2017-04-27 / Sports

St. Ignace Golf and Country Club Looks To Promote Itself as 2017 Season Begins

By Erich T. Doerr


A group of golfers hits the links at the St. Ignace Golf and Country Club in July 2016 as the Mackinac Bridge towers above them in the distance from the course’s eighth hole. Course Manager Ben Brown said that the scenic location alongside the Straits of Mackinac is one of its strongest assets, with most holes offering views of the bridge. The course first opened in 1927, predating the bridge by three decades. A group of golfers hits the links at the St. Ignace Golf and Country Club in July 2016 as the Mackinac Bridge towers above them in the distance from the course’s eighth hole. Course Manager Ben Brown said that the scenic location alongside the Straits of Mackinac is one of its strongest assets, with most holes offering views of the bridge. The course first opened in 1927, predating the bridge by three decades. Of the more than 15,000 golf courses in the United States, St. Ignace’s lone course, the St. Ignace Golf and Country Club, is unique with its scenic location offering expansive views of the Mackinac Bridge and the Straits of Mackinac. The course’s 2017 season is just beginning and the city is looking to advertise the course more this year in an effort to increase the number of golfers hitting the links here.

“We want to get people out to play,” Course Manager Ben Brown said. “We’re hoping for good weather and a busy tourist season.”

Mr. Brown has been the St. Ignace course’s manager for more than a decade, with two additional years of experience on the property prior to that. A city Golf Course Committee oversees the course. The committee includes Chairman Greg R. Cheeseman, Treasurer George Yshinski, Secretary Dave Koivuniemi, Mayor Connie Litzner, City Councilmember Paul Fullerton, Jon Olsen, and City Manager Les Therrian. Mr. Brown and course superintendent Justin Bird also attend the meetings regularly. Mr. Fullerton told The St. Ignace News the committee’s biggest goal right now is increasing advertising in an effort to increase use of the course. The committee especially wants to see more local players picking up their clubs and coming down to play a round.

“Our golf course is generally in great shape,” Mr. Fullerton said. “It is very beautiful.”

Mr. Brown said this year the course will promote its Web site and social media efforts more while also putting up flyers at local hotels and motels. The course is offering a two-for-one deal in conjunction with a golfing book promoting courses in the Eastern Upper Peninsula and Canada. In the past, its efforts to bring in players had focused on advertisements in local visitors guides, something it will continue this year, and word of mouth.

Use of the golf course, like others around the country, has been trending downward since about 2011. Mr. Brown recalled how when he started, players at the course played upwards of 20,000 rounds of golf a year, but that number had decreased to about 13,000 in 2016. Part of the problem, Mr. Brown said, is that many members of younger generations aren’t taking up golf anymore; the game is not seen as being as appealing as it once was in today’s era of shorter attention spans. On the other end of the spectrum, many former golfers have also stopped playing, with Mr. Brown now working to bring back some of them who have stepped away. The course has participated in a First Tee program to help new youth players learn the sport.

Golf is “relaxing and you can play it your whole life,” Mr. Brown said. “It’s a good chance to get out with your friends and family.”

The time needed to play a round of golf is considered a major reason more young players haven’t taken up the game, as a regular round at an 18-hole course usually takes four to four and a half hours to complete, depending on the number of players in the party. Timing is an advantage for St. Ignace’s course, as a full trip around its nine-hole layout only takes about two hours. A number of groups are now making efforts nationwide to speed up the game, with some encouraging golfers to focus on playing nine holes instead of 18, while another is pushing for groups to shorten the holes by always playing from the most forward tees. Some other courses have even tried enlarging the holes on their course.

Spring will begin at the golf course this year with a lot of work improving the clubhouse. The 26- year-old structure will receive new shingles on its roof, while inside, cracks in its drywall will be fixed. The pro shop and reception area will also be repainted. Work on the improvements is scheduled to start this week. The goal is to finish the work by early May. It must be completed no later than the end of that month so the building will be available for the graduation parties and wedding receptions that are scheduled there.

The start of the season for the course varies from year to year depending on the weather. Usually, the ball gets rolling during the third week of April. Mr. Brown said the course installed all its pins for play to begin recently, but the property remains very wet right now so it has seen little use. Even so, a few of the club members have already started play and the LaSalle High School team has begun practicing for its new season at the course, but most golfers wait until temperatures are consistently in the 50-degree range before teeing off.

The St. Ignace Golf and Country Club is a public course where anyone can play a round. It offers rates for nine or 18-hole rounds, with some discounts available in the spring before Memorial Day weekend as the course greens up. Its new 2017 rates will be set soon. Local residents are the most common users, but Mr. Brown noted it also attracts tourists, and some of them come back year after year.

The golf course property’s unobstructed views overlooking the Mackinac Bridge and the Straits are its strongest asset, with most of its holes offering bridge views. Mr. Brown said people using the course love looking at the bridge as they play, and he often is asked by golfers to take their photograph on the first tee before or after their games, to take advantage of the scenic landscape. The course conditions in St. Ignace have also earned high marks, which Mr. Brown credits to its talented maintenance crew including Mr. Bird and greens keeper Lloyd Matson.

Over the years, expanding the course has been considerd, and the St. Ignace course still has plans ready for a possible future expansion from nine holes to 18, but Mr. Brown said the project will likely remain on the backburner for now, due to cost concerns. While a course in Manistique successfully made the jump up to 18 holes, several other local courses have had a harder time supporting themselves after the same change, mostly due to the increased maintenance costs that come with doubling the number of holes.

It is hard to justify increasing the size of the course, Mr. Brown said, when the St. Ignace community’s population has gotten smaller in recent years. Right now, he said, the local demand for golf just isn’t meeting the supply. The city course has also seen increased local competition in the area, with recent decades seeing the construction of new golf courses in Mackinaw City, Drummond Island, and Brimley.

Playing at the St. Ignace Golf and Country Club has been a tradition in the community for 90 years. The course was built in 1926 and opened in 1927. In the years since, there has been some evolution of its layout, but much of the links’ original character remains.

“People have spent a lifetime out here,” Mr. Brown said.

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