Michigan Golf Show has many primed for return to the links

By Jason Scott Deegan, Senior Staff Writer

NOVI, Mich. -- If opening night of the annual Novi Golf Show at the Novi Expo Center is any indication, Michigan is primed for its best golf season in recent memory.

With the temperature breaking records (hitting a balmy 72 degrees earlier in the day), golf fans, already itching to drag the clubs out of the garage, showed up in droves. About a half-hour before the show, the line to get into the nation's largest consumer golf show extended the entire length of the Expo Center's large lobby and nearly out the door.

Some golf insiders despise the show's commercialism. It's considered a golf garage sale to some. But those who attend get their first true taste of the season. The event showcases more than 450 exhibitors and draws players from as far away as Ohio, Illinois, Indiana and Canada. Event director Laurie McCann said 42,000 people would invade the three-day show, much to the delight of those who rented booths inside.

I got a chance to talk to some of Michigan's most influential golf course operators and owners. They all seemed to be bursting with optimism after several lean years.

Statistics say Michigan is still deep in its economic slump. The state ranks second nationally in the number of people collecting unemployment checks, but there have been signs of resurgence.

"The pre-season bookings for Boyne (USA) are looking good, and we're getting a greater amount of calls than last year," said Brian Sanderson, the director of golf at Bay Harbor Golf Club in Petoskey. "June is still the biggest secret (in golf). The weather's good. The courses are in good shape, and they are empty."

Chip Chamberlin, the new operations manager at the Ravines Golf Club, a testy Arnold Palmer design in Saugatuck, said his property was one of the few with an 18.4 percent increase in rounds last year.

"If we increase five to 10 percent from that, we'll be satisfied," Chamberlin said. "Upscale courses have been hurt most (in this economy), but
we've been fortunate."

There's a lot to like about the upcoming season. Everybody is riding the wave of excitement from the 35th annual Ryder Cup, which is Sept. 14-19 at Oakland Hills Country Club in Bloomfield Township. The Thoroughbred Golf Club at the Double JJ Resort in Rothbury has created a Ryder Cup package, where guests can book their own mini-Ryder Cup tournament.

The Thoroughbred is also one of 12 courses part of the new Arthur Hills Golf Trail that is being launched in Michigan. Hills, a legendary architect based in nearby Toledo, Ohio, created a stir by showing up Friday to promote the endeavor.

"I think the economy is coming back, and the golf trail should be great for business on Hills' courses," said Thoroughbred head professional Ty Love.

A number of new courses are already creating a buzz for their arrival.

· College Fields, a 6,700-yard club in Lansing, is set to open in June. It features a classic look, sculpted by David Savic and Tom Mead of
Old Course Design.

· True North, designed by Jim Engh, Golf Digest's architect of the year, will be a private club in Harbor Springs, but it will have limited public access during membership buildup.

The 7,100-yard Angels Crossings in Vicksburg, Bruce Matthews III's latest project, will open 18 holes overlooking Portage Creek and Barton Lake, and eventually grow to 27 holes. Water comes into play on eight holes.

· After limited play last fall, the Hawk's Eye, a sister course to The Chief in Bellaire, opens to the public. Ten brand-new cottages on the Chief will serve as a home base for golfers teeing it up at Hawk's Eye, less than one mile away. David Hill, the Chief's head professional, said he's already booked 1,000 golf packages this year.

"We are excited that our product (at Hawk Eye) is as good as any resort up here, and you'll not see a better value," Hill said.

Two noted golf schools are launching ambitious projects. The nationally acclaimed golf school at Crystal Mountain Resort in Thompsonville is opening a satellite school at the Fox Hills Golf & Banquet Center in Plymouth, just southwest of Detroit. Three full-time instructors, including former LPGA player Elaine Crosby and former Michigan Open champion Barry Redmond, highlight a staff led by Scott Wilson.

A permanent facility at the 63-hole complex is scheduled to be ready by October. More than 100 sessions will cater to every player, from beginners to women to seniors.

"This is the Harvard of golf schools," Fox Hills general manager Rich Apodaca said.

The Homestead Resort in Glen Arbor, just west of Traverse City, launched its Dave Pelz Scoring Game School last year and is upgrading the experience with a new facility as well.

"It will have two new greens, an indoor video area and a clubhouse," said Stephan Carlsmith, a managing senior instructor with the Pelz schools. "With this, we can replicate any shot from within 90 yards of a green."

Short shots are also a specialty of the golf show. Some golfers skip the course representatives and head straight to the interactive end of the show, where they can swing away. A $10,000 putt off and a $25,000 chipping challenge are tempting competitions, even to those who haven't picked up a club in months.

"The activities have probably enjoyed our biggest growth," said McCann, who recalled that just 4,000 people attended the first show 12 years ago. "We can give sponsors a good piece of the action. Boyne (USA) is hosting the new product area and Michelob (beer) sponsors the chipping nets. We like the local participation."

Jason Scott DeeganJason Scott Deegan, Senior Staff Writer

Jason Scott Deegan has reviewed more than 700 courses and golf destinations for some of the industry's biggest publications. His work has been honored by the Golf Writer's Association of America and the Michigan Press Association. Follow him on Twitter at @WorldGolfer.

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