Otsego Club's Tribute Boasts Grand Routing

By: Steve Habel

There are plenty of great golf courses in the rolling hills of Michigan's northern Lower Peninsula, but none have the attractive elements of the Tribute course at Otsego Club in Gaylord.

Otsego Club's Tribute Course

The Tribute - designed by Gary Koch and Rick Robbins - is routed across over 1,100 acres of the Sturgeon River Valley and is a key component to the Otsego Club, one of northern Michigan's first resorts. Opened in 1939 as Hidden Valley Resort about a mile from downtown Gaylord, the property rests atop a slope (which is converted to skiing in the winter) and offers panoramas of the surrounding countryside.

The Tribute is big-shouldered and unflinchingly challenging thanks to its elevated tees, daunting wetland-hazards and densely wooded peripheries. Add those to its quick, true-rolling greens and well-sculpted and strategically placed bunkers, and you get all that you want and more from the 7,347-yard par-72 layout. The course carries a rating of 74.1 and a 134 slope from its back set of four tees.

The elevation changes from tee to green, ranging as much as 140 feet, and the Tribute's sweeping views tend to distract players from the little things that were stressed during construction of the course. The greens complexes are aggressive, but fair, as there is almost always a ground route to each of the putting surfaces and one side where you can miss. And despite all their undulations, the sizable greens allow for numerous and fair pin locations.

While the course was being built Otsego's owner Keith Gornick and Koch both lost their fathers. At that point, the course was christened "The Tribute" in honor of both men, as well as for the love of the land and the game of golf that they imparted to their sons.

The course took eight years to find and build. "Just delineating the wetlands took two years," Robbins claims. The architects were given full sway in deciding on the best spots for golf holes at the massive property. There were so many possibilities it was almost too much to grasp. "This is the best site we've ever worked with," Robbins said.

Elevation Changes Prove Testy

Yardages can be hard to gauge the first time out here. Some fairways are much closer than they appear from the tees, such as at the 551-yard par-5 11th, where you simply won't believe that your drive can easily clear the bunkers in the middle of the fairway and careen all the way into the rough on the other side.

Downhill 3rd Hole at The Tribute

Nearly every tee is raised, and from the block on the 430-yard par-4 third players can see a horizon more than 30 miles away. The 430-yard par-4 third might be the prettiest hole in Northern Michigan. From it heightened start you should be able to smack a drive down to the wide fairway, where is may catch the hill near the bottom and bounds toward the green.

The fifth is a two-shotter that plays much more than its 478 yards from the tips, but has a generous fairway. No. 7 is the longest hole on the course, stretching 607 yards; lay up towards the last bunker on the left or bend it rightward down the tree line as the fairway doglegs 45 degrees to the right. The approach leaves little room for error as you will have to land a high, soft iron over a water hazard to a ridged green.

The ninth, at 240 yards, is a truly tough par-3. There two swaths of marshlands between the tee and green that make players feel like the pin is even farther away. Some may forget the safe bailout front-left of the putting surface, an area where's it's relatively easy to get up and down.

The back nine is much shorter, with five par-4s playing 358 yards or less from the whites. The 11th (a 551-yard par-5) runs steeply uphill, but there is ample space on the fairway, which is bordered both sides by high grass. The 420-yard par-4 12th will play nearly 100 yards longer than advertised as it is extremely uphill and heads into the prevailing wind.

The 545-yard par-5 16th is an "S-shaped" doozy that goes up and then down to an elevated target protected by sand. The closer, a 399-yard par-4, is another stunner, playing downhill and then reversing back uphill on the approach. A good drive should afford an opportunity for birdie or par. Just be sure to use enough club and pay attention to the pin position on this oversized green.

The Tribute has been frequently mentioned on the short list of the best public courses in Michigan and is a delight thanks to its many natural attributes. The Otsego Club - and especially The Tribute - should be considered more than just a favorite getaway for residents of Detroit and Chicago. Combined with the club's other layout (Classic - which winds over gently rolling terrain near the overnight accommodations), Otsego should be considered a destination resort and must-play for those seeking the best the Gaylord area has to offer.

For more information, visit www.otsegoclub.com.

Steve Habel is one of Cybergolf's national correspondents, contributing news stories, features, equipment and book reviews and personality profiles from his base in Central Texas. He is also the managing editor for Texas CEO Magazine and works as a contributing editor for Horns Illustrated magazine, a publication focusing on University of Texas sports. He also writes a blog (www.shotoverthegreen.blogspot.com), which features news on golf and the Longhorns, and another (www.checkinginandplayingthrough.blogspot.com) on his many travels, which took him across the nation and to 105 different golf course in 2009. Habel is a member of the Golf Writers Association of America and the Texas Golf Writers Association.