Best Summer Golf Destinations: The Midwest

1 of 10 Courtesy of The American Club
1. The American Club, Kohler, WI; 800-344-2838, Pair a hotel that's surpassed in the Midwest for dining, service and spa with four of the nation's greatest public-access courses and you've got the region's top-ranked resort. The headliner is its Whistling Straits' Straits course, the faux-Irish, beautiful brute along the shores of Lake Michigan that's twice hosted the PGA Championship. Seventy-foot-tall sandhills cloaked in native fescues, roughly 1,000 bunkers and firm, fast, breeze-fueled conditions make the Straits the next best thing to a trip across the pond. Pete Dye's other three courses, the Irish at Whistling Straits and the River and Meadow Valleys layouts at Blackwolf Run would be standouts anywhere else. The River, in particular, glitters anew, thanks to a recent restoration. With its partly open, partly wooded setting along the Sheboygan River and its spotlight this July as host of the U.S. Women's Open, the River is poised to add another memorable chapter to Kohler's remarkable story.
2 of 10 Courtesy of Wolfdancer
2. Hyatt Regency Lost Pines, Lost Pines, TX; 512-308-1234, Austin may be best known for its live music, barbecue and Texas football, but developing its own distinctive status is the area's newest golf resort, the family-friendly Hyatt Regency Lost Pines. Its affiliated golf course, Wolfdancer is primarily the creation of Chris Wilczynski, then of Arthur Hills/Steve Forrest Associates, who let his imagination run rampant in solving the puzzle of how to route golf holes over three distinct landforms -- rolling prairie land, a forested ridgeline and a valley populated with pine and pecan trees. The upper section of the course could fairly be called Texas heathland, with breezes to match. The showstopper here is the 155-yard, drop-shot, par-3 12th, its green clinging to the side of a mountain, which looks like it could give way should a foursome of NFL lineman choose to putt simultaneously. If variety equates to fun, you'll have a blast at Wolfdancer.
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4 of 10 Courtesy of Arcadia Bluffs Golf Club
4. Inn at Bay Harbor, Bay Harbor, MI; 231-439-4000, Some might see the short season in Northern Michigan as a drawback, but it's long enough to accommodate an embarrassment of riches where quality golf is concerned. Start with Bay Harbor, a 27-hole Arthur Hills creation that wows with jaw-dropping holes that skirt Lake Michigan and complements the sizzle with a prime collection of strategic holes that zigzag among trees and rock outcroppings. A fistful of other solid courses in the Boyne Resorts family highlight the area's golf buffet and you can rest your head in comfort at the Inn at Bay Harbor, a Mariott Renaissance Golf and Spa Resort. As a bonus, take the short drive south to Traverse City, then west to the shores of Lake Michigan, where Arcadia Bluffs awaits, one of the nation's most spectacular tracks.
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6 of 10 Courtesy of Cog Hill Golf & Country Club
6. Cog Hill Golf Club, Lemont, IL; 866-264-4455, Chicago's Cook County is home to several hundred courses you can play, but top among them is the long, boldly-bunkered No. 4 at Cog Hill. The brainchild of public course maven Joe Jemsek, Cog Hill played host to the Western Open for roughly 20 years, beginning in 1991 and to the 1997 U.S. Amateur, won by Matt Kuchar. Tiger Woods once gushed, "I love this golf course. The holes fit my eye." However, in an effort to restore the bark and bite to the Dick Wilson/Joe Lee layout nicknamed "Dubsdread," Rees Jones reworked the course, deepening the bunkers and re-contouring the greens. Our Top 100 panelists gave two thumbs up, though many pros balked. Still, in one of the greatest sports towns in the U.S. Cog Hill (No. 4) remains the place to play.
7 of 10 Courtesy of Longaberger Golf Club
7. Longaberger Golf Club, Nashport, OH; 740-763-1100, Naturally, college football dominates the sporting scene in Columbus, Ohio, but its remarkable golf offerings, such as Muirfield Village, The Golf Club and Ohio State Scarlet, aren't too shabby, either. But you'll have to drive 45 miles east to find the top public-access track, Longaberger. Perennially ranked among GOLF Magazine's Top 100 You Can Play, this gift to the masses from its legendary basket-making parent is a 1999 Arthur Hills design mixing open and wooded holes, all flawlessly groomed, and boasts a superb practice facility. The downhill plunge at the par-5 5th and the long par-4 8th that's backdropped by a lake are two of the Midwest's best.
8 of 10 Courtesy of the French Lick Resort
8. French Lick Resort, French Lick, IN; 888-936-9360, Hoosier State native Pete Dye held nothing back with his 2009 creation of his namesake course at French Lick. It's almost impossible to comprehend the 301-yard, par-3 16th, with water in play, no less, followed by a 518-yard, par-4 and a 657-yard par-5. It's difficult not to steer the ball when you see that a yanked drive on many holes will leave you clinging to a sidehill of rough, necessitating a baseball recovery swing with the force of Albert Pujols just to get back in play. And climbing into and out of the volcano bunkers? Some would rather be in an actual volcano. Nevertheless, there are shorter tees to play. The bottom line: There is one memorable, demanding, classic Pete Dye hole after the next, virtually all with panoramic vistas in as pristine a setting as there is in this part of the world. Less relentless, yet as equally rewarding is the resort's Donald Ross course. Laid out by the master in 1920 and draped over open, rolling farmland, it played host to the 1924 PGA Championship, won by Walter Hagen. Lee Schmidt of Schmidt-Curley Design recently restored the layout's classic flat-bottom bunkers and ingeniously contoured greens. No matter how you fare, the casino gaming and distinctive appointments at the French Lick and sibling West Baden hotels will satisfy.
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