In Mackinaw they say, “Let’s go down to ‘Up North.’ ” Doesn’t make a lot of sense to us, but a lot of things up this way don’t always make sense. The “Up North” I’m talking about is the very Upper Peninsula of Michigan.
We are here to play as much golf as possible in five days. Here is Harbor Springs, Mich., tucked into the northwest corner of the state on the shores of Lake Michigan. It’s not known for its extraordinary golf courses, though they are abundant, and I doubt many others actually come here for the golf. There are abundant fishing, hunting and sightseeing opportunities, but we are mainly here for the friendship. Golf is just our way of expressing friendship and enjoying the give-and-take of convivial word jousting.
This is our third trip up here to play golf. The first was in ideal summer weather; the second, last September in a rare period of days in which the temperature never got out of the 40s and the wind never dipped below 25 mph.
This is mid-May, and the temperature is in the 50s and 60s with little wind, but a continual threat of rain. While not on the beach, we are directly across the road from it, and the cloud banks look dark and foreboding one minute and clear and bright blue the next. But unless it’s raining straight down, we are playing golf today.
We are here as the guests of Bert Couch, a playing partner of only a few years, whose family has owned this cabin in the woods since the ‘60s and will host its fifth generation when his newly born granddaughter dips her tiny toes in the sand this summer. We all met at First Congregational Church of Akron, where the idea of golf was very far from our minds. Larry Becker and I are the only ones who still belong to the church, but Larry is very active in church administration, sings in the choir and puts on the Dr. Hudson Memorial Golf Outing for the church every year. Larry and Bert have been friends since they were eight years old. Bob Shell is the fourth member of our group and provides all of us with endless puns. We laugh whether they’re funny or not because we like him so much. So goes friendship.
The real jewel of the area is Petoskey, about five miles south. It’s a town that’s very cute and very aware of it. It’s home to some of Detroit’s richest auto barons and their descendants. The town is based on the Chautauqua, NY model where residents agree to only live here in the summertime and invite renowned lecturers to speak at weekly forums held in the town center. This small lakefront section is made up of million-dollar Victorian-era homes that face the setting sun and are so cute that they illicit “aws” and “ohs” from everyone who sees them. The town is very proper, and the schools are well-funded.
One of the unique restaurants in which we ate was the favorite watering hole of Ernest Hemmingway, who spent his early summers here fishing, drinking and scribbling notes at the City Park Café. (For those who visit, he sat on the second stool from the end facing the beautiful late 19th century cherry wood bar.)
We’ll be here for another couple of days, in which time, we will have played enough golf for our significant others to say, “Haven’t you played enough golf already?” as we put our clubs in the car to go at it again next week when we should be mowing the lawn or trimming the hedges. And, of course, it really isn’t about golf at all, but about friendship and a much more enjoyable game for all of us.