Thanks to Greg Johnson for this guest blog post on his battle with The Bear.
In the first encounter with The Bear, well, not surprisingly, The Bear won. Stripped of ammunition (in this case golf balls) as well as pride, I declared I would never try that monster of a golf course again. But a year later, The Bear at Grand Traverse Resort and Spa in Acme won again.
And so it would go — for 24 years. Bear 24, this golfer 0.
Sure, it’s not as tough as when it first opened with designer Jack Nicklaus on hand. Jack that day was not so sure he was unleashing the right thing upon golfers in the shadow of Traverse City, our delightful Michigan tourist Mecca in the north. Then-owner Paul Nine had ordered the toughest 18 Jack could design though, and the Golden Bear of golf had delivered. It was brutally tough, and not just for the average golfer.
In the first Michigan Open Championship played there, which included the top professionals and amateurs from the state, The Bear exacted double-digit scores on single holes. Strangely enough, that made me feel better about the mauling my game would take at the place.
The Bear has softened over the years, though it still has deep bunkers, long grasses in rough areas, difficult shots over various hazards, including water and undulated hard-to-read greens. My last scorecard had a 9 on it — yes, on one hole — the diabolical par 3 No. 9 hole that looks oh so innocent.
Some have criticized the design as too severe, too much dirt moved, too much of everything. One wonders if they just scored too much.
Here’s the crazy part. It’s beautiful, too.
Your score is likely to be ugly, but the collection of grasses, bunkers, twisted greens and the surrounding is stunning. I seem to get closer each year to my handicap when I play, though it’s certain to have something to do with better knowledge of the angles, bumps and pin positions. I have painfully learned where never to hit it. Yet, I dig the place, which is located at a grand resort complete with great dining, a classic spa, great service, a nearby casino and two other golf courses on the property.
The Bear is amid a Michigan vacation paradise waiting for its victims. Fore I say, and for as long as I can swing a club. I’ll beat it yet.
Greg Johnson has been writing about Michigan golf since 1982 primarily as the golf writer for The Grand Rapids Press and Booth Newspapers. He is a native of Three Rivers, grew up in St. Joseph, a graduate of Lake Michigan College in Benton Harbor and Michigan State University in East Lansing. An award-winning writer, he has lived in Hudsonville for the last 20 years and worked in Grand Rapids for the last 27 years.