Written By: Greg Johnson
ANN ARBOR – Golf, one more year removed from the post-pandemic surge in popularity and play, is in a good place in Michigan.
That was the state-of-the-game message from Golf Association of Michigan (GAM) Executive Director Chris Whitten during the association’s annual meeting Wednesday at Polo Fields Golf & Country Club.
“When I travel around the state and talk to administrators and our allied associations, we have a pretty positive outlook,” he said. “This feels different to us. It feels like people have rediscovered the game for different reasons, not just because the economy was on a little bit of an uptick and they had a little more money to spend. This feels more like an emotional connection with the game. And they’re coming back to being outdoors. It’s different. And I would say it’s even more different in Michigan than anywhere else.”
Whitten noted that despite overall golf rounds in the United States decreasing from 2021 and flattening out in 2022 according to the National Golf Foundation, Michigan was one of five states that reported an increase in rounds played.
“Michigan was up seven percent last year,” he said. “I think there are a lot of things that contribute. We are a popular summer golf destination, and I’m convinced that the people who live in Michigan are outdoors people. When the snow is on the ground, they’re ready to ski or they’re ready to snowmobile. They’re ready to be in the woods and in nature, and when it’s golf season, they’re more than ready to play golf and that little teaser of warm weather in April gave us proof of that.”
Overall Whitten said the NGF numbers paint the picture that the number of people playing golf continues to grow consistently.
“Over 41 million people are playing golf nationally and while there are those of us who think well, it’s the retired generation, the people over 50 playing theses rounds, that’s not necessarily the case,” he said. “The National Golf Foundation says the 18 to 34-year-old group actually comprise the most golfers and the segments that are growing the fastest – and I love to hear this – are women and juniors.”
Whitten said the GAM is working with its 80,000 golf members and Michigan member golf facilities in answering the next question: “Where do we go from here?” It is a plan focused on growth, community involvement and member services.
“We have developed a strategic roadmap and a strategic vision,” he said. “The GAM is dedicated to connecting and serving all golf in Michigan – for players, administrators and facilities. By providing excellent core services and products, we strive to make golf accessible and inclusive in all its forms for players of any age and ability.”
Awards and honors, all previously announced by the GAM, were also a significant part of the Annual Meeting festivities.
Sara Wold of Ann Arbor, a longtime GAM volunteer, rules official and past president was the recipient of the Distinguished Service Award.
Also honored were the GAM Superintendent of Merit Award winner, Mike Morris of Crystal Downs Country Club in Frankfort, the Club Services Representative of the Year, PGA teaching professional and coach Terri Anthony-Ryan of Southfield’s Evergreen Hills and Beech Woods golf facilities, the Course Rater of the Year, Laurie Puscas of Rochester Hills, and the GAM Champion of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion honoree, Western Michigan University golf coach Kim Moore, who last summer was the winner of the inaugural U.S. Adaptive Open at Pinehurst Resort in North Carolina.
In addition, the James D. Standish Jr. Award recipients were introduced. The top Evans Scholars in the state, Country Club of Lansing caddie Owen Brewer of the University of Michigan and Andrew Hendren of Michigan State University, a caddie at Red Run Golf Club in Royal Oak, received their plaques.
New Governors were welcomed including Mike Brady, Holly Little, Gregg Bonamici, Dee Piccard, Keith Potter and Deb Wolfe.
The Players of the Year (POY) for 2022, who were announced late last year, were honored as well.
The meeting was also marked by Jay Hults of Plum Hollow Country Club taking the reins as president of the GAM from Tom Anderson of the Polo Fields, who will now have president emeritus status.
The other officers for this year include Judy Lazzaro of Oakland University Golf & Learning Center as first vice-president, Richard Aginian of Oakland Hills Country Club as second vice-president and Dan Longeway of Western Golf & Country Club as third vice-president. Tom Roehl of the GAM Course Rating Club continues as treasurer and Robert Ofoli of Forest Akers in East Lansing is the new secretary.