Grand Traverse Resort & Spa (The Bear)

Grand Traverse Resort & Spa (The Bear) – Played May 2017

  • Rankings: Golf Digest Public #72
  • Location: 100 Grand Traverse Village Boulevard, Acme, Michigan
  • Year: 1984
  • Architect: Jack Nicklaus
  • Course Access: Resort
  • Walking Rules: Carts Available

Score Card Information:

  • Black: 7,078 yards, Par 72, 76.1 Rating/150 Slope
  • Blue: 6,601 yards, Par 72, 73.3 Rating/147 Slope
  • Blue/White: 6,347 yards, Par 72, 72.0 Rating/144 Slope
  • White: 6,122 yards, Par 72, 71.1 Rating/139 Slope
  • White/Yellow: 5,688 yards, Par 72, 66.2 Rating/134 Slope
  • Yellow: 5,281 yards, Par 72, 67.0 Rating/128 Slope

This was the sixth round of the trip and it was at this point that I was realizing I needed to get in better shape!  I was feeling it a little bit.  The weather was supposed to be bad, but I was the first one out and played in just about 3 hours to beat it.  Those are the best days!

Alright, a little bit of background.  Per the website the resort  is owned by the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians.  It opened in 1980 and features almost 600 rooms, suites, and condos.  It has ample meeting space dining options, shopping, and a spa.  I encourage you to check out the website for the resort to check out all the options.

The facility has three golf courses highlighted by The Bear.  It also has a golf academy on site featuring a Dave Pelz Short Game School.  The Bear is an apt name for the course because it is very difficult.  It is ranked on the toughest courses list for a reason.  I got a good chunk of the back nine in a stiff wind.  Believe me, it was no joke.  That is probably why the course hosted the Michigan Open for 28 years as well as a Champions Tour event in 1990.

Let’s get into the tour!

The photo above is the sign at the entrance.  The building below is the futuristic looking Tower.  It opened in 1986 and has 186 rooms.  I didn’t expect to see this when I was pulling up.

The photos below give you a glimpse of the clubhouse and scorecard.

I teed it up from the blues so all yardages will reflect that.

Hole 1 – 364 yards – Par 4

Right before the first tee is a reminder of the history and architect of the course.  It was dedicated a few months after I was born!  According to the website, Nicklaus believed the course would challenge players, but also allow for a good time for players of all levels.  With ten holes featuring water hazards and thick rough, I’m not 100% sold on that, but I will leave that up to you.

The first hole eases you into the round.  From my tees driver isn’t needed.  The fairway is pretty wide though so bang driver if you’re so inclined.

The approach must deal with some sand.

The first green is a bit awkward.  It is a figure eight shape pinched in by bunkers.  Some shots that hit the green may not allow for a straight putt at certain flag sticks.

Hole 2 – 407 yards – Par 4

It gets harder on the second.  While it is listed as over 400 yards on the card, it plays longer due to the uphill slope that is quite pronounced.

The approach is guarded by a deep bunker in front of the green.  You will also see that the green is very shallow.  Precision is crucial here on what could be a long second shot.

Hole 3 – 528 yards – Par 5

This is a pretty hole.  I’m not sure there is much strategy, but it looks good.  The hole bends to the right.  The hazard on the right is the main danger.

The green is tucked among the trees sits behind a creek as well as some bunkers.  i really liked the setting of the green.

In the photos below you can start to see the unique shape of the green.  It is a small target for those players attempting to reach it in two.

Hole 4 – 151 yards – Par 3

There isn’t much room for error off of this tee.  There is water everywhere and a menacing pot bunker behind the green.  The main issue may be the deep rough if you miss the green.  It makes chipping very difficult.

Hole 5 – 376 yards – Par 4

This tee shot was a challenge for me playing the course for the first time.  I wasn’t quite sure when the water came into play.  I played it safe and took three wood up the left side.  Driver brings the water into play.

Below is a look at the approach.

This flag position didn’t provide too much challenge, but if you move it back you bring the sloping into play.  Middle and back pins will have you encountering some interesting putts.

Hole 6 – 532 yards – Par 5

The sixth is a longer, demanding hole.  There is plenty of room in the fairway, but there is a fall off on the left side that leads to deep rough and a difficult lay up.

Here is the second shot view.

The green is open in front, but you don’t want to miss on either side.  Short is definitely better.

Hole 7 – 364 yards – Par 4

The tee shot here is all about keeping the ball to the right side due to trouble down the left.  Depending on the wind you can take less than driver, but the hole plays back up the hill.

Here is a look at the second shot where you can see the slope.

The green is interestingly contoured.  The flag stick is in a mini bowl, which can make for some interesting putts.  Fun green complex.

Hole 8 – 386 yards – Par 4

The tee signs have a sleek design with plenty of information.

There is water down the right side of hole, but the real difficulty is in the approach shot.  The second photo gives a closer look.

Below you can see the difficulty I mentioned.  Water is prominently featured, but there is room to bailout left.

The green is buffeted by some closely mowed areas that give you options for recovery shots.

This wide view of putting surface gives you a great look at the scope of the hole.

Hole 9 – 168 yards – Par 3

The ninth is a tough finisher to your front nine.  As you can see below you cannot miss it anywhere except long.  During my round the wind was starting to whip making the difficulty level even higher.

Hole 10 – 505 yards – Par 5

This one is reachable for longer hitters, but some bunkers are waiting to catch wayward shots.  There is also plenty of thick rough.

A hazard crosses the fairway as well so you must be mindful of that on layups.  There isn’t a ton to worry about from this angle hitting into the green.

Below is a view from greenside.

Hole 11 – 364 yards – Par 4

I didn’t love this hole to be honest, but it was more that it didn’t really standout.  Hit the fairway, middle of the green, and try to make a putt.

Hole 12 – 367 yards – Par 4

The tee shot is the easiest part of this hole.  The fairway is pretty wide and the long grass you can see isn’t in play.

The second shot is where things get interesting.  The green is set back among the trees with the water only being a problem if you block one.  The view from here was very appealing.

The putting surface has a ridge right in the middle that makes your distance control important.  If you’re on the right tier you can make some putts.

Hole 13 – 150 yards – Par 3

I couldn’t get the full experience of this hole since the grounds crew was doing some work.  Without the machinery I can imagine it is a great hole.  The green is surrounded by deep bunkers.  With wind coming through the trees club selection is quite difficult.

Hole 14 – 390 yards – Par 4

The yardage on the card is deceiving because of the slope that extends all the way to the green.  The landing area is generous.  The bunker up the left side is in play as is the long rough on the right.

Most players will need more club on the approach.  You don’t want to dump one in the bunker short of the green.

Hole 15 – 543 yards – Par 5

I’m not sure this hole is an architectural gem, but it is pretty.  Sure the houses are an eyesore, but just focus on the hole.  From the tee you are high up and have an expansive view.  The angle will definitely get you some more yards on the tee ball.

Once you’re down in the fairway the water is the main concern.  Keep the pill down the left side and you’ll have a look at birdie.

The green was designed with an odd shape.  It almost looks like a fidget spinner.  See I know what the kids are into!

I enjoyed the view back towards the tee.

Hole 16 – 391 yards – Par 4

Stay out of the left bunker and things are alright.  Other than that hit it as far as possible.

The green is guarded by some treacherous bunkers.  Pars will be hard to come by out of those.  You’ll also notice the internal contouring of the green can present some challenges.

Hole 17 – 188 yards – Par 3

This par three has a distinctly parkland feel.  There is once again plenty of sand, but it is offset from the putting surface so only bad misses will get caught.  The green is large in area to give the player some margin of error with a long iron.

The size of the green is illustrated below.

Hole 18 – 427 yards – Par 4

The finisher is perhaps the hardest hole of the day.  There is room to take the ball up the left, as seen in the second photo, but the water waits for any balls leaking to the right.  The water can be carried, but wind will certainly play a factor.

The fairway is bisected by a row of undulating mounds covered in rough.  I’m not sure why, but they are there anyway.

The water wraps back around to affect the second shot.  This view reminded me of so many PGA Tour telecasts where the leaders have to carry a hazard to finish off a win.  With the wind whipping it certainly required a solid shot.

Overall, the Bear is a brute.  With the wind up the course can really play hard.  That being said, the conditioning was great and if you choose the right set of tees the day will be fun.  I liked the scenery and despite some forgettable holes I would certainly recommend the course.  A benefit of staying at the resort is that there are other course options to give you a bit of a break from the big, bad bear!  Northern Michigan continues to impress.

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