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Gear up for northern Michigan's toughest golf courses

Brandon TuckerBy Brandon Tucker,
Managing Editor
Tullymore Golf Club - No. 18
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Jim Engh-designed Tullymore Golf Club is one of northern Michigan's best tests, set on over 800 acres with a 148 slope. (Courtesy of Tullymore G.C.)

Northern Michigan golf courses such as The Bear at Grand Traverse Resort, Timberstone and Tullymore pack plenty of pretty - as well as punch.

Golfers make the trek to northern Michigan for its remoteness, expansive treetop views from elevated tees and the sound of their drives echoing through the forests.

But balls struck squarely off a tree make quite a noise, too. And northern Michigan has plenty of golf courses that will shred your scorecard if you don't bring your A-game.

We've found some of northern Michigan's most beautiful "beat downs" to challenge your game while you enjoy the scenery. Of course, each course has at least four sets of tees. We're just using the back tee slope/ratings to make your knees shake a little:

The Bear, Grand Traverse Resort and Spa (Slope/Rating 148/76.3): When The Bear opened it made a statement at the new Grand Traverse Resort and Spa outside Traverse City. Built in 1984, The Bear continues to be the standard of difficulty by which other courses are measured in Michigan - and where no one will hit any of these well-guarded greens by accident.

Toughest hole: No. 18 is a long, tour-worthy finishing hole that offers a split fairway from the tee to cut off yardage - which you'll need in order to hit the shortest iron possible over water to a well-guarded, small green.

TimberStone at Pine Mountain (Slope/Rating: 148/75.0): Tight, forest-lined fairways and steep undulation changes both up and down make this upper peninsula gem designed by Jerry Matthews a demanding test, even though it's not overly long from the championship tees at under 7,000 yards.

Toughest hole: No. 9, nicknamed "Black Diamond," is a long par 4 that heads 471 yards downhill through a tight forest chute. Water guards the fairway right and the green short and left.

Tullymore Golf Club (Slope/Rating: 148/74.9): The massive piece of property Tullymore employs, over 800 acres, is trademark northern Michigan golf. Its flatter, swampy land is not - and the result is a penal, water-heavy design by Jim Engh that stands out thanks to its "knuckle bunkering."

Toughest hole: No. 12, nicknamed "Dell on Steroids" after the famous Lahinch G.C. blind green in Ireland, this par 3 plays 257 yards over water to a bowled, mostly blind green. If you're going to miss, miss long.

Masterpiece - Robert Trent Jones, Sr., Treetops Resort (Slope/Rating: 143/75.3): The flagship of the Treetops Resort courses, this is still probably the toughest, thanks to a mix of both invigorating, scenic holes (like the signature sixth) and punishers.

Toughest hole: There are scores of fun tee shots at the Treetops Resort, but the drive on No. 3, a 419-yard par 4, is just intimidating. It requires a drive through a tight chute of trees that demands carry over a ravine. A blind drop-off lurks left.

Black Forest at Wilderness Valley (Slope/Rating: 147/75.3): As a par 73, here your score is already going to be one stroke higher than usual. Thick forest lines most holes, while the greens are often very small and heavily bunkered.

Toughest hole: No. 17, a long par 4, requires a shot to an elevated, sliver of green built into a hillside with a drop-off right and very little room on either side. Getting up-and-down here is a sterling accomplishment.

Forest Dunes Golf Club (Slope/Rating: 142/74.8): "A mix of Pine Valley and Augusta National" is how the Tom Weiskopf-designed Forest Dunes is often described, thanks to the front nine set in parkland forest, followed by a wide open, dunes-like back side, including the "Hell's Acre" hole on the par-3 16th.

Toughest hole: The fairway on the 464-yard, par-4 14th gets pinched tightly by a bunker right and water left, followed by a shot to a green guarded heavily by water short and left, with bunkers on every side.

Arcadia Bluffs Golf Club (Slope/Rating: 147/75.4): Michigan's best links creation on bluffs overlooking lake Michigan, this Rick Smith signature course on 245 lakefront acres is filled with wispy dunes, sod-walled bunkers and narrow fairways, which is the closest thing you'll find to Whistling Straits across the lake. Expect high winds across this wide-open tract.

Toughest hole: No. 10 is a 481-yard par 4 that features a partially blind tee shot to a narrow fairway, with a green protected by a steep bunker front-left.

More photos

TimberStone Golf Course - No. 9The Bear Golf Course - Bunkers

Brandon Tucker is the Managing Editor for Golf Advisor. To date, his golf travels have taken him to over two dozen countries and over 500 golf courses worldwide. While he's played some of the most prestigious courses in the world, Tucker's favorite way to play the game is on a great muni in under three hours. Follow Brandon on Twitter at @BrandonTucker and on Instagram at BrandonTuckerGC.

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