first thing I noticed about Fenton Farms Golf Club was the large, old
original farmhouse building which sits prominently and majestically
right off Torrey Road in Fenton, Michigan. That same farmhouse has stood
almost 100 years, has known various owners, and has had many different
names over the last century. I have been lucky enough to spend a sunny
morning at the golf course to hear about this
great facility, such as its origins, as well as the exciting changes and
developments in progress, all from current proprietor, Christopher
White, who also moonlights as a film producer, has spent the last decade bringing a new life to this course, which has been in existence as an 18-hole facility since 1939 and was once called Shoreacres Golf Club. Spanning eight decades, the owners and the course’s name have changed several times. It was also called Torrey Pines at one time.
“Even before Shoreacres Golf Club, Fenton Farms had a colorful history dating back to the 1930’s, when farmer Ralph Crane decided to clear some of his farmland to create a few golf holes. He called the new course Long Lake Golf Course because, back then, Lake Fenton was called Long Lake. Local legend and lore tells the story of Ralph’s children splitting up the family property, where his sons wanted the farm land and his daughters being left with the land surrounding Long Lake,” Chris explains. “If you are familiar with Fenton, you might recognize the names of his daughters: Ruth and Margaret (the names of streets around the lake). They also had another street, Crane Cove, which was part of the daughter’s development. Ralph’s son, George, wound up owning the farmland, which included his dad’s Long Lake Country Club, and he added some additional holes to create the first 18-hole course on the property. Personally, I think the daughters got the better end of that deal, with lakefront property going for a premium,” Chris says, chuckling.
Yes, it's true that the course was sold in the early to mid-1960s to a group of investors headed by former Detroit Lions member and TV sit-com star, Alex Karras. It was during this time the Alex Karras Golf Classic was held -- a fund raiser for cystic fibrosis was the intention, but the entire outing was designed to be a pro-am with local sports celebrities. Karras had arranged for Tiny Tim to parachute in from the sky, while the band played “Tiptoe Through the Tulips.” Furthermore, musicians were to jump out of the woods and play the Mexican Hat Dance when golfers were putting, while tape players were hidden in the bushes to play sounds of people screaming and cars crashing to also add an element of surprise to the event. (Harpers May 1971)
When Karras and company were finished with the place, they sold what was
left to Walter Burkemo, a PGA touring pro whose career had been
highlighted by his victory in the 1953 PGA Championship. By some
accounts, actor and comedian George Gobel spent a considerable amount of
time at the course during the Burkemo era and may also have had some
ownership interest. It was during this time, is local lore has it, that
Marvin Gaye performed on the back of a hay wagon, and the course was
known then as more of a “Road House” and less as a golf course, due, in
part, to the deteriorating condition of the infrastructure of the course
itself. Apparently unable to turn the tide on the years of neglect,
Burkemo eventually sold the property to
golf architect George Fazio, who reportedly planned major renovations
for Torrey Pines… until he became stricken with illness and died.
Fast-forwarding to 1993, when a
Detroit-based group of investors, Fenton Farms Developments Inc., headed
by retired automotive entrepreneur Jack Bott, acquired the course. This
is when it first became known as Fenton Farms Golf Club.Bott’s
daughters, Diane Rutheford and Kathy White, along with his grandson,
current proprietor, Christopher White, took over operations of the
course in 2002 and have brought in new ideas, new equipment, new
management and rebranded this historic farm course into “The Friendly
Place” -- with an emphasis on customer service.
For the next decade, Chris White, says, they went about “…improving
the course, renovating the clubhouse and changing the focus of the
business plan to become a specialists in golf outings and entertainment
events.” Known for his flair for fun, Chris has brought his experience
as a producer in California to Fenton by enlisting the services of local
bagpipe artists, barbershop quartets, local celebrities and various
DJ’s to ensure each event held there is memorable. Many organizations
come back to Fenton Farms year after year because they know they will be
taken care of and that their guests will remember their experience for
years to come.
The future of Fenton Farms is very
exciting. Chris is excited to launch his “2014 Farm Fresh Menu,” which
is designed to entice the golfers as well as the non-golfing neighbors
and friends of the course. The menu features made- to-order Panini’s, artisan flatbread pizzas, gourmet-themed hot dogs and daily specials.
Leagues are nearly at capacity and Season Pass sales are at a record high. It’s easy to see why though; Season Passes are designed for people who like to golf… a lot. Pass holders receive advance tee times 2 weeks ahead of the general public, free range balls, 10% off all pro shop purchases, and they are welcomed with open arms into the Fenton Farms family. Bill Davis is a season pass holder who last year, during the abundance of apples on the course, asked permission and picked several bushels of them, bringing them back to the course the next day in the form of five home-baked apple pies. And that is just one example out of many on how the season pass holders feel just like family.
Fenton Farms Golf Club
12312 Torrey Road
(810) 629-1212 Golf Shop & Tee Times
(810) 750-6098 Sales, Catering & Events