Grand Traverse Resort and Spa is owned by the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians offering 585 rooms, suites and condos as well as three great championship golf courses right on property. There are also another 120 rooms at their sister Turtle Creek Casino & Hotel within a 9-minute drive or shuttle. Plus you are only minutes to the summer beach retreat of Traverse City where thousands flock to soak up the sun on miles of sandy beach along Traverse Bay.
Spruce Run is by far the fairest of the three, this mature parkland layout offers flatter fairways and less bunkering but it’s very enjoyable for a higher handicap.
The Wolverine is a Gary Player signature design where most of the front nine is relatively flat playing throughout swampland. The back nine is more tree-lined, but both offer fescue edged bunkers and larger greens that are mounded with swales and false fronts.
Naturally, The Bear was designed by Jack Nicklaus, and it stretches out to more than 7,078 yards with course rating of 76.3 and a slope of 148, so this maybe the toughest golf course you will find in MIchigan. Even from the whites at 6,122 yards the rating is still 71.2 with a slope of 140. Bring your ‘A’ game.
There’s a good mix of open and tight tree-lined fairways with plenty of waste bunkers and lots of water or marshes to carry over.
The greens are well protected and appear to be very small – either wide and shallow or narrow and elongated eliminating the bump-and-run game. And to top it off, the greens are extremely fast with a number of them being terraced with big undulations.
The 18th maybe one of the toughest finishing holes in the Wolverine State with a huge pond protecting your long approach shot to the largest green on the course.
Do not underestimate The Wolverine and Spruce Run, both are great courses in their own right, but The Bear is in a different league.
For 2017-18 Golf Digest ranks The Bear #78 in the “America’s 100 Greatest Public Golf Courses” and 18th in “America’s 50 Toughest Golf Courses”. After getting a chance to try and tame this beast, I can understand why this “grizzly” track deserves the accolades. As Jack Nicklaus reportedly said “With rolling land, trees, lakes, streams and flatland, you have a mixture of different features” “That’s what makes this course unique. No two holes are similar.”
The first hole sets the stage with a generous landing area for your tee shot but the real danger is your approach. The green is very narrow if the pin is up front and well protected by two large bunkers. The next two holes are uphill and fairly wide-open until you start heading down into a forested lowland area with a number of forced carries over water and marshes.
There is a Scottish influence to his design as the fairways are relatively flat with moguls and mounding that define them. There are plenty of deep pot bunker and tall natural grass rough making it tough to find your errant shots. There are four lakes and ten holes where water hazards come into play. The terraced putting surfaces are very small, tiered and extremely fast.
There are a number of great holes here but my favourite is the short 13th par-3. It’s on 167 yards from the back tees but you need to clear a pond and navigate around five bunkers that encircle the green.
Over all the course was in excellent condition. The carts are not equipped with GPS and there are no yardage stakes but plenty of markers along the edge of the fairways. The scenery is tremendous and the numerous opportunities to see wildlife like deer, ducks, geese, blue herons, swans, muskrat, raccoons and fox is an experience onto itself. A word to the wise keep it out of the fescue and avoid the bunkers.
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