Traverse City, Michigan Offers an Unbeatable Golf Getaway

The Jack Nicklaus-designed Bear at Grand Traverse Resort was named 2012 Michigan Golf Course of the Year.

TRAVERSE CITY, Michigan — It’s everywhere you look here, a startling canvas of colors strung together like the jewels in a crown. Golden beaches. Sapphire-blue water. Ruby-red sunsets.

And of course, emerald-green golf.

Grand Traverse Resort's tower is a Northern Michigan icon. Photo by Nile Young, Jr.

Grand Traverse Resort’s tower is a Northern Michigan icon. Photo by Nile Young, Jr.

Traverse City, the focal point of the heavenly horseshoes called Grand Traverse Bay, offers a treasure-trove of natural riches, a beauty that’s brought people to the area in droves for decades. While the Traverse area is indisputably one of the Midwest’s great vacation destinations, it has also become one of the country’s greatest golf getaways, replete with premier tracks from the game’s greatest architects.

Nicklaus, Palmer, Player, Weiskopf and many more, they’re all here, ready and waiting. Located just a 5-hour drive north from Chicago, the Traverse City area has something for everyone.

No fewer than 17 stellar courses make up “Michigan’s Golf Coast,” as well as gaming, boating, fishing, hiking, fine wining and dining, and eclectic shopping. It’s easy to see why GOLF Magazine named the area the No. 6 golf destination in the whole country.

“Obviously, we’ve got great golf in the area,” explained Brad Van Dommelen, Traverse City Convention & Visitors Bureau President. “One of the things that sets us apart as the ultimate golf destination, is that we’re a community that offers so much more. We’ve got wineries, microbreweries, world-class shopping … We’ve got Vegas-style gaming and great restaurants … It provides the full experience on and off the course.”

‘Grand’ Beginnings

On the course is a great place to get started in Traverse City … and there’s no better place to begin than Grand Traverse Resort and Spa. Located in nearby Acme, Grand Traverse is a destination all by itself, offering everything from lakefront lodging and luxurious rooms in its iconic 17-story tower, to on- site shopping, dining and more.

It’s the resort’s three championship courses that garner the most acclaim, and have the resort ranked No. 48 in Golf Digest’s Top 75 Golf Resorts in America. Most notable is the Jack Nicklaus-designed gem called The Bear — named the 2012 Course of the Year by Michigan Golf Course Owners Association. Nicklaus built the tough-but-terrific club in 1985, kicking off the building boom in the area, and truly opening the doors to Traverse City as a golf destination.

The resort also offers plenty to play beyond The Bear, including the pretty-and-playable Gary Player-designed Wolverine — the perfect yin to The Bear’s yang — as well as Spruce Run, the resort’s original Bill Newcomb design.

A five-iron from the resort you’ll find Turtle Creek Casino, like Grand Traverse Resort, owned by the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians. If a round on The Bear packs too much bite (and it might), you can look for better luck at blackjack.

Much More in Store

Literally across the street from Grand Traverse Resort, you’ll find the Steve Smyers-designed LochenHeath Golf Club. The scenic course (featuring views of East Grand Traverse Bay) is a lovely, leggy, quirky track originally built to be a private club, then reborn as an upscale daily fee — and a welcome addition to the Traverse area golf scene.

Lovely LochenHeath, a Steve Smyers design on the shores of Grand Traverse Bay.

Lovely LochenHeath, a Steve Smyers design on the shores of Grand Traverse Bay.

LochenHeath isn’t the only club close within the city’s confines. Not far from the Grand Traverse Mall is The Crown Golf Club, which showcases classic “up north” style golf throughout the rolling terrain. Just south of the city center is Elmbrook Golf Club, a pretty (views of both East and West Grand Traverse Bay), playable (6,100 yards from the tips) and affordable course. The Traverse City golf scene extends far beyond the immediate area. Heading west out of town, taking the scenic M-22 around West Bay you will see the lovely little burg of Suttons Bay. (Do not miss a stop at Black Star Farms Winery.) There you’ll find Northern Michigan’s hidden golf gem: The Leelanau Club at Bahle Farms. The Leelanau Club might have the best superintendent/ architect in the game — the amiable Gary Pulsipher. He took an incredible piece of land and created a rollicking roller coaster of a course.

The Leelanau Club at Bahle Farms is Northern Michigan's most underrated roller coaster. Photo by Nile Young, Jr.

The Leelanau Club at Bahle Farms is Northern Michigan’s most underrated roller coaster. Photo by Nile Young, Jr.

Keep following M-22 (you’ll have a bumper sticker by the end of this trip) and you’ll find the magical Manitou Passage Golf Club. Set on the backside of the former Sugarloaf Ski Resort, this awesome Arnold Palmer design underwent a revamp in 2009. The result is a fun, fair course fit for The King.

The Beauty of Bellaire

On the other, eastern end of the Grand Traverse area, lies the beautiful burg of Bellaire. The town is home to the incomparable Torch Lake, which is seemingly plucked from the tropics and dropped into Northern Michigan. Beyond the brilliant, Caribbean-blue of the lake, there’s no shortage of great golf found in this area.

One of the fan-favorites on Northern Michigan’s golf scene, A-Ga-Ming Golf Resort offers 54 holes across three very varied tracks. You’ll also find 30 finely- appointed condominiums available for stay-and-play deals. The resort’s best- known course is the 6,700-yard gem called The Torch, and offers dramatic views of its namesake. Overlooking Lake Michigan, A-Ga-Ming’s Antrim Dells course has been a Northern Michigan staple for more than 30 years.

The newest track at A-Ga-Ming is the Sundance Course, which opened in 2005 to its share of fanfare. Tipping the scales at 6,900 yards, Sundance is the most modern and arguably the most majestic of the three, with views of Torch Lake as well as Lake Michigan.

The spectacular Sundance Course at A-Ga-Ming Golf Resort.

The spectacular Sundance Course at A-Ga-Ming Golf Resort.

Just down the road from A-Ga-Ming is the dynamic duo of The Chief Golf Course and Hawk’s Eye Golf Resort. The Chief course offers quintessential “Northern Michigan” golf, winding through hills and hardwoods, with views of Lake Bellaire. The newer Hawk’s Eye, designed by John Robinson, has been ranked among Michigan’s best public courses, and it’s easy to see why on the 7,011-yard stunner.

Get Set For Shanty

One of the biggest and best resorts in the Grand Traverse area is the sensational Shanty Creek Resort, a four-season playground built for snowbirds, golf nuts and everyone in between.

Shanty Creek offers four fantastic courses, and a variety of dining and lodging options. You will see a mouth- watering view from the main lodge, overlooking the fertile green valley and Lake Bellaire below.

The resort’s four-course-menu is mouth-watering, too. Starting with a killer club by The King himself, the Arnold Palmer-designed Legend plays from hilltop to hilltop. The course offers lake views and plenty of thrills over its 6,700 yards. Shanty Creek breaks out another big name on its Tom Weiskopf- designed Cedar River course, a 6,900-yard beauty named one of the Top 100 resort courses in the country by Golf Week.

The rolling hills of Bellaire provide the backdrop for Shanty’s Schuss Mountain course, 6,922 yards of Northern Michigan splendor. The resort’s original course, a William Diddel-designed gem called the Summit, is a 6,260-yard fan favorite. A great way to end your stay — and ensure your return.

Going Beyond Great Golf

As good as the golf certainly is, the off-course offerings in the Grand Traverse area might be even more intriguing.

The Traverse City area offers a wide variety of eclectic shops. Lining the well-shaded downtown streets, you will find the Cherry Republic (a love-letter to the area’s quintessential crop), as well as beautiful baubles at James C. Smith Fine Jewelry. Just a five-minute drive from downtown is the historic Grand Traverse Commons, a former state asylum complex renovated into an amazing collection of shops, restaurants and even a winery. You’d be crazy to miss it.

When you work up an appetite, the Traverse City area is a foodie’s fantasy. (It was even named the No. 1 “Foodie City” in America by From fresh-baked bread at Bay Bread, to cherry pie at The Grand Traverse Pie Company (not to be missed), to Asian fusion at Red Ginger, there’s something for every palate. One of the area’s best is Trattoria Stella, with traditional fine Italian fare in Grand Traverse Commons.

The Traverse area is home to nearly three dozen wineries, including the stellar Chateau Chantal. Photo by Nile Young, Jr.

The Traverse area is home to nearly three dozen wineries, including the stellar Chateau Chantal. Photo by Nile Young, Jr.

The Traverse area is also a nationally known winery wonderland, a Northern Michigan-Napa, if you will. There are more than three dozen wineries lining the area’s picturesque Old Mission Peninsula and Leelanau Peninsula. Some of the best include Chateau de Leelanau, Shady Lane Cellars, Chateau Chantal, Brys Estate, and Two Lads wineries. For the ultimate brownie-points destination, don’t miss a sunset dinner at The Boathouse Restaurant on Old Mission.

For those who prefer ales and IPAs to rieslings and reds, the Traverse area has its share of magical microbreweries. Two of the best are Traverse City’s North Peak Brewing Company, and Short’s Brewing Company in Bellaire, although you can’t go wrong at Right Brain Brewery, Seven Monks Taproom and the Mackinaw Brewing Co.

Heads in Beds

Traverse area’s lodging options are as varied as the other amenities, with more than 5,000 rooms to choose from. Beachfront hotels? Check. Boutique B&Bs? Check. Affordable rooms? You bet.

While the resorts are always a fine choice, the Days Inn & Suites is perennially one of Traverse City’s top-rated hotels, with all the amenities and free breakfast, to boot. For rooms with a con- temporary flair, Cambria Suites offers big-city style in an up-north setting. For on-the-water lodging, the Cherry Tree Inn & Suites is a sweet retreat right on the beach.

Naturally, stay-and-play packages are plentiful, varied and easy to book in the area. When it comes to the treasure called Traverse City, the hardest part is always deciding what, where, and for how long. But the truth is, you really can’t go wrong.

For more information about the Traverse City area, visit