League of leisure

By: Timothy Pontzer | C&G Newspapers | Published May 17, 2017


METRO DETROIT — With the frost finally gone and the return of mild temperatures, many Michiganders participate in the annual ritual of “spring cleaning.” Heavy snow boots and jackets are stashed away, while items like pool toys, lawn furniture and golf clubs see the light of day for the first time in months.

With drivers, irons and putters in tow, many will head to their favorite local links. While some will play a weekend round with friends, others will enter leagues, an offering featured at many local courses.

“Being in a league is awesome,” said Noel Slowik. “It’s good to be in a league, because it holds you accountable to show up every week. It allows me to play on a competitive level with my friends in a competitive environment.” 

Slowik is the current golf coach at Clawson High, having helmed the boys program for the past two seasons and the girls squad for the last six. He participates in a weekly grouping at Katke-Cousins Golf Course on the campus of Oakland University.

Every Tuesday, Slowik meets at OU with the same cast of friends. He said the decision is a great opportunity to stay in shape and improve his overall game.

“Most of us walk; it is a wonderful way to get exercise on an awesome course, being out there in nature with friends,” Slowik said. “Anybody at any level should be in a league, because it is really the best way to learn. You can watch other people at all levels play, try out other equipment and talk with everyone about how to get better.”

Justin Dahin, the golf director at Fern Hill Golf Club in Clinton Township, agreed that being in a league is good for the body. He also remarked that signing up for one ensures a player’s commitment to the game.

“In addition to the physical benefits, a golfer knows they have that day or evening every week to come out and play,” Dahin said. “It obligates a golfer to have a consistent schedule, which helps in many ways.”

The benefit of committing to the sport on a weekly basis is a common theme among those in the golf community.

“Leagues offer a commitment for guys to play golf,” said Paul Duda, who is the president and general manager at Rammler Golf Club in Sterling Heights. “A lot of times with busy schedules, people don’t get to go out too much, so this sets up a schedule for them. Many of our leagues are work leagues, so it also offers camaraderie and competition.”

“First and foremost, a league ensures that you will have your tee time, and you have that time every week knowing you get a chance to only worry about golf,” added Baird Wohlfeil, who is the general manager at Hampton Golf Club in Rochester Hills. “So many times I hear from people saying, ‘Oh, we’re not going to join the league this year, but we still plan on getting out there and playing,’ and I’ll see those guys maybe two or three times all summer. Then they come back and realize how great a league is. Otherwise, life gets in the way, and you simply don’t get a chance to play.”

Rammler’s league play starts in early April and runs until Labor Day. Several of the groups have been with the club for more than four decades.

“We’ve seen some of the same faces for many years,” said Duda. “Back in the ’90s, golf was huge, but when the economy dropped, so did golf. Over 200 courses in the state have closed since 2000. We’ve picked up plenty of golfers from old courses. I know golf will never be what it was, but leagues help to carry on some of the best parts of an amazing sport for all skill levels.”

Wohlfeil said that leagues are great for business, allowing for a secure stream of income rather than relying on walk-up business. He also said he loves hosting the groups for what they offer to the game overall.

“Obviously, there are all of the physical benefits of being outside, but you also have to put away your phone, not worry (about) emails or Facebook,” Wohlfeil said. “Our course is only nine holes, so we cater to the people that regular courses don’t want. I want the women, the seniors, the juniors and the beginners — that’s what this course is perfect for. Leagues offer the opportunity to learn and enjoy a game you can play forever.”

Hampton offers leagues every weekday, with ages ranging from 10 to 97.

“I love this league because it is all women, which takes the pressure off of being in a mixed league,” said Laurie Church, who is a Troy resident now in her second year in a Thursday night women’s league at Hampton. “There’s no expectations, but I can still come out and have fun with some friends every week.”