Written by Mark Bultema, Chairmen of the GAM Course Rating Committee
On a normal Course Rating day we raters evaluate golf course obstacles like trees, water hazards, OB, extreme rough and similar features that make a golf course unique. Ona recent adventure to Mackinac Island I was treated to a few new obstacles I have never seen or rated before. Along the line of play were "Chocolate Drops," "Cross Bunkers," a Battlefield complete with soldier burial grounds, and a "Circus Ring."
Wawashkamo Golf Club named by GolfDigest as "One of America's Golf Landmarks" began to offer island residents and guests an opportunity to play golf in 1898. The name Wawashkamo comes from Chief Eagle Eye and in Chippewa means "walk a crooked path (or trail)." The inspiration for the name came when Chief Eagle Eye, who resided just across from the course on British Landing Road, watched a young Frank Dufina play the course. Mr. Dufina became head professional and served the membership and guests for 60 years.
A quick history of the land on which Wawashkamo GC now sits illustrates how this unique course was developed. 10,000 years ago Mackinac Island was covered by hundreds of feet of ice known as The Great Wisconsin Glacier. After the glacier receded the island lay at the bottom of Lake Huron. The water level of Lake Huron dropped over the course of several thousand years to the level we witness today. On the property that now is Wawashkamo GC was a timber forest, orchard, farm, fur trading center and a battlefield.
During the War of 1812, the British, who did not grasp the importance of their defeat in our Revolutionary War 30 years earlier, held Mackinac Island and the fort on the south shore. On August 4, 1814, the American army mounted an attack starting on the north shore of the island. The British defenders had been tipped off about the force of Americans moving from the north toward the fort. Cannons were moved from the fort to the location that is now the ridge on Wawashkamo GC first and sixth tees. The Americans advancing from the north got as far as what is now the middle of the first fairway and the fifth tee before cannon and musket fire stopped the assault. Major Holmes was given the task of circling a hill, now the fourth tee on the golf course and attacking the British from the left flank.
The maneuver was unsuccessful. Major Holmes was killed in this action along with 16 in his command. The burial site is on the hill now named in honor of Major Holmes. The now forested hill is alongside the sixth green and the north side of Holmes's Hill is Wawashkamo's elevated fourth tee.
Planning for a golf course began in the late 1890’s. The service of future two-time U.S. Open Champion, Alex Smith was secured, designs accepted and construction began. Construction methods used in 1896 and 1897 consisted of hand tools and a few horses. The crew smoothed out nine teeing grounds, nine areas for greens and little else. Mackinac Island is primarily rock covered by a thin layer of soil. The removal of thousands of stones and rocks was a major project during construction. Many of the stones were loaded on horse-drawn wagons and taken to the site for the construction of “The Little Stone Church” across from the Grand Hotel. Countless other stones were gathered in piles along what is now Wawashkamo’s eighth fairway. Over the past 120 years enough soil has accumulated on the stones to support a beautiful natural arrangement of wild flowers. The mounds of stones were named “chocolate drops” and this unique obstacle is a prominent feature just left of the landing zone on the eighth hole.
During the original construction, many man hours were invested in areas known as “cross bunkers.” These features now need to be carried from the tees on several holes to safely reach the fairways.
The third green was constructed with a hazard that assured a player must loft the ball onto the green with their approach shot. Most of the greens at Wawashkamo GC favor the traditional “run-up” style approach shot. However, the third green requires precise distance control and direction to successfully hold this green. The name given to this one of a kind obstacle is a “circus ring.” The name is quite appropriate when you view this circle of 12 to 18 inch high heather closely bordering the green.
Golf course Superintendent, Karen O’Dell and crew keep Wawashkamo GC in great condition. The golf course you play today is the course designed and built 120 years ago. The club has chosen to maintain this gem exactly as Alex Smith envisioned. Present day golfers are treated to a golf experience just like early visitors to the island enjoyed.
PGA Golf Professional, Chuck Olsen and assistant Jack Dehring welcome all guests with a friendly smile and stories about the course’s past. “The Ladies Home Journal” dated August 1901, featured golf courses in an article entitled “Where America Plays Golf.” Wawashkamo GC on Mackinac Island was listed alongside Shinnecock Hills and Westchester Country Clubs. Wawashkamo GC is “Michigan’s oldest continuously played golf facility.”
There is a reason Northern Michigan and especially Mackinac Island have attracted visitors for 150 years. Cool summer climate along with the magic that is Mackinac Island make a one-of-a-kind vacation destination. You can enhance your “Island Experience” with a horse-drawn carriageride to Wawashkamo Golf Club, rent a set of hickory shafted clubs (“spoon,, mashie and niblick) and try your best to straighten the “walk a crooked path.”
*Historical information recounted here has largely been obtained from Jack Dehring, Chuck Olsen and “Walk a Crooked Trail – A Centennial History of Wawashkamo Golf Club” written by Frank Straus and Brian Leigh Dunnigan.