Three miles north of Empire, on the north side of highway M-22 is an open field that is in “transition."
I used to, during the warmer months from 1969 to 1974, grab three used golf balls and anything from a six iron to a pitching wedge from my dad’s golf bag and cross the highway to this field. I began playing golf on actual golf courses in 1975, but for the previous five years, a wide open field and an even wider open mind is where I spent my time.
I hit golf balls from east to west and back. I made up stories in my head from one end of that field to the other. The golfer and the writer that I am today was molded on that tract of land that is now part of the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.
The stories ran the gamut, but they generally included me, a golf club and a complicated setting much different than an open field three miles north of Empire.
Graduating from high school, going to college and then kissing this sleepy and future-less neighborhood goodbye was always chapter one in my book. The boundless fame and fortune, the success and the happy life that I always pictured found far from this simple home filled chapters two through whatever. I simply did not see, as a kid, what the attraction was to Empire or Leelanau County. Every grade school class trip was to the Sand Dunes, every available job catered to tourists, every summer was too short and every winter too cold and snowy.
I simply couldn’t wait to leave.
This open field was bounded on two sides by the highway which curved to head north at its eastern end. The other two sides were a stand of pine trees that still tower and a small family farm that went fallow and was absorbed into the National Lakeshore as well.