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A sweet stroke

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HARRIS, Mich. – Michigan, a bastion of the outdoors and winter sports, has a surprisingly lengthy and enjoyable golf season. The Wolverine State sweetens its offerings with the addition of Sweetgrass Golf Club, the newest amenity at the Island Resort & Casino – owned and operated by the Hannahville Indian Community, a band of the Potawatomi Nation.

Unveiled in July 2008, Sweetgrass opens for its first full season in 2009 and draws from the area’s Native American heritage, which is incorporated in the championship course’s layout.

Designed by Paul Albanese, Sweetgrass stretches 7,300 yards from the tips, challenging the top golfers from the back tees, while four forward boxes accommodate all levels of play. Set among the pristine landscape of this largely untouched region, the fairways are lined with flowing fescues and the namesake herb sweetgrass – an aromatic plant found throughout the property. From bunkers named after tribal elders and terrain reminiscent of long-forgotten fortress ruins, Sweetgrass offers legend and inspiration on every hole.

Golfers encounter Potawatomi legend from the start. The opening hole, “Cedar,” a short par-4, welcomes players with cedar posts lining the entrance of the fairway. Cedar was one of the four traditional medicines used by the tribe – sweetgrass, tobacco and sage being the others.

The second hole, “God’s Kettle,” increases in length and difficulty. This par-4 tells the story of Weme-gen-debay, a noted chief and great hunter who discovered a copper kettle used to boil maple sap into sugar for the “feast of the dead,” a ritual in which tribal members honor the spirit world.

Holes three and four represent tribal tales of security. The par-3 “Wolf” – heavily protected by mounds and bunkers – reflects the protective and defensive nature of the animal. The par-4 fourth is reminiscent of Michigami, the fortified city created in the 1650s to repel attacks from the Iroquois.

No. 5 – a par-4 with water right off the fairway – is known as “The Serpent and the Flood” and explains the story of the aquatic god, Neben Manito, who created the earth from water while fighting the Great Serpent.

Animals have played a vital role in the lives of Potawatomi. Deer have long been a crucial source of food, but the white deer is sacred, never harmed. A waste bunker on the par-5 sixth hole is shaped like the animal, though only discernable from high above. Meanwhile, beware of the “rabbit hole” bunkers on the seventh. This par-3 stretches 230 yards from the back tees and pays tribute to a common character in Native American lore.

The Potawatomi people live in tight communities sharing land, food and medicine. The par-4 eighth was named after Zoie Brozowski, who visited the community as a child and generously willed money to the tribe upon her passing.

“Trailing Arbutus,” the par-5 ninth, appropriately reflects the coming of spring. The daughter of Old Man Manito (Winter) blows her warm breath every year to melt the snow and ice and the spring flower of trailing arbutus grows in her wake, lining the two majestic waterfalls on this uphill hole.

Prior to playing the back nine – No. 10 is a well-bunkered par-4 named Firekeeper (Bodewadmi) – golfers will notice a fire pit near the tee. Fire warms cool mornings and symbolizes the light of the Creator.

Good Harvest – the par-5 11th – was dedicated to Douglas Good and his family, who farmed the land where the course now stands for more than a century. The Potawatomi believe Mother Earth provides a bounty for the people and should be protected. The 11th features a bevy of nature’s finest – water, trees, farmland, low lands and wild game.

The par-3 12th is named Maple Sugar (Zi za ba kwet), for both the food and preventative medicine. Golfers may need medicinal magic for par if a tee shot comes to rest on the wrong tier of this multi-leveled hole. A Biarritz green – designed with a deep gully that bisects the front and back – provides a dramatic finish.

The Eagle (Ke no) is sacred to Native Americans and watches over the tribe, serving as the messenger between the Creator and his people. The dogleg, par-4 13th measures a robust 489 yards from the tips and requires bird’s eye vision to record par.

Serving as breather between daunting holes, the par-4 14th tells the story of Snowbird Legend – two young Indians who traveled to deliver gifts to their grandmother, but were caught in a snowstorm and slept to afterlife. The Creator has since sent two birds – which lie in bunkers behind the green – that warn of approaching snow.

The Turtle (Mshike), otherwise known as the Island Green 15th, is a par-3 with rock outcroppings resembling its namesake – a symbol of wisdom and knowledge in the Potawatomi culture. This lore also is prevalent on the par-4 17th as golfers use a turtle-shaped boulder as their target from the tee.

The 16th hole – Ogeema Muckwa – is dedicated to Kenneth Meshigaud, tribal chairperson of the Hannahville Indian Community for more than 20 years. The long, dogleg hole honors the Bear Clan which leads, protects and provides medicines.

Saving one of the best for last, the finish at Sweetgrass is an uphill par-5 culminating in a vast, shared green. Called the “Seven Grandfathers” (Noeg Gmeshomsenanek) in honor of the seven men given the responsibility by the Creator to look after the people, there are seven bunkers on this hole. The Grandfathers taught wisdom, love, respect, bravery, honesty, humility and truth.

While Sweetgrass Golf Club is a must-play course and an unforgettable experience, entertainment at the Island Resort & Casino continues well into the night. With its recent multi-million dollar expansion, a plethora of activities await including fine dining, Vegas-style gaming and

musical performances.

How to get there:

The unspoiled beauty of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula may seem to be a world away from the hustle and bustle of big cities, but Sweetgrass Golf Club is easily accessible via a pair of regional airports in Escanaba and Marquette, Mich., as well as the Austin Straubel International Airport in nearby Green Bay, Wisc.

After a meal from the exotic menu at the Beachcomber Restaurant & Bar, enjoy the recently expanded floor – open non-stop seven days a week – with an additional 500 of the newest slot machines, or a concert at the 1,327-seat Island Showroom, which has hosted national acts like the Blues Brothers, 3 Doors Down, Martina McBride and Huey Lewis and the News.

Getting quality sleep – if you choose – is easy with the Palm Tower’s 162 spacious new rooms and penthouse suites which keep you well-rested until you tackle the tribal legends of Sweetgrass again the following day or one of the two other championship courses available – TimberStone and Greywalls – within an hour’s drive.

For more information about Sweetgrass Golf Club and the Island Resort & Casino, call (800) 682-6040.