Tree-Lightings, Lighthouses and Winter Golf

TCCVB-Dec-4The 2012 Traverse City Christmas Tree — all lit up.

By MIKE NORTON

Maybe it was the warm weather, or maybe everybody was overdosing on Christmas spirit — but Friday night’s tree-lighting ceremony in downtown Traverse City was packed with people. Everybody seemed to be out having a good time, from strolling seniors to young stroller-pushing moms and dads. It’s was what my wife used to call a “Stars Hollow moment” back in her Gilmore Girls-watching days.

In fact, it was hard to get around downtown for a little while, so enthusiastic and eager were all the participants. (It’s been years since I’ve been downtown for the Santa Claus arrival; I didn’t know he had his own drum line now.)

It sounds as though the Village at Grand Traverse Commons also had a nice turnout for their Saturday night tree-lighting – and a good crowd headed out to the Grand Traverse Lighthouse near Northport on Sunday afternoon for the annual “Christmas at the Lighthouse” celebration, where they decorate the old lighthouse for a typical Christmas as it was celebrated by the keeper’s family in the 1920s and 1930s. Everybody mills around, listening to carols, sipping cocoa and waiting for Santa to arrive.

Old Mission Lighthouse -- ChristmasThe Old Mission Lighthouse lit up for Christmas…

What is it about lighthouses, I wonder, that makes them such powerful vehicles for nostalgia — even among people who’ve never lived along these stormy coasts? This Saturday, for instance, the Mission Point Lighthouse in Old Mission will be holding their third annual sleigh ride. This cozy little 1870 lighthouse is just up the road from our place, and it’s been wonderful to see it come alive in recent years, with a vibrant “volunteer lighthouse keeper” program and an ever-expanding schedule of events and festivals.

This week the folks at the lighthouse will be teaming up with the Peninsula Community Library to offer Christmas stories read by an old-fashioned storyteller) an old-time Christmas craft, and a sleigh ride that will jingle through the woods. There’ll be refreshments and climbs up to the top of the lighthouse tower. (There’s a $10 charge for the sleigh rides, which will be held even if there’s “minimal” snow.)

They say we’ll be getting snow by the weekend, but it’s gotten so warm over the past few days that the grass outside my window is very green – and this morning the bay is a beautiful misty blue. So I suppose it isn’t entirely ridiculous to talk about golf even though spring is months and months and months away.

At any rate, here’s the news: Golf Digest is planning to devote its January issue to a list of America’s “36 Best Buddies-Trip Destinations,” a ranking they created by surveying the roughly 1,100 panelists who produce the magazine’s biennial rankings of America’s 100 Greatest Golf Courses. And thanks to a little early release by Senior Travel Editor Matt Ginella, we know that Traverse City not only made the list – but ended up in the top ten!

Matt talked about some of his favorite northern Michigan courses (Arcadia Bluffs, Forest Dunes, the Kingsley Club) but for overnighting, he reserved his recommendation for the Grand Traverse Resort & Spa, which has been ranked as high as #48 on Golf Digest’s own list of the Top 75 Gold Resorts in North America. “There are three courses, a nice restaurant, and its marketing staff gets creative with golf packages, but if I had time for only one round on the property, I’d play The Bear,” he writes. “I’d also play it from a mix of blue and white tees. The Bear can be obnoxiously difficult from the blue tees (6,618 yards).

Winter Golf SchoolScott Hebert and a student at the Grand Traverse Resort’s winter golf academy.

Writing about the Resort’s golf program in December isn’t really as inappropriate as it might sound, anyway – as it happens, they’re one of the few golf resorts in the area with a full-scale winter training program. Their Golf Academy – led by six-time Michigan Open Champion and 2008 PGA Professional National Champion Scott Hebert – is open all year round. In winter the whole 2,000 square foot facility with its three heated indoor/outdoor hitting bays becomes a “Winter Golf Center” offering lessons, open clinics, practice sessions and indoor league play.

The cool thing about their golf center is that you can roll up those big garage doors and smack your ball out into the winter landscape from the comfort of a heated hitting bay — a much more effective and emotionally satisfying experience than the average golf simulator.

So if you’re one of those golfers who just can’t wait for May to arrive, now you know what to do. They’ve got a full schedule of league sessions and winter hours up on their website. As for me… well, I’m enjoying the unseasonable warmth, but I’m ready for some skiing weather. This is Michigan, man! Let’s get some snow we can hold on to!

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About mikelovestc

These days, I’m the media relations guy for the Traverse City Convention & Visitors Bureau, but before that I spent 25 years as a reporter and columnist at the Traverse City Record-Eagle, a job that frequently took me out into the most remote backroads, forests, beaches and islands of the beautiful Grand Traverse Region. My strategy was pretty simple — just drive, paddle, ski or walk until you’re certain you’re lost, and then find somebody to talk to. It was a great job! I never intended to live in Traverse City. I grew up in Grand Rapids, spent four years in the Coast Guard in places like Miami Beach, Monterey and San Francisco, and when I finally graduated from college I took a summer job at the Miami Herald. To my surprise, I discovered I didn’t like the tropics nearly as much as I thought I would — and when the Record-Eagle offered me a job I took it, figuring I’d put in a year or two and head off to someplace like Seattle or Portland. What I discovered very quickly is that this place gets to you in a variety of unexpected ways. The beaches here are as lovely as anyplace else I’ve ever been, the weather is mild all year round — warm enough for swimming in September and cold enough for skiing in December — and just about the time you’re getting tired of one season you get another one every bit as pleasant. The people are laid-back and friendly, the music and arts scene is awesome, and the place still hasn’t gotten so sophisticated that a guy like me feels out of place.
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