Written By: Greg Johnson
FARMINGTON HILLS – Superintendent Michael Morris sees himself as caretaker of the highly acclaimed golf course at Crystal Downs Country Club in Frankfort.
“It’s a responsibility,” said Morris, who has served the club for 30 years since arriving as a student intern. “I tried to provide the best experience the members could have and I have been proud to try and do it for this many years. I feel like I’ve developed a great relationship with the club members and that we’ve worked together. It’s a relationship and a responsibility to me, much more than a point of pride.”
Morris, 63, has been named the Golf Association of Michigan (GAM) Superintendent Award of Merit winner for 2023. The award is bestowed upon a superintendent who has demonstrated leadership, professionalism, good character and high standards of conduct through pursuits associated with golf course grounds maintenance and care.
His nomination was supported by the Board of Directors of the Michigan Golf Course Superintendents Association (MiGCSA), a group that in 2008 Morris helped create as a combination of what is now four chapters of the association.
MiGCSA executive director Adam Ikamas, CGCS said Morris has mentored multiple interns who have become leaders in the golf course maintenance industry and has participated in numerous research projects with Michigan State University and the Michigan Turfgrass Foundation.
“His multi-year study with Dr. Thom Nikoali (MSU) on green speed changed the way greens are managed,” Ikamas said. “He’s a soft-spoken leader who is always looking to find a better way.”
Morris is a regular speaker and teacher in MiGCSA educational sessions and contributes nationally and abroad to conferences on golf course maintenance. He said he has been proud to represent Crystal Downs, MiGCSA and the state’s turfgrass industry.
“I’ve been blessed to work with tremendous thinkers and leaders at Crystal Downs,” he said. “The club has a volunteer board of amazing individuals that run the club. That has afforded me the opportunity to learn from and collaborate with great leaders from around the country.”
Morris said the late C.E. “Tuck” Tate and Sean O’Connor encouraged him to become a superintendent and a leader, and he said he wants to thank the club’s board and green committees from over the years, in particular the late G. Randal Martin, David Rosenberger and Grant Ellis who mentored him and tolerated his golf game.
“The staff members we’ve had over the years have truly made me look good, too,” he said.
Like the golf world, Morris is in awe of the famous course design of legend Alister MacKenzie and construction work of his partner Perry Maxwell. He said he thinks of two things when the golf course comes to mind.
“It’s a beautiful environment,” he said. “We have this short video of Perry Maxwell during construction. He moved some things around and there it was. And I also think of Butch Bingham, a long-time member. He told me every time he steps on the first tee he considers it a privilege, that ‘man, I get to play this course today.’ That fits my experience – this wonderful place exists and I’m fortunate to be here.”
Morris said MacKenzie discovered when he came to the property a natural site for an exciting course that embraced the principles he aspired to in his designs.
“The routing and hole locations, everything about it is unique,” he said. “I also think Perry Maxwell was the unsung hero of the golf course. The bunkering design and some of the green designs are very reminiscent of Maxwell. He is the one who stayed and did the construction of the course.”
The biggest challenge in his 30 years has been working the balance of expectation and performance of the classic era course that does not have modified greens or modern drainage.
“The moving heights are completely different from those that existed when this course was designed, and we have slowed and intentionally tried to bring the course into modern standards,” he said. “There have been agronomic, design and maintenance challenges, but it has been a really fun ride on a great course with great people.”