Grand Traverse Resort's Bear, Shanty Creek's Legend and Treetops' Masterpiece celebrate major milestones
Three founding fathers of golf in northern Michigan are celebrating significant milestones.
Great golf in the region dates to The Heather at Boyne Highlands Resort, a Robert Trent Jones Sr. design that opened in 1967 in Harbor Springs. The Heather remains a Michigan icon, hosting the 100th Michigan Amateur in 2011.
Northern Michigan remained a sleepy summertime destination sprinkled with a few ski resorts until the mid-1980s when three big-name architects built three designs that changed the game forever in the Wolverine state. The grand openings of Jack Nicklaus' The Bear at Grand Traverse Resort & Spa in Acme in 1985, followed by the RTJ's The Masterpiece at Treetops Resort in Gaylord and Arnold Palmer's The Legend at Shanty Creek in Bellaire the next summer, did more than just add 54 holes.
Their impact was profound. It put northern Michigan on the map as one of the best summer golf destinations in the country. Their success paved the way for a slew of other name-brand architects to develop their own high-profile playgrounds.
Gary Player created The Wolverine at Grand Traverse Resort & Spa, Tom Fazio contributed his talents to the Fazio Premiere Course at Treetops Resort, Rees Jones built Black Lake Golf Club, Tom Weiskopf added Cedar River Golf Course and Forest Dunes Golf Club and Arthur Hills designed the Hills Course at Boyne Highlands and the 27-hole Bay Harbor Golf Club. That's an incredible collection of places to play.
Let's pay homage to the threesome that started it all. The Bear celebrated its 25th anniversary last summer. The Legend and the Masterpiece are in the midst of their silver anniversary birthdays this season. All three have aged with grace.
The Bear at Grand Traverse Resort & Spa
None of the three have undergone more cosmetic changes than The Bear at Grand Traverse Resort & Spa, the 7,078-yard beast considered to be the toughest course ever conceived by Nicklaus. That's saying something.
Subtle changes over the year have softened the Bear's teeth, but its slope of 148 still ranks among the highest in the state. Golf Digest placed it No. 18 on its list of the nation's 50 toughest courses.
The Bear, a long-time host of the Michigan Open before the event left in 2008, is more playable today.
There are still no weak holes, however. Nicklaus throws everything at players to keep them off-balance -- thick rough, wetlands, tree-lined corridors, swooping bunkers and wavy greens.
A Legend visits Shanty Creek
There are four other Palmer designs in Michigan, yet The Legend at Shanty Creek Resorts remains The King's best.
Palmer's visit to the resort for the grand opening in 1986 was a first-class shindig that even attracted Jim Blanchard, Michigan's governor at the time.
Palmer's magnetic personality comes to life through the Legend. It's short by modern standards -- 6,764 yards from the tips -- yet the variety and flow of the design keeps it interesting throughout.
The course starts off with a slight pat on the back, a reachable, downhill par 5 that could relinquish eagle, followed by the most difficult and controversial hole. The second is a behemoth of a par 4 demanding an uphill tee shot over a hazard. The approach shot must avoid another hazard.
From there, the Legend delivers what people love about northern Michigan golf: elevated tee shots and scenic vistas.
A Masterpiece at Treetops
The opening of The Masterpiece at Treetops Resort in 1986 really transformed the resort. The golf course inspired the resort's name change from Sylvan Knob, then just a ski resort, and officially put it on the map for golfers.
The story goes that while former owner Harry Melling and Jones were touring the landscape, they came upon the elevated tees of the glorious, par-3 sixth hole. Jones said: "When I look out, all I can see are the tops of trees. You should call this place Treetops."
The course was an instant success, debuting as the second-best new course in the country by Golf Digest in 1987. A recent greenside bunker renovation has enhanced it even more. When it opened, it had the highest slope rating in Michigan. It remains one tough test due to dynamic elevation changes.