Michigan Golf History- 1951-1960
Ah yes, the fifties; Elvis, '57 Chevy, Eisenhower, Rebel Without a Cause, sputnik and I Love Lucy. Detroit was a world class city then and looking at the new cars in the windows of the General Motors building was a Christmas thrill. The muscle cars appeared about midway in the decade and life was starting to explode around everyone. It was also a time when this writer shut down a 59 Covette on Woodward Avenue, maintaining a fender length lead through all four gears I shut it down somewhere in the hundred and twenties and did not stop shaking for 15 minutes. The fifties, to me, were the days of quick back swings, fast cars, fast women and slow brains.
When we left our series in the September/October issue; Michigan golf was just starting to re-energize from a decade of stagnancy due to the war. In our first fifty years, great architects like Tom Bendelow, Donald Ross, Alister McKenzie and Alex Smith had visited our state and made their impact. Our golf heroes of that era were Hagen, Jones, Kocsis and Sarazen.
On the international scene during the 50's, Peter Thompson picked up four wins at the British Open and Gary Player launched his career with a win in 1959. The United States completely dominated the Ryder Cup, suffering only one lost in the decade at Lindrick.
At home, the US Open produced wins for such luminaries as Ben Hogan, Cary Middlecoff, Julius Boros, Tommy Bolt, Billy Caspar and "The King", Arnold Palmer. The PGA was won by a couple of people that had some Michigan roots, Walter Burkemo and Chick Harbert. The Masters produced three double winners during the 1951-60 period with Ben Hogan, Sam Snead and Arnold Palmer donning the green jackets. Betsy Rawls and Mickey Wright dominated the US Women's Open, Betsy winning four times and Mickey twice.
The era also produced the first African American on the PGA Tour when Charlie Sifford was accepted in 1960. Charlie was followed three years later by Althea Gibson who joined the LPGA. It was also during that time that Ben Davis, teaching pro at Rackham, was building his impressive resume that led him into the African American Hall of Fame, the Michigan golf Hall of Fame and the March of Dimes Golf Man of the year.
In Michigan, Walter Burkemo won the Michigan Open three times, and Chick Harbert and Dave Hill captured it once. The Michigan PGA was won on two occasions by Walter Burkemo, Al Watrous, Chick Harbert and John Barnum. On the amateur side, Bud Stevens and Bob Babbish won twice and Glen Johnson made his first appearance.
The fifties were the starting points for two of our prominent Michigan families of golf; the Otto's and the Matthews. They like other families, the Scott's, Kirchers and Hodges, have helped to create the richness of golf in our state.
In the summer of 1950, a young and prosperous couple from the Detroit area was motoring up to their cottage on Twin Lakes, just outside of Lewiston. As they motored by a farmhouse about three miles from their cottage, Herman Otto remarked to his wife Hildegard that the area would be a nice place for a golf course. "Who would be so crazy to build a golf course here," said Hildegard Otto. " I would," said Herman Otto. Shortly thereafter, Herman Otto and his son Ron and Lockmoor pro, Chi Rutan begun work on the original nine holes at Garland.
Herman and Hildegard, immigrated to this country from Germany in the mid 20's, settling in Detroit. Herman founded a stamping plant, Garland, and continued to grow the business. As the company prospered, he wanted to build a retreat for his employees and Garland was the answer. Employees would stay in one of seven cottages on the property and enjoy hunting, fishing, swimming and golf. Both the Ottos's played and love the game, with Herman taking it a little more seriously than Hildegard. "I had to play with the women, because Herman would get so upset playing with me," said Hildegard. She and a number of other ladies formed a Lewiston league.
Her son Ron Otto and daughter, Eleanor Kopp, feasted Hildegard last October as she celebrated her 90th birthday. The three-day celebration included her two children, six grand children, nine great grand children and many relatives from Germany.
The Otto's, one of Michigan's great golf families.
Another family of golf began at that time as W. Bruce Matthews began to build courses all over the state. W. Bruce Matthews designed close to 17 courses on his own and another 27 or so with his son Jerry Matthews. In addition, they tweaked a number of other courses throughout the state, wandering only once to Ontario, where they worked on the second hole at Essex Golf and Country Club. Some of his better known courses are Forest Akers, McGuires, Tyrone Hills, Salem Hills, Antrim Dells, Candlestone, Grand Haven, Lakes of the North, Shenandoah, Sugar Springs and The Pines at Isabella. W. Bruce Matthews is getting up there in years and doesn't remember things quite as well as he used to, but I spent an enchanting afternoon with him about 15 years ago. He regaled me with stories of his career and how proud he was that his son, Jerry Matthews and his grandson, Bruce Matthews III were following in his considerable footsteps.
Maple Hill GC
Moravian Hills CC
Marysville Golf Course
Spruce Course /McGuire's
Westbrooke Golf Course
Orchard Hills GC
Hidden Valley Classic at Otsego
Lake Cora Hills
St. Joe Valley Golf Club (Public)
Spring Meadows CC
Warwick Hills Golf CC
Burning Tree CC
Carleton Glen GC
Forest Akers GC:
Green Acres GC 1994 517-7773510
Rochester Hills GC 2488520546
Crooked Creek GC
Lilac Golf Course
Rush Lake Hills
Bogie Lake GC
Gauss Green Valley
Orchard Hills GC East
Ridge View GC
Royal Oak GC
Swan Valley GC 5177814945
In the course of putting this history together, I have used a number of online and print references. Frankly, there do seem to be a fair amount of discrepancies in who the architect was and when the course debuted. When they have occurred, I have sought out additional information and reference material. However, having said that, I still realize by just the nature of this project that there will be errors. If this occurs, please let me know, so I may right the wrong and make the correction for our online edition. Art McCafferty firstname.lastname@example.org
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