On a bright wintry day in late December, 1898, the “Lumberman’s Express,” a private train of the Manistee and Grand Rapids railroad, slowly pulled away from the terminal (now Johnson Funeral Home), wound it’s way past the Water Works (now the Historical Museum) up to the Sleeping Joe sand dune gradient emerge on the Canfield Farm (now Manistee Golf and Country Club). Frank Canfield himself, along with Edward Buckley, Robert Babcock and their wives, were bound for Thomasville, Georgia for their annual quail shooting for the holidays. Buckley could be heard to say, “Frank, if these Thomasville girls sell us on the idea of a country club, you ought to close up this damn farm of yours and let us build golf links on it.”
The turn of the century found Manistee just past the crest of a business boom such as few cities have ever experienced. The thriving lumber industry had been reinforced by the discovery of salt. Manistee was one of the largest cities in Michigan and boasted more millionaires per capita than any other city in the U.S.A.
When the lumber barons decided that Manistee should have a country club, things began to happen. We gain some appreciation for the manner in which the founding fathers of our club operated from the following chronology of events excerpted from the Manistee Daily News:
May 2, 1901
“Country Club Will Be Incorporated. Officers Elected. Site Committee Appointed.”
President – Edward Buckley
Vice President – Charles Canfield
Secretary – George Swigart
Treasurer – Robt. Babcock
Directors – J.W. Dempsey, Patrick Noud, E. Golden Filer, W.J. Gregory, J.E. Merritt
May 19, 1901
“Country Club Organization Completed. 80 Acres Canfield-Wheeler Farm property purchased for lakeside golf links and club house.”
May 23, 1901
“Ground laid out for Golf Links. Noted Scotch Golf Course Architect, Thomas Bendelow, lays out sporting 9 hole course of 2,765 yards. Construction begins at once.”
June 13, 1901
“Club house designs submitted by architects from Manistee and Saginaw. Building to contain locker rooms for men and women on second floor, with first floor arranged for both dining and dancing. Wide verandas to take advantage of beautiful views of Lake Michigan, Manistee Harbor and the golf links.”
June 16, 1901
“First four holes open for play at golf club. Many members beginning to learn the game from scratch since only a few have ever played this wonderful game which appeals to both sexes and all ages.”
July 21, 1901
“Club House to be built in 60 days at cost of $2,000. Cichanowski and Bruns contract to do work.” The club house was originally located at the site of 1975 Green 14. The course was necessarily compact, since we were restricted by the Manistee and Grand Rapids railroad tracks, which ran through the course in front of the present Tee 17, Green 16, across Fairways 15 and 14, thence south, paralleling Fairway 13.
August 16, 1901
A sufficient number of holes had been completed and a sufficient number of members had learned the rudiments of the strange game of golf to warrant holding our first handicap tournament on Sunday August 16, 1901 with the following results:
|1. W.J. Gregory||459 3rd St||108||22||86|
|2. J. W. Dempsey||500 3rd St||115||24||91|
|3. C.J. Canfield||Onekama||100||0||100|
|4. W.H. Turnbull||Onekama||115||14||101|
|5. F.A. Mitchell||434 3rd St||128||24||104|
|6. C.A. Palmer||453 4th St||124||18||106|
|7. R.S. Babcock||420 3rd St||130||22||108|
|8. A.J. Nessen||Glen Arbor||136||22||114|
|9. Harold Wheeler||405 Cedar||119||0||119|
|10. F. W. Ramsdell||474 Cedar||136||24||112|
Our first champion, Wilbur Gregory, proved to be a longtime member and Leader of the Country Club. He served as club president in 1921-22-23 and continued to play golf until arthritis and advancing years forced him to the sidelines in 1936. The original 60 member families, boasting 180 golfers, had high hopes for a thriving club. For everyone knew our location was perfect and the game of golf would enjoy rapid growth, but things did not work out that way.
The first decade of this century saw a steep decline in the lumbering business locally and the mills began to close permanently at an average of one per year. Both mill executives and workers left Manistee to seek opportunities elsewhere. By 1910, our club was beset By a multitude of problems and it took a community wide effort to keep us In operation.
Excerpts from the Manistee News of June 8 and July 13, 1910, describe the situation: 1. Country Club to move clubhouse from lakeside to corner of Cherry and Bryant. 2. City to extend Bryant Street west to Cedar and Cherry Street north from Eighth. 3. Country Club to build tennis courts, children’s playground and offer memberships at lower costs to encourage non-golfers to join. 4. Board of Commerce to solicit Country Club memberships from all merchants and professional people to support a facility needed to serve the growing resort trade.
The above plan was carried out and the club survived on tennis temporarily until replacing golf in popularity. However, the struggle to keep the club operating continued. By 1920, Manistee population was just half of the 1900 figure. During the period from 1910-1928, the club was kept alive by the sale of sand from our sand dunes and by annual contributions from the several members and businessmen who preferred maintaining the club to the profitable alternative of selling the property for real estate development.
July 4, 1931
Their foresight was repaid and in 1928 the farm and orchards land between Eighth and Twelfth Streets were purchased and the course expanded to 18 holes. H.B. Matthews, a Grand Rapids golf architect, designed the new layout and on July 4th, 1931, the grand opening took place.
The depression of the 30’s made funds unavailable for clubhouse Improvements and golf course maintenance. Fairways were bare and local farmers cut through the hay when it grew knee deep. Again, the club survived although it was operated rather informally.
In 1939, the decision was made to operate the club on a fundamental business model. It was decided to hire a full-time manager who would combine the duties of golf professional, clubhouse manager and course superintendent. We were fortunate to indeed to find Edmund O’Connor who arrived in Manistee with his lovely wife, Amy, to fill this position.
In 1958, club members purchased land west of hole 13, which provides valuable lakefront property with many possibilities for future use.
A proposal to build an addition to the original clubhouse was made in 1963 to accommodate increased membership and heavier resort play. The expansion was completed by 1965 and expenses were met by selling residential building sites on ground north of the clubhouse and course.
Board members decided to install a course watering system in 1970 and the work was completed the following year. In 1971, the parking lot was enlarged and paved, the clubhouse painted its original barn red and the 15th tee was moved eastward and enlarged.
During the years 1972 through 1974, the pro shop and locker rooms were carpeted, and additional equipment was purchased for better and faster course maintenance. Number 15 was again moved east because of erosion to the bank.
The year 1976 marked the Diamond Jubilee of our club and several events were held to commemorate the occasion. These included a memorial match played on the original four-hole course, a special dinner-dance and a men’s golf tournament.
In 1977, the Board of Directors voted to close the golf memberships at 375. A tree planting committee was formed to oversee future course plantings and new equipment building was constructed west of the parking lot.
Members met to honor Ed and Amy O’Connor at a retirement party held to commemorate Ed’s 38 years of outstanding and dedicated service. He will be remembered for his lasting contributions to the club.
In the Spring of 1977, Mike Doan, accompanied by his wife LaVonne and son Mike, assumed duties of pro manager. A water hazard developed on Number 17, the bylaws were revised and a memorial fund was established to be used for decorative tree plantings. A special arbor of small shrubs and flowers located between the first and tenth tees were dedicated to the O’Connor’s.
During the 1978 and 1979 seasons, many improvements were made to the course. These included new ladies tees and reworking several sand traps, new tee markers and many decorative plantings.
In 1979 the membership ratified a proposal by the Board to enter a comprehensive renovation and remodeling project. The extensive work on the original clubhouse was begun in the fall of 1979 with anticipated completion in the spring of 1980.
On April 19, 1980, a record number of members attended the opening cocktail party of the season to see the results of the remodeling project for the first time.
Although exterior work was ongoing during the year, members and guests utilized and enjoyed the revitalized clubhouse in record numbers. The social season was extended through the end of the year for the first time in Club history.
Additional improvements to the course were accomplished of begun during the 1980 season, including reworking the water hazards and improvement of some of the drainage system and sand traps. 1980 also marked the beginning of the oil boom for the Club, as a lease was issued to De Vine. Leases followed to Omni in 1982, Haggard in 1984 and Petro Star in 1985. A mineral deed granting 3/8 of the mineral rights to 80 acres (of the approximately 140 acres owned by the club) was issued to Neyer. This was to expire in 1995 unless prolonged by production. Petro Star drilled two dry holes in 1986 from a site on the practice ranged, and more drilling is planned.
Paul and Jan Domke came to Manistee Golf and Country Club in the spring of 1986 to assume duties as pro manager.
The year 1987 will be remembered for it’s long season of delightful golfing weather, the establishment of the Memorial Gardens by 21 members and most importantly, for the election of the first woman President of the Club, Patricia Morris.
In 1989 J. Kevin and Barri Marion came to the Club to assume the duties of Golf Pro and House Manager. Also in 1989, the stockholders approved utilization of the lakeshore acreage reconstruction and rerouting of holes 3, 4, 12 and 13.
1992 brought the official opening of holes 3, 4, 12 and 13, making the MGCC one of the most beautiful courses in Michigan. Sand traps throughout the course were redone. Golf pro Bill Wilson and his wife Lisa came on board in the spring of 1992.
1994 was marked by two long awaited events; the discovery of natural gas and oil with a promise of an economic windfall for the club, and the construction of the holding pond, enabling the Club to supply its own water.
Spring of 1998 witnessed the arrival of PGA Professional John Kuenzil, and his wife Cathy, to assume the Pro Manager duties of the Manistee Golf and Country Club. While the anticipated gas well revenues have still not been realized, investments were made in paving the parking lot, purchasing a fleet of new golf carts and upgrading the maintenance equipment. A new top dressing program was initiated to improve the quality of the MGCC greens.
Mikki Lewis came to Manistee Golf and Country Club in the spring of 2000 to assume the duties of Golf Pro.
Denis Meikle returned to the Club in 2001 to assume the duties of Golf Pro manager. Denis previously served as the Assistant Golf Professional at MGCC in 1996.
2001 commemorated the 100th anniversary of the Manistee Golf and Country Club, making it one of the oldest courses in the state of Michigan. The anniversary celebration lasted throughout the golfing season, making each dinner and event unique.
During the years of 2002-03-04-05, the club worked diligently to reduce overall debt that had accumulated and securing the future of the Club. Thanks to the steadfast Board of Directors and Management as well as long awaited gas well revenues, the club’s long term mortgage was paid off in the Spring of 2005, making it possible for the club to become financially solvent.
The spring of 2006 started out with much needed structural and aesthetic repairs to the clubhouse, including a facelift to the restaurant with a new bar and new furniture, new signage outdoors, and brand new windows in the dining room. A plan was implemented to control sand dune erosion adjacent to Hole#16. Heavy equipment was used to reshape the dune and snow fence was installed to minimize the amount of sand blowing onto the golf course. More work was planned for this project in 2007 with the ultimate goal of permanently stabilizing the dune.
The summer of 2007 will go down as one of the nicest golf seasons ever. There were only two days, all season, that MGCC experienced “zero play”. This weather led to a a record number of rounds being played with a substantial increase in the groups of golfers playing MGCC for the first time. The Friday Night Fish Fry became extremely popular as diners enjoyed the charming ambience of our historic clubhouse while being entertained by Sylvia WIllett on the piano.
An already wet spring culminated with a 100-year storm on June 12, 2008. Over 12 inches of rain fell in 5 hours and created a catastrophic washout on the end of 12th Street along the southern border of the MGCC property. The erosion created by the storm event forced the closing of the rear tee box on Hole#4. The club is working with the City of Manistee to reclaim and restore the property and prevent such results in the future. Despite the wet weather in the spring, the season was very successful and the record number of rounds in 2007 was surpassed in 2008. Significant efforts were made to continue the dune stabilization project and protect the green on Hole #16.
Manistee Golf and Country Club worked closely with the City of Manistee, FEMA, Abonmarche Consultants and the Manistee County Road Commission to excavate and stabilize the southwest corner of the Club’s property and mitigate a drainage and erosion issue that had been a problem for many years. The end result of the project included a new cul de sac at the end of Twelfth Street, a new elevated tee box on the Fourth Hole and a grass berm.
More and more groups continued to discover golfing in the spectacular surroundings of Manistee Golf and Country Club. The new elevated tee box on the Fourth Hole was put into play and offers coastal views spanning 50 miles on a clear day.
The course was adorned with new tee signs at the start of 2009. As a result of the city’s erosion control project on the end of 12th street, a new raised tee box was built on hole # 4. Efforts were increased to stabilize the dune on hole #16, As 2000 shoots of beach grass and 200 black locust seedlings were planted. The 40’ flag pole was lowered to the ground, painted, and repositioned. A Michigan-based film company used the country club’s dining room and some of our members for the opening of its movie, “Fitful”.
A fleet of 17 new golf carts were purchased at the start of the 2010 season. Some of the older carts were sold, with club members having first priority. Two utility vehicles were also purchased for use on the course.
In 2011, Manistee Gold and Country Club completed the reorganization from a non-profit to a non-profit membership corporation, as advised by the local attorney firm of Gockerman, Wilson, Saylor & Hesslin, P.C. On May 12, there was a shareholder meeting to authorize the Board to move forward and develop a plan of Merger and new Bylaws; ratify current and past board actions when the Board consisted of non-stockholders; and allowed the Board to refinance the current debt. On October 19, at the annual meeting, shareholders approved the Merger Agreement.
Effective January 1, 2012, Manistee Golf & Country Club became a non-profit membership corporation. Club memberships thrived with the active golfing and social membership households nearing 550 at the start of 2012. Upon her retirement in 2012, the club thanked Sandy Breuker for nearly 20 years of faithful service and countless “Sandy Specials” and homemade soups that were our lunchtime staples.
In 2013, following a rigorous review of the financial picture, there was a restructuring in staffing. The Board President, Deborah Batzer, now serves as de facto General Manager. Additional responsibilities re assigned to the executive officers; Keli Heckel – VP, Mary Marshall – Treasurer, and Sandy Bottrell – Secretary. All committee chairpersons have taken on extra duties as well, with the goal of maintaining a high level of play and services for our members. Denis Meikle is to continue as the Golf Professional and Pro-Shop manager. We welcome two new staff members; Todd “Kabuke” Cole as Food & Beverage and Events Manager, and Rebecca “Becky” Day as the Office Manager and Resident Agent.