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Grand Traverse Resort & Spa

With three layouts including Jack Nicklaus’ first signature course in the state, the lakeside resort has led Northern Michigan’s emergence as one of the country’s leading golf destinations

By: Hunki Yun

Appeared in 2011 Nicklaus Premier Clubs

First-time visitors rarely have trouble finding Grand Traverse Resort & Spa. As they near the 900-acre property just north of Traverse City, Michigan, they don’t need to refer to a map, GPS or MapQuest for directions. All they need to do is look up and head for the gleaming 17-story building that rises conspicuously from the pastoral landscape and is visible from 20 miles away.

Both architecturally and recreationally, Grand Traverse is a beacon in the Northern Michigan landscape. Opened in 1980, the resort helped to initiate the growth of golf in the area, which is now one of the country’s leading destinations. In addition to hosting the annual meeting of the National Governors Association in 1987 and 2007, the resort held the 1990 Ameritech Senior Open and was home to the Michigan Open from 1981 to 2008.

Grand Traverse is also home to The Bear, Michigan’s first solo design by Jack Nicklaus. When it opened in 1985, the course didn’t disappoint the wishes of Grand Traverse founder Paul Nine, who had said: “I want the most difficult golf course in the state of Michigan.”

Some of the features have been softened over the past 25 years, but the 7,078-yard layout still embodies the ferocity of its name. “The people who play here are going to have a challenge and also have some fun,” says Nicklaus. “With rolling land, trees, lakes, streams and flat land, you have a mixture of different features that people will see in different places, but rarely on one golf course. That’s what makes this course unique.”

The Bear was Grand Traverse’s second course. The first, called Spruce Run, used to be a nine-hole course that was the foundation for the entire resort. Nine bought the course along with the surrounding property, formerly cherry orchards. (Traverse City is the home of the
National Cherry Festival.)

In addition to enlisting former University of Michigan golf coach William Newcomb to expand the course to 18 holes, Nine built a hotel, which still houses 238 of the resort’s 600 units. There are 186 rooms in the Tower plus 176 condos that are privately owned and made available to guests through a rental program.

The third course, Gary Player’s 7,043-yard Wolverine, opened in 1999. While The Bear is the must-play course for resort guests, The Wolverine is popular among Grand Traverse’s 800-plus members, who appreciate the Player design as an enjoyable, highly playable compromise between the unrelenting Bear and the sporty Spruce Run.

Its 54 holes are the main attraction at Grand Traverse, but there are plenty of other activities for guests, including a golf academy run by Director of Instruction Scott Hebert, a six-time Michigan Open champion and the winner of the 2008 PGA Professional National Championship.

Non-golfers can take advantage of the full-service spa, health club, nine tennis courts (five are indoor) and shops. Owned by the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians, Grand Traverse now offers gaming at its sister property, the Turtle Creek Casino & Hotel, located down the highway.

In addition to featuring amenities for adults, Grand Traverse is very kid-friendly, with a 2,000-square-foot day care center, private beach club at East Grand Traverse Bay and a recently renovated indoor water playground with slides, obstacle course and water basketball.

After a full day of activities, there are several dining options. The signature restaurant is Aerie, located on the 16th floor of the Tower. With tall windows wrapping 360 degrees, Aerie provides unmatched views of the bay, the city and the courses below. Try to make a reservation around sunset.

This total dining experience will help relax golfers and help them rest up for another chance in the morning to take on Northern Michigan’s toughest test: The Bear.

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