Six-time winner Scott Hebert joins 13 other former champions in a return to an Acme-based course for the annual tournament.
By Greg Johnson
It’s back to The Bear at Grand Traverse Resort and Spa for the 101st Michigan Open Championship next Monday, June 11 until Thursday, June 14 after nearly 10 years, and 14 former champions—including nine who won their titles at The Bear—are coming too.
The Michigan Open Championship is one of the state’s oldest annual tournament, which Grand Traverse Resort and Spa hosted—along with some of the best golfers—approximately 28 times between 1981 and 2008. The tournament’s return to the Acme-based, Jack Nicklaus-designed course in 2018 was aided by the sponsorship of Yamaha Golf Cars Plus and MercyElite Sports Performance, with additional support from Pepsi and Traverse City Tourism.
Among the 14 former champions also returning to the course is Scott Hebert, who won his record-tying, six-Michigan-Open-titles on The Bear between 1997 and 2006.
“It certainly affords me the chance to play in it, that’s for sure,” said Hebert, head golf professional at Traverse City Golf & Country Club.
Hebert, who turned 49-years-old on Monday, June 4, 2018 was previously the Head Golf Professional at Grand Traverse Resort, and worked for the golf operation there after college. He won most of his Michigan Open titles while playing mini-tour golf around the country, lived and worked in the Grand Rapids area, and then returned to Traverse City to work for the resort once again, before more recently transitioning to Traverse City Golf & Country Club.
He was the state’s dominant golfer for a 10-year run and usually demonstrated it at The Bear.
“If I had to pick a golf course for me to compete on, that would be one of them,” Hebert said. “I think it is a better golf course for me than the last few venues for the [Michigan] Open. There is more of a premium on ball-striking. People will not make as many birdies out of the rough as they have the last few years. I’ve had good experiences there, and a few bad, but mostly good that I can draw off. I have played a lot of rounds on it.”
Hebert, who won the PGA Professional National Championship in 2008, has played the Jack Nicklaus-designed course in recent years and noted it really hasn’t changed that much.
“It’s still a great golf course. I think if the young guys who bomb it reel in the driver a little bit, they will be fine,” Hebert said. “You can hit it too far in some spots. They get cut off. Really only on the par fives can they let it all hang out, and that course has kind of always been that way.”
He also said The Bear’s teeth come on the second shots as always.
“You can make a double-bogey from any fairway out there,” Hebert added.
He hasn’t had much time to practice or play this year with the winter weather that lingered into spring, but he said he will approach it like he did school work.
“I’ll cram for the test and get ready,” Hebert said. “I really want to have my game ready for the PGA Professional National Championship, which is the following week on the Monterey Peninsula [at Bayonet Blackhorse of Seaside, California].”
Hebert isn’t the only multiple winner at The Bear who is going Back to The Bear next week: Steve Brady, director of golf at Oakland Hills Country Club, also won his three Michigan Open titles at The Bear in 1991, 1992, and 1996.
Another champion, Tom Gillis of Lake Orion, returned home and won his two titles in 1994 and 2008 at The Bear while juggling a PGA Tour and international touring career; and Jeff Roth, the 1998- and 2004-champion at The Bear, returned to Michigan this year from New Mexico to work for Boyne Golf. He is back in the field, too.
Bob Ackerman, whose second of two titles came in 2003 at The Bear, is also returning to the terraced fairways, as are Bear champions Tim Matthews, 1986; Jack Seltzer, 1987; Berry Redmond, 1989; and Andy Ruthkoski, 2007.
Rounding out the group of 14 former winners and their respective winning year in the field are Randy Hutchison, 2011; Barrett Kelpin, 2012; Tom Werkmeister, 2013; Jeff Bronkema, 2016; and defending champion Matt Thompson.
The field will play 72 holes with a 36-hole cut. The purse will be announced during the tournament.
Some of the professionals in the field will also be helping with a special Michigan Open Junior Golf Clinic on Sunday prior to the championship. That event is slated for 1:00 p.m. to 3:00 p.m. at the practice center.
Top photo courtesy Nile Young Photography