Golf club shares history of Potawatomi culture


HARRIS, Mich. - To create an 18-hole championship golf course for the Hannahville Indian Community of the Potawatomi Nation, designers Paul Albanese and Chris Lutzke found inspiration in books and elders.

''We wanted to create not only a great championship golf course, but it was important for us to infuse the tribal culture,'' Albanese said. ''I read a lot of books on the Potawatomi culture; I talked to the Potawatomi people. ... We looked at the different stories and the legends and the tribal customs. We used those as a genesis for the design project.''

The result of his collaboration with the tribe is the Sweetgrass Golf Club, scheduled to open July 7 in Harris in Michigan's Upper Peninsula.

The blending of culture and landscape does not mean greens shaped like figures or sculptures along the fairways.

''We did it in a way that was very respectful; it wasn't done in a Disney-like way,'' Albanese said.

Sometimes the references to Potawatomi narratives or to local history are so subtle that it is uncovered only in the name of the hole or in the yardage books.

Two holes reference the turtle, including the signature island green on the 15th hole. Some holes reference the three-tribe alliance of the Potawatomi, Ottawa and Ojibwe, the Three Fires Council. The 10th tee box features a flame for the Potawatomi role as ''Keepers of the Fire.'' The final hole, named for the seven grandfathers of traditional narrative, has seven bunkers.

''It turned out great, actually,'' Tony Mancilla, an enrolled member and tribal attorney involved from the start of the golf project, said of the course. ''We have a lot of golf courses up here, but very few higher-end courses.''

The course will be part of the convention center complex, Island Resort and Casino, run by the community. The course was the natural next step for the center, Mancilla said.

''Everybody that wanted to come up for a big outing or convention asked about a golf course,'' he said. ''We just felt that our resort was kind of incomplete.

''We're not a rich tribe,'' Mancilla added, so it took time and planning to get the money for the expansion.

In addition to gaming opportunities, the complex has a 1,327-seat Island Showroom theater and three lodging areas - Palm Tower with 162 rooms and penthouse suites, Sun Tower with 113 rooms and the Island Resort & Casino with 275 rooms. It can accommodate 400 people in the convention center or use the showroom for larger groups.

Albanese said that some of the values of the Potawatomi were naturally incorporated in creation of the course. Stones, trees or other landscape elements removed to create some parts of the course were woven back into the design, reducing waste and using what was available.

''We recycled, if you will, most of the golf course materials. ... We used existing bridges, used the rocks on the site, used the natural timber on site,'' Albanese said.

What he learned through this project - such as the recycling of elements - he likely will incorporate in future jobs, whether tribally based or not.

''It did help the bottom line tremendously and not to mention [reducing] the long-term cost of maintenance.''

Sustainability, something he builds into every course, was also a natural fit for Sweetgrass.

''A good design will allow the typical chemicals and materials used in the maintenance of the golf course to be drastically minimized,'' Albanese said.

Meanwhile, the course itself is meant to accommodate all skill levels, from true beginners to professionals, with a good game of golf.

''I can't think of a better sport, quite honestly,'' Albanese said. ''You can take it up post-50 years old. The beautiful part about golf is that it really is a family game.

''It has nothing to do with the competitive aspect. ... Take a journey to the next spot. It is just a way to experience the landscape ... it's the true essence of golf after you've played it long enough.''

For more information, call (800) 682-6040 or visit