Northern Michigan’s Grand Traverse Resort and Spa
by Dave Finn
The Grand Traverse Resort and Spa, owned by the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa First Nations offers a relaxed northern Michigan lifestyle with some excellent golf. Central to the property is the clubhouse where three championship courses and a Dave Peltz Golf School. The resort also offers more than 585 rooms, suites and condos and another 120 rooms at their sister property, Turtle Creek Casino & Hotel a 9-minute shuttle drive away. For those who also enjoy soaking up the sun, the nearby miles of sandy beaches Traverse Bay make this resort a premier Mid-West destination.
TripAdvisor voted the Grand Traverse Resort as one of the 15 Best Golf Destinations in America (2018). and Golf Digest (2017-2018) designated The Bear as #78 in America’s 100 Greatest Public Courses.
A bear is big and bold, and so is this Jack Nicklaus Signature design – a good mix of open and tight tree-lined fairways with plenty of waste bunkers and 14 holes that feature water or marshes to carry over.
Stretching out to over 7078 yards with a course rating of 76.3 and a slope of 148, this may be one of the toughest golf courses you will find anywhere. Even from the whites at 6122 yards the rating is still 71.2 with a slope of 140 so bring your ‘A’ game.
In addition, the greens are well protected and appear to be smallest on the planet – either wide and shallow or narrow and elongated eliminating the bump-and-run game. The putting surfaces are extremely fast, and many are terraced with big undulations.
The 1st hole sets the stage for your round. Your opening drive is relatively safe if you avoid the fairway bunker on the left, but know that you are now faced with a shorter approach to T-shape green that is extremely narrow if the pin is up front. Be advised that with bunkers looming on either side of the green your short game will be challenged if you miss the putting surface.
The 2nd hole is all uphill. A blind drive will leave you with a long iron to a green that is well protected by five bunkers. If the first hole didn’t bite you, the second with a sliver of green probably will.
The 18th may be one of the toughest finishing holes I’ve ever played with a huge pond protecting your long approach shot to the largest green on the course.
The course was in great condition, and the bunkers were deep and soft but a word to the wise, keep it on the fairway as the fescue is high making it tough to find your errant shots. My only negative is that the carts are not equipped with GPS and there are no yardage stakes, but there are plenty of yardage markers along the edge of the fairway.
The Wolverine is a Gary Player Signature Design where most of the front nine holes are relatively flat, playing throughout wetlands. The back nine is more tree-lined, but both sport fescue-edged bunkers and larger greens that are mounded with swales and false fronts that up the ante.
The Wolverine is little more player friendly than The Bear since the fairways are wider, but if you think you can easily roll the ball up to the green, think again. The greens are very well protected. Make no mistake, like its namesake, this course has teeth.
The par-72 course stretches out to 7045 yards but has a course rating on 74.5 and a slope of 140 so pick one the four tee block distances that best fits your game or your final score may disappoint.
The stretch from 7 to 9 were some of my most memorable holes. #7, a relatively short par-4, has a wide receptive fairway if you can avoid the lake that runs along the entire left side. However, if the pin is on the back left you are faced with a very tough approach over a front bunker to a wide but narrow green with a marsh looming on the left.
#8 starts from an elevated tee area and sweeps to the right on this reachable par-5 with a multitude of bunkers protecting the right side of the green.
Of the three, #9 was my favourite par-3, a downhill 128 yards over a pond with bunkers protecting both sides of the putting surface where tall standing trees created an inspiring backdrop.
The 16th also got my attention, an uphill par-4, dog-leg right guarded by a tree on the plateau. Your downhill approach needs to avoid the bunker on the right side.
The short 17th par-4 dog-leg right that follows around a pond is equally as challenging. The most prudent move is to layup your tee shot to avoid the massive bunkers and take out a longer iron to reach the well-guarded green. Big hitters risk big scores on these two holes.
Overall the course was in great shape with well-manicured fairways, but I found the bunkers were shallow and it was all too easy to blade your ball.
Spruce Run is the original course at the resort and by far the fairest of the three. Even though I did not actually get to play, when I toured it, I found it to be a mature parkland layout offering flatter fairways and less bunkers. The well-manicured greens are a good size with fewer undulations making it more enjoyable for a higher handicap. Don’t be fooled by the maximum 6204 yards on this par-70 since the course rating is 71.2 with a slope of 136. Water comes into play on 13 holes, and Spruce Run hosted the 1981 – 1984 Michigan Open so do not underestimate its challenge.
If you are looking for a laid back summer golf retreat in northern Michigan then you should consider the Grand Traverse Resort and Spa. For more information and pricing on their golf getaway packages visit https://www.grandtraverseresort.com/