Beer may have been invented long before the beautiful game of golf, but they go together oh so well. And if you like an unspoiled round of golf as much as a fresh, satisfying pint, Grand Rapids, Michigan may be your ideal getaway.
Convenient to the airport, Thornapple Pointe golf course served as a great spot for our group to gather and enjoy a quick 9 holes before heading to our hotel. The course was in terrific shape and provided stunning views of the Thornapple River. I flew into the Gerald R. Ford International Airport, one of those smaller airports that reminds you air travel can be enjoyable. No long TSA lines and quick bag service.
The Amway Grand Plaza was the perfect downtown location to enjoy all that Grand Rapids had in store for us. The hotel consists of two distinct buildings seamlessly connected – the original 1913 brick structure and a modern glass tower. We opted for the charm of the original building with its mail tubes, huge hallways and stunning lobby chandelier.
Hungry and thirsty from travel and golf, we walked across the Grand River to The Knickerbocker, New Holland Brewing’s eclectic location on the West Side. Large community tables were dwarfed by the size of the structure, which boasts indoor and outdoor seating as well as an extensive bar area. On the advice of our local host, we sampled their signature pepperoni pinwheels as we sized up the beverage menu. It turns out that highly acclaimed artisan spirits are distilled on site, and so as not to be rude, I indulged in a wonderful aromatic gin and tonic. But this was a beer quest, and quest we did. The good thing about being among friends is sharing sampler beers so you can hone in on a favorite – or two.
After a hearty breakfast at Rendezvous in the hotel, we were off to Ravines Golf Club in Saugatuck. The 30 minute drive southwest takes you away from the hustle and bustle of the city into the natural beauty of Western Michigan. The Arnold Palmer design is true to its name and offers a challenging, scenic layout and a few intimidating tee shots that turn out to be visual teasers (details in my full review HERE). If you enjoy the sound of rustling cottonwood leaves and gently contoured greens that keep putts interesting, work Ravines into your itinerary. Arnie’s Cottage Grill serves up innovative fresh food and, as you might have guessed, great local brews on tap.
Our destination for the evening was another local venue known for its Puerto Rican inspired food and unique beers – City Built. While a large contingent of locals were consumed with speed euchre, we set our sights on beers and were not disappointed. It’s never easy dealing with a group of traveling golfers, but our server was world class and his menu recommendations were spot on. The highlight of the evening was observing a Strawberry IPA Glitter Beer which has to be seen to believe. Not quite ready to call it a night, Atwater Brewery’s lack of walls along the sidewalk beckoned us to stop, relax, and enjoy the refreshingly crisp summer air – a pleasant change from Orlando.
Next destination on our golf journey was Pilgrim’s Run, another 30 minute drive but this time north to Pierson. Seemingly in the middle of nowhere, the course is as serene as it is challenging. There’s a large variety of holes, and the Mike Devries greens require your full attention (review HERE). The natural beauty of the course combined with its excellent condition made it worthy of inclusion in a Pure Michigan commercial.
With over 40 breweries in the immediate area, we knew we needed to cover ground more efficiently and got an afternoon start aboard the Grand Rapids Beer Trolley. The open air trolley took us to two outlier breweries that we’d never have visited on foot – Harmony Hall and Creston. Our third stop was at the oldest brewery, established in 1893 – Grand Rapids Brewing. At all venues we encountered friendly locals who embraced their good fortune of having so many breweries, each with their unique vibe and variations on beer styles.
Our final destination was the one that put Grand Rapids on the global radar – Founders Brewing. We had scheduled a tour and were blown away when President and Co-Founder Dave Engers joined in as we gazed down at the operations. A sign hung by a ginormous stainless tank read: “One person would have to drink a 6-pack a day every day for 226.4 years to drain one of our 1500bbl tanks. Get Drinking!” And if that makes your eyebrows raise, know that there were a dozen tanks with twice as many in the works.
The tasting room was bustling, but ever so efficient. Enjoying beers that you can only get in one place is a treat. The beer cheese and delicious sandwiches were unexpected bonuses to an already amazing experience.
Throughout the downtown area, I witnessed revitalization and a sense of community. Folks of all ages were out and about and enjoying life. Voted “Beer City USA” in various online polls the past decade, there’s no shortage of great breweries to explore, and with plenty of top notch golf courses around to fill your days, Grand Rapids is a perfect golf destination for those who like the mantra: Golf – Beer – Repeat.
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