Arcadia Bluffs
Arcadia, Michigan

Course Review

by VW

If you live in the Midwest and want to experience a course like Pebble Beach, you have two amazing options, situated almost directly across Lake Michigan from each other: Whistling Straights in Kohler, Wisconsin, and Arcadia Bluffs in Arcadia, Michigan.
The course was hyped throughout the state of Michigan more than a year prior when the general public stepped foot on the course. Billboards along major highways showcased the dramatic views of the course, with Lake Michigan as a backdrop. I clearly remember telling my wife that “I have to play this course.” No course before or since has aroused my curiosity and child-like enthusiasm in the way this course did. This was the type of course that every landlocked, winter-suffering, Midwest golfer dreams of. But could it live up to heightened expectations?
The answer is a resounding and certain yes. The five lakefront holes are the postcards, while the interior holes are stunning and mentally challenging to golfers of any skill level. The clubhouse welcomes you to Arcadia. It is an amazing sight to behold; no expense was spared or detail overlooked. An excellent, well-informed staff tends to your every need. It was clear upon our arrival that the employees consider this a special place as well because their service and attitudes reflect this.
Starters here range from Midwestern friendly to garish and distant, simply going through the mechanisms of setting you off on pace.  GPS navigators on the carts track pace of play, time of day, and the incredible distance that you have yet to cover after boning your tee shot.


#1 The course is cleverly laid out, testing your ability to gauge distance while factoring in the prevailing wind off Lake Michigan. You will continually alter between head and tail winds with cross wind variances. Coupled with the length of the course, it is enough to make you feel wind-tunnel tested.
#3 The lake reveals itself over the ridge leading to the fairway on this hole. Big hitters love teeing off on the elevated box. This, of course, was the time that my 300-yard drive vanished and was replaced by the snap hook, skulled shot, over-powered fade into a double-bogey.
#4 Being a power player and having all the finesse and grace of a stuck bull, my personal favorite on the front is Hole 4. This Par 4 plays a slight dogleg right (near the restrooms for those of you with cat-like bladders) that allows long-ball strikers the opportunity to drive the green. The fairway plays toward the front of the green; the backside of the green slopes back toward the fairway. Members of your party will never know for certain whether you stuck the green or rolled on. This is your first opportunity to absolutely slam your playing partners with witty slights such as "It has to be hard to swing all the way through with that purse on your shoulder."
#8 Get to Hole 8 and order a dog and a beer (or scotch if it's before noon). Make the guy shooting the worst round place the order, pick up the tab, and serve you cart side prior to heading off to Hole 10.
#9 If you planned and executed, you scored on the front, because you are going to pay on the back.
#10 Presents a blind tee shot (use that barber pole on the top of the hill on the right to tack your shot). And in case you are wondering, Hole 10 is the easy hole on the back.
#11 Plays directly west toward the lake. Narrow fairways, bunkers, and scrub lining both sides funnel to a green that typically sticks the pins just beyond the front bunker. I mastered my use of the sideways, downhill bunker shot on this very hole. When I say mastered, I mean that I no longer snap the shaft of my iron or dislocate my wrist and sprain my ankle falling out of my shot.
#12 Savor the vistas on this hole and prepare yourself for the 13th.
#13 This Par 3 is an exercise in mental fortitude. In three rounds, I have yet to strike the green from the tee. I have taken a shameful seven on this hole and walked away with a respectable four. Either way, there is a very pure sensation derived from crossing the chasm.
#15 One of my most memorable shots came on the Par 5 15th. Playing a scramble-type format with a first-time golfer, close friend, and restaurateur from the beautiful southwest region of Michigan, our tee shot left us 234 yards to the center of the green. His 3 wood landed 125 yards directly in front of us. I played a hybrid 2 iron and stuck it on the green, leaving a three-foot downhill bender for eagle (as you may have guessed, we walked away sporting a proud birdie). My friend, not being a fanatic like me, did not share the joy of a truly well-struck shot, the type of shot that brings you back to the game again, despite almost certain imperfections in every aspect of your game.
#18 Heading in on the 18th is a unique experience. Depending on the time of day, you will almost certainly have a gallery on hand sitting in Adirondack chairs above the green, silently observing and judging your approach. We have repeatedly crushed our drives, leaving a wedge or 9 iron in and have been forced to walk the walk of shame toward the green to retrieve duffed second shots planted firmly in the bunker to the right of the green. If you are fortunate enough to stick your approach, the gallery will give you a very polite round of applause and wait for you to blow your putt past the hole. On this green, you are always running. In the rounds that we have played, the pin was front center and downhill from anywhere on the green. A tip from Weekend Warrior Golfer- if you see the pin is up, layup to the front edge and leave yourself a putt that stands even a remote chance of hitting home.
The return greeting to the clubhouse is as warm as your first welcome. Friendly bartenders and servers are ready to numb your senses from the round and hear your tales of the one that got away. War heroes have spoken with less bravado than a golfer that has tamed Arcadia, coming away unscathed, but nonetheless, not untouched by the experience.
Whether you are a visitor to the Great Lakes State or a life-long resident, if you are an avid golfer, this is a must-see, must-play destination. Plan accordingly; Arcadia takes full advantage of the surrounding landscape, but outside of the course, the town is quite small and lacks accommodations. I recommend staying in Manistee, a quaint lakeside town that caters to tourists. Lodging is abundant and reasonably priced. We have always stayed at the Manistee Inn and Marina on Front Street. The rooms are spacious and clean but a little outdated. You have your choice of a street front or riverfront room. Mike at the Inn is a gracious host. Dinner at the Tuscan Grille is a great way to end any day. And if you shot a record round during the day, test your luck at the Little River Casino at the intersection of Highway 22 and US 31 North. Manistee is located 22 miles south of Arcadia and is an easy drive from Arcadia Bluffs.


The 5 F's for Arcadia Bluffs

1) Fee Factor
We have never paid high-season rates, so the $130 for this fall rate round, while steep, never feels like theft.
2) Friendliness Factor
Generally warm and welcoming. The shuttle driver has always been forward and humorous, offering commentary on the weather and pace of play for the day. Wait staff in the dining room have always been exceptionally friendly. The pro shop staff always seems friendly but has come off as a shirt with too much starch. They have a great thing going and they are first to say so.
3) Fringe Factor
All of the course amenities are wonderfully well kept. The range and chipping area are outstanding, and set far enough away so as not to distract players already engaged in their rounds. The dining room and deck area are fantastic, with stunning views of Lake Michigan. The on-board GPS alleviates all concern for yardage, a huge plus for any bogie golfer.
4) From 1st Tee to Handshake Factor
There is something to be said for driving out to the middle of nowhere for a good time. This course delivered the first time that we played and has subsequently maintained a place of distinction in our minds. Much like coming home, you have a flood of memories of success and failure, and the hopeful feeling of taking one from the house. We play Arcadia Bluffs every fall- a tradition that I hope will last a lifetime.
5) Fun Factor
Like marriage, this course is brutal and beautiful and one round seems to last a lifetime. However, we wouldn't trade a day in Arcadia. Anticipation, coupled with the views and playability of Arcadia, make this a pain gladly endured and relished.


Check out the Where to section: for places to eat, drink, and stay around northwest Michigan. Like Manistee Inn and Marina, Tuscan Grille, and the Little River Casino.

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