M-22 runs north out of downtown Frankfort, weaves through two miles of forest and farm land, and then hits the west shore of Crystal Lake. At twenty-three square miles, Crystal Lake is the ninth largest inland lake in Michigan. Originally named “Cap Lake” after the white caps frequently on its surface, the lake was renamed after the Civil War to “Crystal Lake” in homage to its crystal clear blue waters.
Crystal Lake’s exceptionally clear water results from the fact that the Crystal Lake watershed is much smaller than the Betsie River watershed to the south and the Platte River watershed to the north. The lake itself occupies 35% of the area of the watershed. Accordingly, it receives much less agricultural runoff than surrounding watersheds. The lake also has an enormous capacity to handle what little runoff it receives; the lake reaches a depth of 165 feet and averages a depth of 70 feet.
The lake has numerous sandy beaches, which are a product of Crystal Lake’s history. In 1873, enterprising loggers attempted to connect Crystal Lake to Lake Michigan. A channel was open briefly, lowering Crystal Lake’s level and exposing sandy beaches around the lake. Although the channel was considered a failure and was later closed, the lake’s level was kept low to preserve the beaches.
M-22 runs approximately two miles north along the Crystal Lake shoreline. The road provides great views of Crystal Lake to the right. To the left, M-22 passes two noteworthy landmarks: Point Betsie Lighthouse and Crystal Downs Country Club.
Point Betsie Lighthouse is one of the most visited and most photographed lighthouses in the United States. It sits along a beautiful stretch of Lake Michigan shoreline and is easily accessible only a few feet from available parking. The Lake Michigan shoreline stretches for miles north and south of the lighthouse. Point Betsie still serves as an aid in navigation to vessels on Lake Michigan. It marks the south entrance to the Manitou Passage. Its light shines fifteen miles into Lake Michigan and illuminates nightly just after sunset.
The lighthouse was first lit in October, 1858, making it one of the oldest continually operating lighthouses in Michigan. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Point Betsie Lighthouse is unique among area lighthouses because it has an attached residence and a separate life-saving station next door. The life-saving station was built in 1876, replaced in 1917, and closed in 1937. Point Betsie is also one of the few area lighthouses to allow the public inside. Tours are available Friday through Sunday during the summer.
Just north of Point Betsie Lighthouse, M-22 passes Crystal Downs Country Club. Crystal Downs is ranked as the 10th best golf course in the United States. It was designed by Allister MacKenzie in 1929, four years before he designed Augusta National, home of The Masters. In his seminal book “Golf Architecture” (1920), MacKenzie wrote, “The chief object of every golf course architect worth his salt is to initiate the beauties of nature and presumably also the hazards so closely as to make his work indistinguishable from nature itself.” It is hard to imagine terrain better suited to MacKenzie’s “chief object” than that surrounding Crystal Lake. The rolling hills, dunes, and views of Lake Michigan and Crystal Lake from Crystal Downs are unmatched. Some commentators have described the view from Crystal Downs’ first tee as the greatest view in the game.
MacKenzie became the course architect in part because of timing. Local residents had written to lesser known architect Robert Hunter proposing construction of a course in the hills between Crystal Lake and Lake Michigan. Hunter had worked with MacKenzie in the past, and knew that MacKenzie had just completed Cypress Point in California and was en route to the east coast to return to his native England. Hunter persuaded MacKenzie and another architect, Perry Maxwell, that they should explore Northern Michigan and investigate the opportunity on their way through the Midwest. Upon seeing the property and its terrain, MacKenzie remarked, “In England they would call this ‘downs’” (for its view over and descent “down” to Lake Michigan). Mackenzie agreed to design the course and Crystal “Downs” was born. There is perhaps no greater objective indication of M-22’s beauty than the fact that two of the top-fifty golf courses in the United States sit along the road just a few miles apart. Other than the more heavily populated Monterey Peninsula in California, there is no other place in the United States that can claim two top-fifty courses in such close proximity.