The Traverse City area is one of America's greatest family vacation destinations, with enough golf courses to play a new one every day for a month (or more). In fact, picking just 10 to highlight here is a fool's errand (which is why they asked me to do it) -- for every one of the following tracks, any given local can point to two more he would put on the list instead.
Be that as it may, the courses below serve as a broad introduction to golf in the Traverse City area. We break them up into categories, from bargain-basement to resort to arguably the best in the state.
Traverse City-area golf resorts
At 7,078 yards, the Jack Nicklaus-designed Bear at Grand Traverse Resort and Spa was one of the longest golf courses in Michigan when it opened in 1985, and it was certainly the most difficult. Between some slight softening around the edges and the advent of longer, more forgiving equipment, The Bear is playable for all resort guests. Multiple semi-blind tee shots and approaches over water keep it plenty challenging, though. It's the frequent site of numerous local and state tournaments.
The Wolverine at Grand Traverse is a true resort-style course that is also truly memorable. The 7,038-yard Gary Player design opened in 1999 and welcomes golfers with gently mounded fairways and receptive greens to help keep balls in play. But rest assured, there are still several blind tee shots and plenty of risk-rewards to keep play as thrilling as you want it to be.
The Legend Golf Club at Shanty Creek Resort is one of Michigan's original four-season resorts, and it sports a highly acclaimed selection of golf courses. The Legend is an Arnold Palmer design that weighs in at only 6,764 yards from the tips, and it challenges accuracy and club selection (lots of shortish par 4s) from start to finish. The Legend has earned a large bucket-full of awards over the years, including the 2014 Course of the Year Award from the Michigan Golf Course Owners Association. Golf Magazine also ranked it as 19 in the state among public courses in 2014.
Tom Weiskopf's Cedar River Golf Club at Shanty Creek measures 6,989 from the championship tees but feels a lot longer. This might be one of the toughest driving courses in the state (slope rating: 144) and offers a roller coaster ride running the gamut from the drivable par-4 13th to the snaking up- and downhill par-5 closing hole. Ranked in 2014 as the no. 10 public course in Michigan, Cedar River will challenge -- and reward -- even the best golfer in your group.
The Torch at A-Ga-Ming Golf Resort in nearby Kewadin sits perched above picturesque Torch Lake. The Torch, renamed and re-routed in 2005, is a classic Jerry Matthews design (6,667 yards) with spectacular views of the lake. Smallish greens and water on 11 holes place a premium on accurate approaches, and several dramatic elevation changes off the tees make for fun driving. The course is also perennially ranked as one of the best in the state for lady golfers.
The Sundance Course at A-Ga-Ming Golf Resort, opened in 2005, is another Jerry Matthews design that epitomizes northern Michigan golf. The 6,935-yard Sundance is routed over the bluffs between Torch Lake and Grand Traverse Bay and features wide fairways, undulating greens, and artful bunkering and mounding.
Stand-alone standouts in the Traverse City-area
LochenHeath Golf Club is a 7,280-yard Steve Smyers gem that opened to rave reviews in 2001. Everything about LochenHeath screams "Private Club," except for the fact that it also offers (limited) public play. It's worth any and all effort to secure one of those tee times. Smyers is famous for his strategic designs, and LochenHeath tempts, teases and toys with players from tee to green. The greens are huge and wild and deceiving, and the views of Grand Traverse Bay are inspiring.
Manitou Passage Golf Club, an Arnold Palmer Signature design, is remote but worth the trip. Recently renovated, this 6,724-yard hidden treasure offers spectacular views, such as at the par-5 eighth hole, where you can see all the way to Lake Michigan.
Bargain buddy: Pinecroft Golf Plantation
Pinecroft Golf Plantation is a family-owned and operated track in Beulah. At 6,447 yards, it's sporty and plenty of fun, with elevation changes, risk-reward and great conditioning. Best of all, the green fees here are the lowest on this list, but you still get some magnificent views from high above Torch Lake.
Budget buster: Arcadia Bluffs G.C.
Since opening in 1999, Arcadia Bluffs Golf Club has steadily climbed in the rankings of Michigan's multitudinous courses. By 2014, it is ranked as the best public layout in the state by most major golf publications. The 7,298-yard Rick Smith design boasts vistas of Lake Michigan that rival any ocean-side links. It's a bit of a drive from Traverse City, the greens are sometimes criticized as severe and the greens fees are a bit steep ($185 in peak season, caddies available), but just take a moment to gaze out over the water: It doesn't get much better than this, anywhere.