Above It All
Major Renovation takes Grand Traverse Resort and Spa's majestic Tower to new heights.Jeanine Matlow Photography by Brian Walters
Though Northern Michigan attracts those with a passion for the great outdoors, there’s more than one way to connect with nature. This detail is deftly demonstrated by the thoroughly modern overhaul of the iconic glass Tower at Grand Traverse Resort and Spa.
From the façade, the prominent structure still retains the striking silhouette that first made it a landmark back in 1986 when it debuted. But newly renovated interiors in the 17-story Tower tell an entirely revised story with guest rooms that offer a contemporary spin on relaxed living. The recent transformation blurs the line between indoors and out with a range of seasonal décor that speaks to the region. “People I’ve talked to who see or stay in our Tower rooms really like the fresh clean look that we’ve given them,” says J. Mike DeAgostino, Resort Public Relations Manager.
That’s undoubtedly due to the fact that the massive undertaking went from wall to wall and floor to ceiling. “We removed some of the hard fixtures from back in 1986 when the Tower first opened, like the huge Jacuzzi tubs,” DeAgostino shares. “We’ve completely redone the wet bar area with new countertops and new plumbing.” It was really helpful to open up the interior sleeping areas, he adds. Integrated window shades that replaced draperies allow unobstructed views of the expansive landscape. “You can see more of the outdoors — it almost brings the outdoors into the rooms,” DeAgostino say. “The Grand Lobby was redone in 2006 and we wanted to continue that feeling when you go into one of the guest rooms. The result is almost an urban feel, but more relaxed.”
Even the hallways received a makeover. “We wanted to give it a fresh new look throughout. It has become an iconic structure that defines the Acme skyline that you could only see by helicopter or hot air balloon. People really appreciate the best views of the region seen so readily from staying in a room in the Tower. It just enhances the experience and kind of puts a period at the end of the sentence.” It seems the 21st century updates speak a lovely language indeed.
THE BIG PICTURE
Still, the Tower is only one magnificent piece of the beautifully wrapped package at Grand Traverse Resort and Spa that maintains its reputation as one of the finest full-service, year-round destination and conference resorts in the Midwest. While numerous accolades provide the icing on the cake, guests remain the primary focus. With close to 600 rooms from which to choose, the regal retreat boasts an impressive array of amenities including over 86,000-squarefeet of meeting space, a variety of dining options, such as the flagship Aerie Restaurant & Lounge on the 16th floor, an impressive indoor/outdoor Health Club, a full-service Spa, tennis courts, an Indoor Water Playground, a fine assortment of upscale shops and three championship golf courses.
Perched in the northwest corner of Michigan’s Lower Peninsula along the shores of East Grand Traverse Bay, the scenic 900-acre resort is just six miles from Traverse City, which also has more to offer than ever before. “Traverse City is really vibrant and thriving,” says DeAgostino. Easy access from most major Midwest cities is one of the many perks this fine facility has to offer. Equally suited for work or play, the Resort’s deluxe accommodations provide a truly unique home away from home for their special guests. And there is something for everyone to explore, from the beaches and area wineries to hiking trails and harbor towns that are never far away.
While the facts behind the $7 million renovation of the Tower are undoubtedly impressive, it’s the feel visitors have upon arrival that defines hospitality as a whole. Though high rises may conjure images of an urban landscape like New York or Chicago, this type of building has proven to be just as thrilling in Northern Michigan.
In addition to the enhanced form and function, factors such as comfort, safety and convenience were also addressed during the extensive renovation of the rooms. Among the less visible upgrades are improved high speed Internet access, a new fire sprinkler system and a new, energy-efficient heating and cooling system. The new design was created with the end user in mind. “We listened to our guests, including meeting guests and leisure guests, we directly incorporated their desires and really reflected their wishes in the design,” says Ryan Buck, Director of Sales.
“The decor [reflects] our culture and the experience of Northern Michigan, from the sand on the beach, the green of the fairways, the fall colors seen on a wine tour, the entire Grand Traverse Resort and Spa experience,” Buck says. The guests’ wish list was delivered in the form of better lighting, ample space, faster Internet access and an entirely fresh aesthetic with a relaxed yet luxurious look that reflects the local culture and natural elements. Inspiration also came from the surrounding landscape. A mix of dark and weathered wood finishes, fall colors, creamy whites and blue hues provide a nod to Mother Nature by bringing the flavor of the four seasons inside, giving guests all the more reason to enjoy the lovely locale year-round.
Pam Niemann, principal designer at Niemann Interiors in Winter Park, Fla., who is originally from Michigan, was the interior designer. National Renovation Contractors (NRC) in Farmington Hills, Mich. served as the general contractor. As DeAgostino notes, none of this would have been possible without the support of the owners, the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians who understand how important it is to stay current in order to remain competitive in the national market and keep guests coming back for more. Legend has it that the original visionary, Paul Nine, was able to get approval from Acme Township to build the 17-story Tower by renting a crane to take officials up in a bucket to see for themselves what the view would be like from the top. Now all it takes is a swift elevator ride for guests to be at one with nature and behold the bounty of the region like the sweeping views of Lake Michigan and the breathtaking backdrop beyond.
Enriched by a great mix of natural attributes, the Grand Traverse region fuels a passion to compete — and to stay on course, as long as you can.By Reid Caffrey Photography by Brian Walters
Maybe it’s the way your lungs expand as the road north opens to the sky. Maybe it’s the effect the sight of big water has on your psyche, or the towering pines flanking you en route that make you want to reach new heights, too. Or, maybe it’s just the huge wave of self-gumption this region’s forests and bays, rivers and lakes washes over you that channels into your own little neck of the woods (metropolitan or otherwise) and propels you to channel yourself up here.
Paddling across West Bay? Sweltering through a 10K? Slushing up the VASA? Not my thing.
But while other athletes migrate by the thousands to these woods and waters in every season to compete in such different contests of will, skill and speed, come each June, I embark on my own quest of ferocious fitness: To pack as many fairways as I can into one long, full, blissful, bold tenacious day of golf.
It lays out like this. Situated as far north as it is, the Traverse City area’s midsummer sun doesn’t fully dim out until almost 10 p.m., lighting up the region for 15 hours-plus from late June into July. Extolling these longest days of summer, Grand Traverse Resort and Spa hosts a sweet promotion, “Golf Your Daylights Out.”
During this annual seven-day stretch at June’s end, you can tee it up on any or all of the Resort’s three premier courses for one low, unlimited daily golf rate and have ample time — logistically — to hit all 54 holes in one day, if you play from dawn to dusk. And if you push it. So once a year, for the love of golf (and some dogged need to beat last year’s count), that’s what I come to do.
Battle The Bear, Jack Nicklaus’s nationally-renowned first signature course in Michigan, a par-72 design; take on Gary Player’s lessferocious but not overly-friendly first Michigan track, The Wolverine, a par-72; and fit in some serenity on the Resort’s undulating initial par-70 championship course, Spruce Run, redesigned by William Newcomb.
ENGAGE MIND, BODY AND SPIRIT
Arriving the afternoon before my die-hard spree of tees begins, I visit the Resort’s Golf Academy, a 2,000-squarefoot building onsite open that offers private instruction along with private clinics, on-course guidance and other modes of instruction.
(During the off-season, it serves as the Winter Golf Center and only facility in Northern Michigan where you can practice to improve and see your ball fly when snow flies, thanks to three indoor-outdoor heated hitting bays geared for video and computer analysis and the high-tech GC2-powered Golf Simulator by Foresight Sports.)
Today, I’m here to address a wayward driver. (I only blame the club for my own failings. All golfers do.) At the top of his game, PGA Director of Instruction Mark Hill quickly observes how I’m failing to reverse my pivot, thereby getting trapped on my right side, leaving the club face open at impact.
Working through an altered swing with Mark’s aid and other tips to tighten the reins on tomorrow’s ride, I’m psyched that what I’ve gained will help save two to three strokes on each course.
Afterward, I stop by the Pro Shop for a new Under Armour shirt; enjoy an icy microbrew, and PGA banter at Jack’s Sports Bar & Grille; and catch an Express Massage at the Spa before lifting up to one of the Tower’s newly refurbished rooms, where I find a great balcony view of the Resort’s scenic greens and linens fit for Leonidas.
To be honest, though, it’s hard to settle down…I look forward to this annual marathon of mine the way my kids do Christmas.
DAYBREAK: ROUND ONE
GLORIOUS — COMMENCE PLAY!
I’m more than ready to be first to tee off on The Bear as others are just beginning their morning commute to more mundane labors.
But I’m far from the first to be up and about here; grounds crews are already parading from the maintenance building. Greens on this revered Nicklaus-designed course — built in the mid-’80s when degree of difficulty was top of mind — are hand-mown and rolled every day.
As my opening drive sails toward its target, the pin is placed in a freshly-cut cup and the attendant moves to Hole 2. Adjacent to me, a sweeping yawn of sprinklers is invigorating the fairway on Hole 18. There’s nothing quite like The Bear’s finishing hole, especially from this vantage point: early morning fog lifting from the pond, the quiet of crickets, the soft warble of a blue bird. Such a scene has always been my reprieve.
I shake it off. Today’s not about finding serenity. One down, 53 to go.
Measuring 7,078 yards from the tips, The Bear is laid out with a lot of elevated, open fairways that are generally not too tough to hit. It’s pretty much the ensuing approach shots that are tailored to make you pray with an array of forced carries, deep bunkers or water. Though I’m not out to be a hero and make as few risk/reward shots as I can to keep moving along, I can’t help sending a gloating selfie back to my wife and brother after making a birdie on the water-wrapped, par-3 Hole 9, Jack’s scenic TPC Sawgrass spin here on The Bear.
I do not, however, snap keepsakes of my state of affairs following 14 and 16, and by the last putt, am more than seeking sanctuary in the Clubhouse Grille.
MID-DAY: ROUND TWO
Housed in the Resort’s Northwoods-inspired Clubhouse, The Grille Restaurant also offers outdoor spots on the patio with scenic views of The Bear’s 18th green. Though it’s a half-hour shy of noon, I have no problem taking down a colossal burger cooked just right with sautéed mushrooms, beer-braised onions and crisp fries, and find a Short’s cold draft is one good way of washing back a double bogey on the finishing hole.
Spying Crawfish Etouffee on the menu, I make mental plans to return this evening.
But by 1 p.m., I’m teeing off on Spruce Run’s Hole 2. Having just shaken off The Bear’s claws, this shortest of the Resort’s three courses (6,300 yards from the back tees), comes across more sweetly with its gently-rolling slopes overlooking sparkling East Grand Traverse Bay — and it is a pleasure to play. But Spruce Run wasn’t designed by Newcomb during the mid-late ’70s to leave smiles on players’ faces (Fred Muller won the first Michigan Open here in 1981 with an 8-over par!), and its lush rough and fast greens keep me focused and chipping away almost the next full five hours of the day.
I must say hats off here to the beverage cart; by this game’s end, its friendly psychic driver and I are on a jovial first-name basis.
NEAR DUSK: ROUND THREE
With less than 15 minutes to spare before tee-off time on The Wolverine, I pick up a quick hotdog to push back first waves of building hunger and plow with adrenalinfueled gusto onto Gary Player’s complementary track, purposefully designed for flexibility with four sets of tees.
Whether I opt to hit from 7,043 in the back to 4,941 up front or somewhere in-between isn’t a flick bit interesting compared to the lay-out of these distinctively different nines — the front, constructed on lowland terrain with water and wetlands; the back, on higher ground distinguished by soaring hardwoods, rolling hills and picturesque expanses of East Grand Traverse Bay.
Where The Bear has brawn and Spruce Run charm, The Wolverine’s 18 holes have game: Big fairways, big greens, and — end score aside (this day was foremost about quantity of play, remember) — big fun.
Just over four hours hence, standing on the tee looking west to East Bay, the sun cradling the horizon, my final approach lay due south. With the green in shade, I tap in for par, as full a day hunting birdies as I’d ever spent on the plains of North Dakota.
Basking in this valiant end of day glow, I postpone the etouffee, opting to shower and ascend to Aerie Restaurant on the Tower’s 16th floor instead for a mouthwatering filet and Cabernet.
To learn more about “Golf Your Daylights Out” in June as well as other special promotions and golf packages, visit grandtraverseresort.com/golf.
Thirsty for adventure? From concocting innovative new cocktails to reimagining the classics, Aerie Restaurant & Lounge Manager Jillian Thaxton pairs the fine art of bartending with the enticing science of mixology.By Eva Cameron Photography by Brian Walters
Here, she takes five on the Tower’s 16th floor to share what’s shakin’.
Q Mixology trends: Any stand-outs?
A Classics will always be trendy! Currently, Aerie’s cocktail list includes a smoked bourbon Manhattan (whiskey — usually rye, but
it can be any whiskey, bitters, sweet vermouth); a hot toddy (our bourbon cocktail includes both clove and cinnamon and is balanced with lemon and brown sugar); a Side Car (cognac, Grand Marnier, lemon, sugared rim); The Bee’s Knees (vodka, honey, lemon).
Q Does Aerie serve up a special signature drink?
A Yes, the Ginger Pear Southern Beauty Martini is amazing! This cocktail (Tito’s Vodka, pear nectar, ginger liquor, southern beauty
sake, egg white) was a team effort to get the final, perfect finished product. I love to add seasonal flavors to the cocktail menu as well.
Q Any tried-and-true strategy for making stand-out spirits?
A Very generally speaking, 2:1:3. That’s 2 parts base liquor, 1 part modifier (cordial) and 3 parts mixer. You also have to make sure that your cocktail is balanced, so, trial and trial again happens often!
If your mixer is sour, tart or acidic (acidity in a drink plays a very important role), you will need to balance it with sweetness—simple syrup, infused simple syrup, fruits, berries or cordials. Vermouths and bitters can also play an important role in the balancing of a cocktail, providing that extra touch of bitterness.
QTop operative ingredient?
A I love simple syrups because they give you the perfect opportunity to add depth and complexity into the cocktail by infusing them
with endless possibilities: citrus; honey; spices (cinnamon, nutmeg, clove, star anise); herbs (rosemary, cilantro, lavender); peppers (jalapenos, habaneros), etc. Plus, they have a pretty long shelf life. If you want to keep these types of ingredients physically more present in the cocktail, you can always muddle the fresh herb/vegetable/fruit with a plain simple syrup, as well as using these ingredients for garnish.
QHow would you describe the challenge or art of blending/balancing more unusual flavors like cumin, hot pepper or cloves?
A You have to balance any flavor with sweetness and acidity, especially spice, but not to overpower the base spirit — you want to
be able to taste the spirit! The syrups, cordials, bitters and vermouths create balance to the spice or the sour — the acidity, tartness. Spice, sour and sweet all have to work together.
QWhat’s your own favorite creation?
A Although there are many, my Ginger Sake Martini — Grey Goose, Junmai Ginjo-grade sake and fresh ginger muddled in simple syrup, with a whole anise star floating for garnish— is probably my all-around favorite. For fall, it has to be the Spiced Bourbon Cider, because I love bourbon and the spices in the house-made syrup, plus it can be prepared cold or hot — bonus! And in summer, I like fresh muddled fruit in anything. I made a cocktail at home with muddled strawberries, ginger-infused syrup, ginger liquor, patron and a hint of lime, then double-strained it. It was truly amazing!