It’s seven down for Lin Clark, who has set out to play golf in all 50 states. Enjoy this third installment of Tee Travels!
This four-state journey starts with a visit to long-time friends Valli and Tom. They moved from Denver to Gull Lake in Michigan 5 years ago. Valli is an accomplished artist and Tom a retired airline pilot. It was a perfect, though short, visit, kayaking with Valli on the lake the first day and golfing with Tom the second day.
Tom belongs to Gull Lake Country Club, a well-established course, built in 1911. This is a private golf course, but Tom was able to bring a guest — me. It was a beautiful day and the course was gorgeous, situated on the lakefront of Gull Lake. Head golf professional Dan Urban welcomed us and pointed out I was just a couple days too early to enjoy the new clubhouse, which was scheduled to open later in the week. The exterior looked beautiful, with stunning landscaping and flower beds adorning the area.
I was excited to play in this scenic setting. Trees and rolling fairways added to the beauty. The course was challenging, especially the narrow entrances to many of the greens. However, having Tom to instruct the best approach was extremely helpful. When I did find myself in a bunker, I must admit, I didn’t mind. The sand was so exquisite, I wanted to take off my shoes and socks and sink my feet in. I restrained myself.
A new experience for me was to see a large bell beside one of the greens. Here’s Tom about to ring it.
When I first saw it, I asked Tom if that was to ring when a golfer got a hole-in-one or maybe even a birdie. No, it was a blind green, so you ring it when you have finished for the group behind you to know it is clear to hit. I thought, how unique. Little did I know that it isn’t that unique, I will see another one at the course I played in Chicago.
Gull Lake Country Club
Gull Lake, Mich.
Tee Traveler rating: A
Setting on the shore of Gull Lake was exquisite. Challenging yet not frustrating for a moderate player. Greens in beautiful shape. Bunker sand, heavenly! Stunning view from the restaurant and bar area looking over the lake.
Congeniality Scale (for Single Woman Walk-On) rating: NA
I know, as a nonmember, I could not have just walked on as a single. So, the CS rating is not applicable. However, I felt very welcome, and—bonus!—even though the course had port-a-potties due to the construction of the clubhouse, these were the nicest I have ever seen. Even adorned with pictures!
If you find yourself in the area of Gull Lake, Michigan, there are certainly many great golf courses to play; however, if you can, play Gull Lake Country Club!
If you have the time, check out Michigan’s oldest resident summer stock theatre, five miles away in Augusta. I saw an excellent production of the musical Sweeney Todd. “Barnies” are people who have performed in the Barn Theatre’s resident company. To name just a few: Jennifer Garner, Lauren Graham, and Tom Wopat.
The idea was to leave Gull Lake around 10 a.m. and drive to the corner of Ohio to play a course and get my “Ohio” game. After all, I had only one week to fit this leg of the Tee Travels into my schedule. I headed toward Montpelier, Ohio, thinking there certainly would be a golf course nearby. Trouble was, the GPS took me out of Montpelier and into the surrounding farmlands. Stopped at an intersection of two gravel roads and what looked like a very long driveway, I plugged “golf course near me” into MapQuest. It showed Riverside Greens Golf Course only 12 miles away. I bit.
I arrived to find a delightful woman behind the counter. I asked about an available tee time for a single and she smiled and said, “Sure, how did you find us? We are in the middle of nowhere.” I told her it was a long story and her reply was, “Well, I want to hear it!” So I told her about my journey to play golf in all 50 states and how I was just passing through the northern tip of Ohio, put “golf course” into my GPS and found myself standing at her counter. She had a wonderful smile and a delightful twinkle in her eyes. “That will be $20.”
Off I went to explore this course in the middle of nowhere. I would have liked a playing partner or two, but no one was around, so I decided to just work on my game. That’s when it happens: a perfect drive and no one is around to share the glory.
On the fifth hole, I found my playing partner.
There he was, off to the side of the fairway, watching my perfect 8-iron to the green. I walked over to take a couple of pictures and ask how he liked my shot. He just smiled. I knew there had to be a story behind this character and couldn’t wait to get back and ask Linda. I didn’t have to wait; two holes later I see a golf cart coming my way. “Just wanted to see how you were enjoying the course,” Linda said. I told you she was delightful. I asked about the blonde on the fifth hole. She proceeded to tell the story; a group of her husband’s friends got together and commissioned the wood sculpture of Jack Nicklaus to commemorate the 40th year of Robb (her husband) owning the golf course. So, it was Jack admiring my 8-iron to the green. Sweet!
Tee Traveler rating: U, because it is absolutely a Unique Encounter—everyone should play a Unique Encounter golf course once in a while! Robb did a great job on the greens!
CS (Congeniality Scale) for Single Woman Walk-On: Another U, for Ultimate. Thanks, Linda!
The beautiful St. Joseph River runs through South Bend, where football fans cheer the University of Notre Dame’s Fighting Irish and car/history buffs enjoy The National Studebaker Museum, where the grand collection of cars features the Barouche that President Lincoln used the night of his assassination. The city has recently been featured in national news coverage of Mayor Pete Buttigieg’s 2020 presidential election campaign.
I came to golf. Not necessarily to golf in South Bend; it just happened to be convenient on this journey to golf Michigan, Ohio, Indiana and Illinois. During my research, it was soon obvious that South Bend had numerous excellent choices. I settled on Blackthorn Golf Club after learning it was the 10th stop on the 2019 “Road to the LPGA” with the Symetra Tour Four Winds Invitational from June 7-9, just 5 weeks before I landed in South Bend. Perhaps some of the mojo from those fabulous women players would be lingering in the fairways and greens.
Driving up to the course, I was struck by how heavily wooded the area was and how quaint the Irish-Cottage style clubhouse appeared, all covered by ivy. The thought of the Seven Dwarfs marching out to take my clubs popped into my mind. OK, maybe not quite that quaint.
I had made a tee time for 3:04, giving me ample time for the drive from Ohio. That drive was quicker than I anticipated. (Those who know me are not surprised.) I went into the pro-shop to see about an earlier tee time, and the gentleman behind the counter was very welcoming. He told me I should bring my clubs around and he would talk to the starter. By the time I grabbed my clubs from the car and walked down the steps to the starter, he had it all figured out. I would be golfing with two gentlemen who knew the course; he assured me I would enjoy my round.
Beautiful course with hilly fairways and large, undulating greens. At times it felt as though the dense woods were closing in on the fairway. Several deer came out to check my shots and scurried away, no doubt discussing my form. The trees added to both the beauty of the layout and the difficulties of some holes. On the 16th, a par-3, my two playing partners disappeared up a path into a very wooded area. Men don’t go to the bathroom together, so I concluded it must be a path to the tee box. Sure enough, I continued around a turn and found my tee box looking down to a stunning green.
Great old barn on the course. You can drive the cart through; no cows to milk.
I want to thank Michael and Rich for their insight navigating the course, for the delicious cherries and, on the 19th hole. cold, Two Hearted Ale!
Blackthorn Golf Club
South Bend, Indiana
Tee Traveler rating: A-
Secluded in the woods makes you feel miles from the development. Challenging, yet fair. Greens in good shape, difficult due to undulation. Friendly 19th hole.
CS rating: 4
Staff welcoming to a single woman walk-on. Porta-potties on the course, not so welcoming.
I was ending this leg of Tee Travels by flying out of Chicago, back to Denver, so I needed a course near Midway Airport. This was a chance to connect with a good friend of mine’s brother, whom I have never met. The friend lives on the island of Curacao and suggested I contact Brother Jeff, saying, “He loves to golf, and he could take some pictures for you too.” I emailed him to see if he might like to play some golf. He was recovering from a broken foot but said he could drive the cart and he would take some photos. Great! A chauffeur and paparazzi!
I was curious about Jeff’s work, so I looked at his website. WOW! I knew he was good from some of his sister’s posts on Facebook, but here’s what Google told me: “Jeff is a professional photographer, his award-winning photographs are featured in world-wide and national publications like Sports Illustrated, Time, Paris Match, People, The New Yorker, ESPN and every major newspaper in the world.”
We agreed to meet at Ravisloe Country Club to have lunch before going out on the course. I had called to inquire about a tee time, but also to ask about having a non-golfer riding along to take some pictures for an article I was writing. I was told no problem.
Driving up to the clubhouse, the term “Golden Age of Golf Course Architecture” came into my mind. Ravisloe falls into that age, designed by Donald Ross in 1901 and founded as a private club. In 2009, the course was sold and opened to the public.
I stopped in the pro-shop to check-in before lunch and Andrew Godfrey, the head professional, was behind the counter. He was very gracious and welcoming; indeed, it was no problem.
Jeff and I got acquainted over a delicious lunch, then headed out to get our cart. Before we got started, Jeff Siegmund, the general manager, came over to introduce himself. He apologized for the condition of the course, telling us he had two water pumps go out and was frantically trying to get those repaired. With a mid-80-degree, sunny day, watering certainly topped his priorities. We did talk long enough for me to understand his passion for wanting people to enjoy Ravisloe: He was sincere about golf being fun. I liked that.
We were paired up with two local fellows who said Jeff’s photography would not interfere with their game.
Another beautiful first hole. I was feeling a bit self-conscious of Jeff taking pictures of my swing; however, I soon realized he can make anyone look like a pro—he’s that good!
I had read a description of the deep bunkers on this course and I have to say, I didn’t exactly land IN the bunkers. Instead, I found numerous steep, lateral, lips for my ball to embed. It became a joke, at least for Jeff, to take a photo of me trying to find footing to hit the ball. And all I could do was to shake my head saying, “I got this,” knowing he was taking yet another picture.
Remember my amazement at a bell on the course in Michigan? Well, here is another one. The only trouble was, the rope was missing and I had to use my driver. (Not really, just a staged photo op.)
The round was great! The course is lovely and yes, the bunkers are challenging.
Tee Traveler rating: A
Setting, clubhouse, flowers around the clubhouse all gorgeous. A challenging course for all levels of golfers.
CS rating: 4+
Welcoming to a single woman walk-on. Very friendly staff.
A very special thank you to Jeff Haynes for making me look like a pro, driving the cart, giving me some good pointers, and making the day so very enjoyable!
At the end, Jeff handed his camera to the kid taking our cart, saying, “Here’s your chance to look like a professional photographer.” Sorry, I should have gotten his name to give him photo credit for the shot. All of the other photos in the Illinois section are by the amazing Jeff Haynes.
My next Tee Travels will be to Utah, Idaho, Montana and Wyoming.
RATING SYSTEM REMINDER
Tee Traveler rating
A = Amazing – A definite stand out for various reasons
B = Beckoning – Draws you in for various reasons
C = Common – A “go-to course, nothing stands out”
D = Don’t bother – self-explanatory
CS (Congeniality Scale) for Single Woman Walk-On
1= Do Not Enter
2-3-4= Somewhere in between
5= Red Carpet
Did you miss Minnesota, Wisconsin and Iowa? More to come!