Traverse City Record-Eagle

Reflections

August 29, 2009

Rough and tumble golf business

BEULAH -- Justin Keillor remembers well the care-free days he spent roaming his family's Crystal Lake Golf Club in the heart of Benzie County.

Keillor spent many of his summer days as a youth around golf courses with his father, Bruce, whose family purchased the course just off U.S. 31 near Beulah in the late 1980s. His dad was a golf professional there and at other courses in the Midwest, and in his early days young Justin would "hang out" at dad's workplace, honing his game or wandering the property as an adventuresome boy might do.

"I was just fascinated with the game," Keillor said. "He would take me to work and I would bum around all day -- I loved it there."

Life has changed a lot for Keillor since those days -- but in other ways, not much at all. He still spends most of his time at the golf course, and lives with his family at a home along the course where he grew up.

But the days aren't as care-free anymore. As general manager and club president of his family's course, Keillor constantly searches for ways to sustain and grow a business that's been turned upside down in northern Michigan. An exploding number of public courses around the region combined with a flat and aging golfing population is putting a financial squeeze on northern Michigan's golf industry.

Several courses closed in recent years, including this year's shut down of High Pointe golf course in Acme, one of the early gems of world-renowned golf course architect Tom Doak, of Traverse City. Another course, King's Challenge in Leelanau County designed by golf legend Arnold Palmer, hung by a financial thread before Homestead resort owner Robert Kuras led a local group to re-open the track.

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