tuesday, the golfers headed out for their morning round at the Heather Course at Boyne Highlands. With weather even more lovely than the previous day, the course was shown off in its best light, surrounded by ski slopes in repose. The Robert Trent Jones designed Heather Course is consistently named one of the Top 100 courses in the country, Friedrich says. "It plays around bogs and blueberry bushes with large greens. It's one of Boyne's most popular courses, because it requires long, accurate drives and long iron shots."
The Midwest's Pebble Beach After finding many of those bogs and bushes, the group boarded buses for the culmination of the tournament--a chance to play the Links nine at Bay Harbor. Overlooking Lake Michigan's Caribbean-blue (honest!) water, The Links unfolds along sand dunes and lakeside bluffs. It might even remind a Scot of home--so said Pam Wright, an LPGA player sponsored by Boyne USA and a native of Scotland. Wright added her own hospitality and charm to that of the many Boyne hosts during the tournament.
The Preserve nine joined The Links this summer, and rounding out Bay Harbor's 27-hole offering will be the most dramatic nine, The Quarry, scheduled for play early next year. (In fact, The Quarry's three finishing holes are already open--and winning kudos.)
The elegant Bay Harbor Golf Club--still receiving its finishing touches--was the stunning setting for the final-night dinner and awards ceremony. One of the many special gifts for tournament players was a take-home video previewed during the cocktail reception--equal parts duffs and great shots, but all parts fun.
And if Kircher's presence on the opening night wasn't enough evidence that the Boyne USA resorts are committed to going all out for groups, Art Tebo, Boyne USA's chief operating officer, showed up on the Links course that afternoon--and joined the group for the final night dinner.
A Diverse Experience Year-Round Guests at any one of Boyne's Michigan properties have privileges at the other two, and meetings centered around golf have more diverse offerings than at any other single resort you can name. "Most resorts with multiple golf courses will have one premier course, and others that handle the overflow," says Golf Director Friedrich. "Our courses are all equally in demand."
Attendees can have a new type of golfing experience each day. The Arthur Hills Course at Boyne Highlands (nine holes finished now and nine to be completed late next year), for example, is reminiscent of a desert course, with only one water hole. The Heather Course, by contrast, brings water into play on 14 of 18 holes. Then there is the Donald Ross Memorial Course, with its holes re-creations of the renowned architect's 18 best holes around the USA.
While Boyne's golf is top-notch, its wintertime activities are just as popular.
With more than 80 ski slopes, slopeside rooms, and the same great service, a winter meeting at one of the Boyne properties still provides a first-rate business setting with a season's worth of recreational opportunities right outside your door.*
Five Decades in the Making If the sudden national attention paid to the Boyne USA resorts since the Bay Harbor development project makes it all seem like an overnight success, don't believe it. The reputation this collection has long held in the Midwest is now deservedly spreading to the rest of the country.
"This is an overnight success story built on 50 years of hospitality," quips Michael Choiniere, director of sales and marketing. That's when Everett Kircher brought golf to Michigan and created the Boyne tradition.
Recent articles--in the Wall Street Journal, among other places--have emphasized Bay Harbor's exclusivity and star cachet (Madonna is a rumored homebuilder), but Choiniere plays up the resort's unique features. A world-class spa is planned, and guests may use to Bay Harbor's Yacht Club and Equestrian Club. "The Inn at Bay Harbor is so different, there is no doubt it is destined to become America's premier freshwater meeting and golf destination," he says, "and the preferred choice for those seeking the finest in five-star resort amenities."