Free Golf Priceless

By Mercer BaggsJune 30, 2009, 4:00 pm
 Golf in America
It’s April 29. It’s a shade over 50 degrees, winds are blowing steadily at 10-15 mph, and the ground is muddied from previous days’ rain.
It’s the cusp of the golfing season in Michigan and this is about as good as it’s going to get for now.
Mark Mayes isn’t complaining. After nine years as a transport truck driver for Chrysler he was laid off three weeks ago. Not only is he playing golf; he’s doing so for free.
“Hey, free stuff – I like free stuff,” he says.
Mayes is at Wesburn Golf Course in South Rockwood, Mich., about 30 minutes south of Detroit. The course is offering complimentary golf on this day to all those in the state who are currently unemployed.
Over 500,000 people, literally, could have taken advantage of the offer. Michigan, according to the Michigan Department of Energy, Labor & Economic Growth, had an unemployment rate of 12.9% in April, the highest in the nation (in May, according to the department statistics, that number rose to 14.1 percent).
Wesburn employees were expecting about 75 people to show up. Instead, they got 184.
“I’m not even sure how some of them found out about it,” says course owner Richard Dalley. “We had people all the way from St. Clair Shores and Jackson. That surprised me.”
People were willing to drive more than an hour to play a 6,100-yard public course because, as more than one person told Dalley, “It’s free golf!”
Ron Parsons was there. Wesburn is his home course. But the 40-year-old estimates he has cut his rounds played per year from 120 to 40.
“You have to pick and choose when you want to play,” he says, “when the pocketbook permits.”
Parsons, a former steel mill worker in Detroit, hasn’t had a job in 18 months.
“It’s brutal. I have a degree but there’s just nothing out there,” he says.
Parsons, like so many others, plans on going back to school under Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm’s “No Worker Left Behind” program.
Under the plan, any person over the age of 18 who is currently unemployed, has received notice of termination or layoff from employment, or who is employed but has a family income of $40,000 or less per year, can receive up to two years worth of free tuition at any community college, university or other approved training provider in Michigan.
The idea is to give people a chance to gain new credentials and skills, to find careers in “high-demand occupations, emerging industries, or to start a business.”
Parsons is eyeing the medical field or possibly Information Technologies.
Mayes, 43, said he is going to take advantage of this educational opportunity. So, too, is 38-year-old Tom Klimek.
Klimek plays regularly with Parsons, and today he’s “kicking his a**.” At least according to Kilmek.
Klimek, a welder, says he was let go last October from his job when he had to undergo colon surgery for diverticulosis. He’s been through four more surgeries since then – the state helps pay his medical expenses – but has yet to find another job.
He used to play golf two or three times a week. But physical and financial impositions have served to considerably scale back that number.
“Trying to get my swing back,” Klimek says on this day. “This is the start of the golf season.”
Dalley says golf in Michigan starts to bloom along with the azaleas at Augusta, which was when this concept began to materalize.
“On the first day of the Masters we had a beautiful day out here and I heard so many people saying they were having a great time but they didn’t know when they would be able to come back,” Dalley recalls.
'We wanted to come up with a way to change that.'
Course manager Jerry Ward asked Dalley what he thought about a discounted day of golf, maybe even a free one. It was a risk, to be sure, as individuals aren’t the only ones hurting in this economy; businesses – golf courses – are as well.
“It’s scary,” says Dalley. “Since 9-11 we’ve seen a downward trend in income. How much can you give away? In the end, though, it was a good business decision.”
Dalley has been running the course since 1998, when his father-in-law, who purchased the layout 40 years earlier, passed away. As he stated, the venture worked out well for his course – it received some publicity from local TV stations and newspapers, and has seen an increase in attendance since that day.
In addition to the free round, Dalley and company decided to give all of those who showed up – and produced an unemployment check stub – a senior discount rate for the remainder of the year. That allows those 184 people the chance to play from the hours of 11 a.m. – 2 p.m. for $20 (compared to the normal fee of $32).
“That (time frame) is normally a dead time. Since this has happened we’ve picked up at least 20 extra people (a day),” says Steve Stover, who has worked in the pro shop at Wesburn for five years. “It’s been a win-win for everybody.”
Dally agrees.
“It’s helped the course and we think we’ve helped out some people, too,” he says. “In situations like these you just hope you’re doing something good.”
Those who got a chance to play this Wednesday in April had nothing but good things to say. They enjoyed the course, said the staff was friendly, and didn’t seem to mind the cold, the wind or the squishy ground.
“Oh, heck yeah it’s worth it,” responds Mayes when asked whether or not he is glad he came out on this day.
“You betcha,” replies Klimek, even more succinctly, when asked the same thing.
This was a day for Klimek, Mayes, and the 182 others on hand, to cast their troubles aside for a few hours. It was a chance to share and compare their personal experiences with one another. And, quite simply, it was a chance to play golf again – something once experienced regularly for a feasible sum, but now considered a luxury.
“You don’t know until you’ve been there,” says Parsons, “what 30 bucks can really mean.”
'Golf in America' airs on Golf Channel Tuesdays at 10:30 p.m. ET.
Share your story or email your thoughts to Mercer Baggs
Related Links:
  • Golf in America Home Page
  • Getty Images

    Rose leads halted Indonesian Masters; Snedeker WDs

    By Associated PressDecember 15, 2017, 2:04 pm

    JAKARTA, Indonesia - Justin Rose held a three-stroke lead at the Indonesian Masters when bad weather stopped play Friday during the second round.

    The Englishman, who shot a 10-under 62 on Thursday, had completed 13 holes and was 5 under on the day at the Royale Jakarta Golf Club course.

    Kiradech Aphibarnrat (64) was in second place.

    Brandt Snedeker withdrew wit on the 11th hole at 2 under for the day after shooting an opening 72.

    There was no reason given for his withdrawal, but the American has been affected by a rib-sternum injury for most of the season. Ranked 51st in the world, he flew to Jakarta looking to move inside the top 50 by the end of the year and ensure a spot in next year's Masters.

    Newsmaker of the Year: No. 2, Donald Trump

    By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 15, 2017, 1:00 pm

    Even away from the White House, President Donald Trump generated plenty of headlines this year.

    Trump’s first year in office didn’t dim his enthusiasm for the game, as he made splashy appearances at two big events, tweeted about golf to his more than 44 million followers, teed it up with some of the sport’s biggest stars, including Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy and Lexi Thompson, and fired a few eyebrow-raising scores. Logging more than 75 rounds since his inauguration, the 3-handicap has only bolstered his reputation as the best golfing president, particularly after his alleged 73 with Sen. Lindsey Graham.

    None of his appearances created a bigger stir than when he attended the U.S. Women’s Open. Despite protests and calls for the USGA to move its premier women’s event from Trump Bedminster – the president reportedly threatened to sue – his weekend there went off without incident, as Trump watched the action and hosted players in his private box near the 15th green.

    Full list of 2017 Newsmakers of the Year

    Despite his controversial rhetoric on a variety of national issues, Trump has remained a staunch supporter of women’s golf, and he became the first sitting president to attend the U.S. Women’s Open.

    An honorary chairman of the Presidents Cup, Trump also flew to Liberty National for the biennial team event, where he presented the trophy to the U.S. team and dedicated the victory to the hurricane victims in Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico.

    In late November, amid tweets about the national anthem, Turkey, Egypt and Time Magazine, Trump announced that he was playing a round in South Florida with Woods and world No. 1 Dustin Johnson.

    Yes, that too became a headline, just like everything else Trump did in 2017.

    Playing with the pros

    Tiger, DJ and Faxon

    Article: Video, images from Tiger, DJ's round with Trump

    Article: After DJ and Tiger, Trump plays golf with Jack

    Rory faces criticism

    Article: Rory: Round with Trump about respect for presidency

    Article: Rory: Round with Trump not a 'political statement'

    President at the Presidents Cup

    Video: President Trump makes the rounds at Liberty National

    Article: President Trump presents trophy to U.S. team

    Article: Stricker: 'Great thrill' to get trophy from Trump

    Purported round of 73 with Lindsey Graham

    Article: Senator tweets Trump shot 73 in windy, wet conditions

    Article: Graham offers details on Trump's round of 73

    Cart on the green

    Article: Trump appears to drive cart on Bedminster green

    Presence and protests at U.S. Women's Open

    Article: Trump makes presidential history at Women's Open

    Article: Trump supporters, protesters clash near Women's Open

    Article: UltraViolet takes protest inside Trump National

    Photo gallery: President Trump at the U.S. Women's Open

    Trump golf properties


    Article: Environmental group vandalizes Trump golf course

    Article: Man accused of vandalizing four Trump courses


    Article: Two Trump courses in Scotland losing millions

    Article: Eric Trump denies Russia helped fund golf courses

    Article: Trump company ordered to pay $5.77M in dues dispute

    Reportedly fake TIME covers

    Article: Trump clubs display fake Time magazine cover

    Trump apologizes for voter-fraud story

    Report: Trump's voter fraud claim tied to Langer

    Langer: Trump 'apologized' for story mix-up

    Pros comment on the president

    Article: Players defend Trump at Senior PGA Championship

    Article: Trump congratulates Daly; Daly congratulates Trump

    Getty Images

    Newsmakers of the Year: Top 10 in 2017

    By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 15, 2017, 12:30 pm

    Spieth, Thomas headline winter break trip to Cabo

    By Grill Room TeamDecember 15, 2017, 1:05 am

    Justin Thomas and Jordan Spieth. Really good at golf. Really good at vacationing.

    With #SB2K18 still months away, Thomas and Spieth headlined a vacation to Cabo San Lucas, and this will shock you but it looks like they had a great time.

    Spring break veteran Smylie Kaufman joined the party, as did Thomas' roommate, Tom Lovelady, who continued his shirtless trend.

    The gang played all the hits, including shoeless golf in baketball jerseys and late nights with Casamigos tequila.

    Image via tom.lovelady on Instagram.

    In conclusion, it's still good to be these guys.