Text: Greg Johnson
Grand Traverse Resort and Spa in Williamsburg, Michigan, and its course The Bear—a Jack-Nicklaus-design that remains one of Michigan’s most popular and top-ranked courses—is hosting the Michigan Open Championship Monday through Thursday this week, June 10 to June 13, 2019.
It is the 30th time in the tournament’s nearly 102-year-history that the resort has hosted the state championship. The 102nd Michigan Open Championship is presented by Grand Traverse Resort & Casino, Yamaha Golf Cars Plus, and Lake Trust Credit Union with additional support from Pepsi and Traverse City Tourism.
It is being played on The Bear for a second consecutive year. Grand Traverse Resort and Spa previously hosted the Open 28 times between 1981 and 2008, and in the last 25 of those years on The Bear course. It is a course helped identify the champion as it did Jake Kneen of White Lake a year ago.
“It is a great championship venue, very demanding,” said Kneen, who overcame a triple-bogey-7 on the par 4, 16th hole in the final round to win. “You can make a big number on any hole if you hit a shot in the wrong spot. You just have to be on with your ball-striking, and if you are not on, then you are going to get penalized. When it comes to a tournament like the Michigan Open, with the history it has, I think The Bear is a great track for the tournament.”
Kneen also said he was teased by a few folks throughout the winter and asked about what he might hit off the 16th hole in this year’s championship.
“I tell them I will have the same game plan as last year, but I will try not to hit it 70 yards right of the fairway,” Kneen added.
Another player among the 13 returning champions in the field of 156 professionals and amateurs is Scott Hebert of Traverse City Golf & Country Club, who won his record-tying six Michigan Open titles on The Bear between 1997 and 2006. Hebert is a former head golf professional at the resort and also worked for the golf operation after college. When he won most of his Michigan Open titles, Hebert was playing mini-tour golf like Kneen is doing now.
Some of the other returning champions who also won on The Bear comprise: Steve Brady, the director of golf at Oakland Hills Country Club, who won his three Michigan Open titles at The Bear in 1991, 1992 and 1996; Jeff Roth of Boyne Golf Academy during the 1998 and 2004 championship; and Bob Ackerman, who has two titles, with his second in 2003 at The Bear. Others back as Bear/Open champions are Tim Matthews of Scotts, 1986; Barry Redmond of Crooked Tree Golf Club, 1989; and Andy Ruthkoski of Muskegon, 2007.
Rounding out the group of 13 former winners in the field are Randy Hutchison of Traverse City, 2011; Barrett Kelpin of Kalamazoo, 2012; Tom Werkmeister of Grandville, 2013; Jeff Bronkema of Caledonia, 2016; and Matt Thompson of Marshall Country Club, 2017.
The elite field also includes Ben Cook of Caledonia and Yankee Springs Golf Course, who recently played in the national PGA Championship; Brian Cairns of Fox Hills Learning Center in Plymouth; John Seltzer of Seltzer Golf School in Grand Rapids; former PGA Tour player Doug LaBelle of Mount Pleasant; Willie Mack III of Grand Blanc; Eric Lilleboe of Okemos; Sam Weatherhead of Grand Rapids; Chris Mory of East Lansing; Mike Nagy of Manistique; and James Holley of Howell, who finished second by two shots a year ago.
As always, many of the state’s top collegiate and amateur players are in the 156-golfer starting field, such as last summer’s Michigan Amateur champion, Beau Breault of Hartland and Eastern Michigan University; and Andrew Walker of Battle Creek and Michigan State University.
The field will play 72 holes with a 36-hole cut to the low 70 scorers and ties. The purse will be announced during the tournament.
The Michigan Open was first played in 1916 and won by Leo Diegel, who also played in the inaugural Ryder Cup matches and the first Masters Tournament in Augusta, Georgia. Many of golf’s most famous have their names listed on the Michigan Open’s James Standish Jr. Trophy including Walter Hagen, Chuck Kocsis, Al Watrous, Horton Smith, Walter Burkemo, and John Barnum.The championship is administered by the Michigan Section of the PGA, and Justin Phillips is the tournament director.