ESCANABA - The toughest golf course in the state lived up to its name Tuesday.
The Bear at Grand Traverse Resort was absolutely a brute during a 25th anniversary celebration. Or maybe the golfer was brutal and the course was just a bear.
The Bear does not allow a mistake, which is not good news for us hackers. When a mistake happens, The Bear takes a huge bite. Ouch, it's hard to sit down and even write this after my third trip to this most difficult test.
It has a 76.3 course rating, highest in the state. Golf Digest magazine ranks it No. 18 among the 50 toughest courses in the country, and it was every bit that tough Tuesday. Then again, maybe it was just the way I played it.
I consider myself a tourist golfer, taking the scenic approach with my wayward shots to see portions of property not on the tour followed by other players. That also requires a lot of ad-lib shots from strange spots, and after a while that begins to be a major hassle, which in turn gets tiring and frustrating.
That shot selection makes the course that much tougher to negotiate, and enables it to gouge out a bigger bite.
Grand Traverse Resort, which also is home to The Wolverine and Spruce Run golf courses, has received a bundle of awards during its quarter-century. It is listed among the 10 great places for family golf by USA Today and Travel & Leisure tabs it best midwest golf resort for a family trip. Golf Digest ranks it 48th among the country's top 75 golf resorts.
A 17-story tower/hotel with all a spa, pool and shopping is part of the complex and is visible for miles.
The Bear was designed by Jack Nicklaus, while Gary Player designed the more player friendly Wolverine.
Scott Hebert of Escanaba is the professional at Grand Traverse Resort and loves The Bear. He won a record-tying six Michigan Open championships at that course and handles it well because he splits the fairways off the tee and is a tremendous iron player.
In a commemorative issue of the 25th anniversary, Hebert says "The Bear may seem intimidating from the tee box, the tiered fairways, the long grass...even good golfers think there's a lot of trouble out there.
"But the better player sees the trouble and what the novice doesn't see - the fairways are wide, the greens are big...there are a lot of options to be successful. Many times, a better player finds that The Bear brings out the best in his or her game, and they want that challenge."
However, it can also bring out the worst in the average golfer. Tackling the challenge of The Bear is something every golfer should try, but it will be frustrating. After struggling for several holes, the battle becomes a bear to handle and that adds to more poor shots and frustration.
Different challenges await on each hole, from marshy areas, water on 14 holes and deep bunkers that even have stairs to ease the departure process on No. 16. The greens were slick Tuesday, but fun to putt. The problem was getting to the green.
With the heather, mounds along the fairways and the water, you can think of The Bear as Sweetgrass Golf Club with an attitude.
Hebert left Friday for French Lick, Ind. for the PGA Professionals National Championship, which begins Sunday.
He won the title in 2008 and was in the top 15 in 2007 and 2009 to qualify for the PGA Championship. The PGA returns to Whistling Straits near Sheboygan, Wis. in August and has some similarities to The Bear, which would be good for Hebert if he can play well next week.