GAM Travel - Michigan

The Heather at Boyne Highlands Celebrates 50 Years as Popular Destination

     HARBOR SPRINGS -- Everett Kircher, in large part to keep his ski resort employees around and working during the snowless summer months of 50 years ago, decided to get into the golf business in Northern Michigan.

     As a continuing part of that effort he sought out the most popular and successful architect of that era, Robert Trent Jones Sr., and commissioned him to design The Heather course at Boyne Highlands Resort.

     Golfers started coming to The Heather in 1966 and have been since. The classic course continues to serves as the kickoff point for Northern Michigan travel golf expansion while being a part of the rich legacy of the multi-talented Kircher, who passed away at the age of 85 in 2002.

      “Everett had a passion for the sports and the facilities he created, and he had a great instinct in knowing what people would like and what they would pay for,” Bernie Friedrich, Boyne Resorts’ senior vice president of golf and resort sales, said.

  Northern Michigan’s development as an international destination for resort travel golf can be traced to Kircher developing ski and golf resorts at Boyne Mountain and Boyne Highlands as well as the popular five-star Bay Harbor Resort near Petoskey

  Boyne in 2016, in addition to having popular ski resorts, presents 153 holes of golf on 10 courses under its brand. Bay Harbor, with its 27 holes of dramatic golf designed by Arthur Hills on reclaimed land along the Lake Michigan shoreline, celebrates its 20-year anniversary this summer as well.

  The Golf Association of Michigan has partnered with Boyne for several years, and the Boyne courses annually host significant GAM tournaments like the GAM Mid-Amateur and the growing GAM Scramble.

  The Heather, a timeless 7,118-yard gem, will host the Michigan Amateur Championship in 2020. It hosted the historic 100th Michigan Amateur in 2011, and prior to that was also host of the state championship in 2006 and 1998. It is consistently ranked among the best golf courses in Michigan by various outlets, and also hosts significant AJGA and Michigan PGA events.

  “With all the different events and tournaments we’ve had on The Heather we never really have to trick things up, lengthen the rough or do anything special to it,” Friedrich said. “It’s all there in front of you, a very good test of golf.”

  The Heather has been lengthened with some additional tees to answer to golf’s technological advances, and had bunker maintenance, but it was built to last by Jones in collaboration with Kircher, who was a builder and inventor among his many talents.

  The famous, and in many cases, dreaded pond that fronts the No. 18 green, was solely a Kircher idea after Jones had finished his design work. Kircher wanted a more dramatic finish, and ordered the pond to be constructed. Golfers have splashed to the finish in memorable fashion for 50 years, and annually thousands upon thousands of golf balls are fished out of the hazard.

  “Every golf course we have built since has been measured against The Heather, as in is this as good as The Heather,” Friedrich said. “Frankly, they might not be. As for 18 and the pond, Everett reminded Jones who owned the place and Everett wanted to do something dramatic. Now it’s the signature of the course, and really a signature of Boyne golf. On almost all of the courses we have the last hole has a pond in front of it.”

  Ken Hartmann, the senior director of rules and competitions for the GAM, calls The Heather a great venue for a championship and for any golfer seeking a challenge.

  “It offers a lot of different things, and some of the par 3s are very difficult because the greens are challenging and not all that big,” he said. “Of course, it has the great finishing hole that is such a strong challenge in a great setting. Everyone can gather and watch and you see golfers depending on the wind hitting something as short as a 7 or 8-iron or as long as a hybrid to get over the pond. It can be brutal, but it has drama always.”

  While famous for the finishing hole, Hartmann considers the front nine the true challenge of the course and feels the Heather always identifies a worthy champion.

  “I think the really difficult stretch is 4 through 8,” he said. “You hang on for dear life on the front nine in tournament play, and then you better make some hay on the back nine and be careful with where you are hitting your shots on 16, 17 and 18.”

  From the very first hole, a rolling par 4, golfers get what Hartmann calls “that up north feel.”

  “They haven’t changed it a lot over the years, other than backing up a few tees, and they did it without changing the holes dramatically,” he said. “Other than maybe at 2 and 3, it is fairly straightforward in that what you see is what you get. It’s really great golf, and Boyne really knows how to host golfers.”

  Friedrich said Boyne is excited to build on a very successful 2015 season with special 2016 programming that will commemorate both of the milestones, 50 years at The Heather and 20 years at Bay Harbor. Anniversary-themed golf stay-and-play packages, deals and events will be announced in the coming months.

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-Greg Johnson