50 Words or Less
Sage Run Golf Course, part of Island Resort & Casino in Harris, Michigan, is a beautiful prairie links course. Very different from other courses in the area. Firm and fast. An engaging test.
Island Resort and Casino had already made itself a golf destination with Sweetgrass, home to a Symetra Tour event [full review HERE]. In 2019, they expanded their golf portfolio with the opening of Sage Run. This beautiful prairie links is a wonderful complement to Sweetgrass, and it makes Island Resort a hot spot for a weekend of great golf.
Located about ten minutes from Island Resort and Casino, Sage Run is a full standalone facility with its own driving range and practice green. The range is only a minute from the first tee by cart, and the practice green is actually connected to the first tee. Both are good with adequate space for a couple foursomes. I’d recommend spending some time on the green trying to get in tune with the subtle breaks.
Customer Service & Amenities
Sage Run is home to an average size clubhouse that covers all the essentials. There’s a pro shop with a mix of hard and soft goods. A bar and grill provides a good setting for post-round recaps.
The customer service throughout Island Resort and Sage Run is excellent. Everyone that we encountered in our time there was friendly, helpful, and knowledgeable. A special thanks to Tony Mancilla, Island Resort’s GM, for providing invaluable course knowledge during our round.
Finally, Sage Run has some of the best carts I’ve ever used. They’re electric and exceedingly quick. More importantly, they have very good on-cart GPS systems that are essential for the first timer who’s trying to figure out their lines off the tee.
Beauty & Scenery
Sage Run’s website describes the course as “prairie links,” and I can’t possibly come up with a better description. In the opening holes, you get massive vistas, taking in miles of sky, grasslands, and forest. Though walkable, the course sprawls in every direction so that you may occasionally see other holes but are never crowded.
The dominant natural feature at Sage Run is a drumlin – an elongated ridge formed by glacial ice. It creates the elevation on the course which varies from rolling in some spots to dramatic in others.
As you move into the heart of the course, you’ll play in and out of loose tree lines. This makes the course particularly stunning in the fall. We played in mid-September, and the trees were just starting to change colors. The oranges and reds created a beautiful contrast with the expanses of green and yellow in the fairways and fescue.
One of the biggest things that separates Sage Run from other courses in northern Michigan is its width off the tee. Even when the hole is tree-lined, as above, the trees aren’t really in play unless your shot is more lateral than forward. The fairways are only average in width and there are plenty of fairway bunkers, but you can easily find your ball in the rough or native grass areas.
Another defining feature of the tee shots at Sage Run is the need to choose (and hit) the correct line for your distance. Between the fairway bunkers and the doglegs, there are very few holes that allow you to simply aim down the middle and blast away. This is where either local knowledge or skillful use of the GPS comes into play.
As the home of an NCAA golf tournament, Sage Run has the capability to stretch out – the black tees measure over 7,300 yards. The blue and white tees are roughly 6,800 and 6,300 yards, respectively, and provide ample challenge and variety for the recreational player. One weakness of Sage Run, however, is the forward tees. The red tees can be hard to access and, though they are closer to the greens, they often create shots that are not welcoming to players with less swing speed.
On the majority of holes at Sage Run, a premium drive should set up a fairly short approach shot. Having less club into the green is valuable because this course plays firm and fast. Unless you come in with tremendous height or spin, landing your approach pin high is not a good game plan. Plan to land your approach near the front of the green unless you want to hit a lot of chips back toward the hole.
Keeping the ball in the fairway will not only add significant yardage to your drive, it will also give you more control over your approach. Though the rough is not tall, it is lush. This can create flyers or shots that simply lack the spin to hold the firm greens. Being in the fairway also gives you a much better chance of having a good stance as the fairways have some natural movement but nothing extreme.
Finally, there are a handful of approaches at Sage Run where you’ll need to deal with significant elevation. The majority of greens are elevated only slightly, but holes like #13 and #14 will have you reaching for more club. Greens that are both elevated and firm provide a very stout test of your iron game, so think carefully about where you want to land the ball and also try to keep your expectations in check.
Greens & Surrounds
The greens are, without question, where Sage Run is most challenging. That starts with their aforementioned resistance to approach shots and continues with their difficulty when putting. To me, the greens at Sage Run have an ideal blend of size, speed, and undulation. They are average in size, quick and smooth, with modest fluctuations. You’re not going to see many roller coaster putts, but you won’t find many straight ones either. There are subtle breaks hidden in the larger movements, so skilled green readers will have a significant advantage.
The surrounds at Sage Run are not overly penal and allow plenty of opportunities for recovery. While most of the greens are defending by bunkers, they are generally shallow and can be avoided with thoughtful course management.
Most holes at Sage Run have the rough coming right up to the collar of the green. There are some tightly mowed collection areas, like you see above, but the majority of the time you’ll be chipping from thicker grass very near the green. As long as you can accurately read the green, hitting a basic chip will serve you well in most situations.
Sage Run is my favorite course that I played on this trip – the other were Sweetgrass, Greywalls, and Timberstone – because of the way it balances the different elements of the game and rewards thoughtful play. While I would say that this is a second shot course, it still puts a premium on good driving. Of course, putting is always important, and a careless putter stands little chance of scoring well at Sage Run.
Beyond balancing the physical skills, Sage Run emphasizes thinking your way around the course. If your strategy consists of getting a laser distance to the flag and hitting that shot, you’re going to have a long day. Every shot needs to be hit with consideration to distance, angle, and the ground game if you’re going to post a low number.
#8 – Par 4 – 298 Yards
One of Sage Run’s drivable par 4s, the eighth hole is full of options. You can hit a lay up to almost any distance, but, as you see above, the fairway is slim so hitting it is not a given. The green is elevated substantially above the tee, but don’t let that scare you – if you hit your drive past the center tree, you’ll probably be in good shape.
#12 – Par 5 – 585 Yards
This long par 5 is wide open, but it rewards those who can hit their long shots accurately. The tee shot encourages you to aim right, but staying left will make the hole play shorter. For your second shot, you’ll want to stay on the slimmer left fairway to avoid having an uphill approach.
#13 – Par 4 – 415 Yards
This is one of the holes at Sage Run with big elevation. There’s plenty of fairway in front of you, but flying it over the three bunkers will set up the shortest approach and best angle. If you’re playing straight up the hill, you need to hit a truly premium shot as the green is not that deep.
If you’re looking for a course that’s miles from what you’d expect in northern Michigan, you need to check out Sage Run. Whether you play it on its own or in one of Island Resort’s tremendous golf packages, it’s a great value full of memorable shots.