Create your own club. It's easy.

By Michael Patrick Shiels, Contributor

Oakland Hills Golf Club

WYANDOTTE, Mich. -- If the term "golf club" makes you think of big leather chairs, rows and rows of lockers, food and beverage minimums, and valet parking, think again. The Weekend Players Club, and other golf clubs without real estate, knows better.

"Headquartered" in the Detroit area, the WPC is a band of just under 30 amateur golfers of average skill who, since 1993, gather on 20 Sundays each season to compete in their own 18-hole, handicapped tournaments. The Weekend Players Club is listed as a member club of the Golf Association of Michigan, just like any golf club, including the likes of Oakland Hills Country Club, Crystal Downs Country Club, and Detroit Golf Club. Unlike those clubs, the WPC does not have a golf course, a clubhouse or any real estate at all. The closest thing the WPC has to a home site is its Web site - WeekendPlayersClub.com.

While no one shines their shoes or carries their golf bags, WPC members do receive the same benefits as any club member who, by extension, is a GAM member. Chief among those is a genuine USGA Handicap Index. The small club appoints a handicap chairman who logs and submits all of the scores, and the rest of the club duties, including website maintenance, golf course reservations, and dues collection, are completed by various members on a volunteer basis.

And, certainly unlike other golf clubs, the initiation fee and annual yearly dues are - are you sitting down? - $30.

The simplicity of the WPC allows the members to be very creative and embrace the game. Each week, the club books Sunday morning starting times for 20 players at a selected course within an hour's drive of Detroit. Players must register by midnight Thursday of that week, which they do by sending an email. WPC members can play as much or as little as they like. Some of the members play every week, while some members play as little as one or two weeks each year. Members pay their own green fees when they arrive at the golf course.

Crystal Downs Country Club Each weekly event is fully handicapped, so every Sunday a champion emerges. But these are no unsmiling, flat-bellied competitors. The lowest handicap currently in the club is 7, and the highest, at present, is 34.

"The membership consists of a great group of guys with vastly different backgrounds, handicaps and styles. Everyone shares a common enthusiasm for golf, integrity and friendship," says Ed Lukas, a Grosse Pointe attorney for the Ford Motor Company who plays alongside players with careers as diverse as an auto mechanic, a local television weatherman, and a ramp technician for American Airlines. Lukas has yet to win a tournament, but enjoys the competition.

The extra steps the club takes to make the season enjoyable and entertaining are where the fun begins. The WPC conducts four "major championships" that pay homage to golf's real majors:

Leslie Park Golf Course The WPC Masters Tournament is played at Leslie Park Golf Course in Ann Arbor, where the greens are undulating and slick like Augusta National's. Leslie Park's hills rise and roll and the course is covered with springtime flowers. WPC members toast each other with champagne on the first tee, and the winner is presented with a green blazer - one that is passed from winner to winner year after year with a gift left in the pocket.

"I love the tradition of our Masters Tournament. From the putting green toast, to seeing the entire field waiting for you to finish the 18th hole, it's really exciting. I also love the placing of the green jacket on the new champion in front of the fireplace," says Dan Vukovich, of Ecorse, who won the WPC Masters and wore the green jacket in 1992 and '97. "The opportunity for a bunch of good friends to relax after the festivities with a drink and a cigar in hand and to reminisce about what just occurred over the last 10 hours their lives is a great tradition."

The British Open is represented by the WPC's Canada Cup Golf Championship, which is held "overseas" at the Kingsville Golf and Curling Club outside Windsor. The Canada Cup is the WPC's oldest Major, and the winner receives a trophy and the honor of the ceremonial kissing of the Ernie McKay Stone - a monument to the course's founder on the property.

Ron Reckling and Paul Drewyour The WPC holds its' Northern Open over three rounds of tough golf on a getaway weekend at resorts such as Treetops, Yarrow, Crystal Mountain, Shanty Creek, and Garland. The Weekend Players Club Championship, which was even televised on cable television Downriver for two of its years, is now held each year at Oakland University's stately Katke Cousins Golf Course. The winner receives a crystal trophy and the honor of representing the WPC by competing against the big boys in the GAM's annual Tournament of Club Champions.

"Winning the WPC Championship was an exhilarating experience for many reasons. I'm a rather competitive person, so the victory by itself was important," says Michael Gentner, of West Bloomfield, who captured the title in 2003. "Winning my first WPC major on my second try, and at Katke Cousins - one of the WPC tours tougher courses - made it even better."

Throughout the season, the club keeps an "Order of Merit," and at the season's end, the Weekend Players Club competes in Ryder Cup-style matches against a group called the "Sunday Bunch," a similar club without real estate from the Ann Arbor area.

Otherwise, the rest of the regular season tournaments are held on affordable daily fee and municipal courses such as Carleton Glen Golf Course, Riverview Highlands, Wyandotte Shores, and Willow Metropark. Booking courses can be tricky since prime weekend times can be tough to secure, so planning ahead is important. Some courses will require a credit card to hold the times, so Vukovich, the WPC's "Sergeant at Arms" gets after the occasional no-shows.

Fast Fact - How can you create a recognized "golf club without real estate?"

According to the Golf Association of Michigan, which administers amateur golf for private and public clubs, an application fee of $270 includes GAM membership, handicap services, the first 10 individual player memberships and even access to GAM tournaments. The GAM also puts on a Club Relations Day, rules seminars, and other worthwhile activities. Applications and information can be found at www.GAM.org or by phoning (248) 478-9242.

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