Indian River Golf Club Celebrates 100 Years
By Greg Johnson
Indian River Golf Club, a unique member of the Gaylord Golf Mecca, is celebrating 100 years of golf this summer. The friendliest club in the north clearly knows how to celebrate. They are offering a special Monday golf rate for all visitors, dedicated events for members throughout the summer, and even a commemorative book.
Yes, a 240-page book.
First, for always-welcome visitors to the member-owned club, there is a special centennial rate for 2023 on all Mondays through the golf season. It’s, of course, $20.23 to play nine holes with a cart. Sure, you can play 18 if you choose, for the double-fun price of $40.46. Remember, Mondays only. Here’s an idea — book it with a Gaylord Golf Mecca package by visiting gaylordgolfmecca.com.
Also, there are multiple events planned for members, including a late June celebration with live music, and a par 3 contest on the storied No. 9 hole with hickory-shafted clubs dating back to the 1923 origins of what was then called Burt Lake Golf Club. Michigan Golf Hall of Famer Wilfrid Reid designed the original nine. In August, there are plans for members to recreate and play a layout with tees and greens to match the original design as much as possible.
“The members will enjoy several things, themed nine-hole and dinner events with a different aspect from the last 100 years each month being celebrated,” Corey Crowell, the head golf professional said. “There’s a great membership here that is dedicated to the club, and of course for us to maintain what they want to have here, we welcome public play as part of this great golf destination up north. We love for our visitors to realize how special it is to have 100 years of history in a course they can play.”
Which brings us back to the book: Member George Byrnes is soon to publish Indian River Golf Club, The First 100 Years. It’s 240 pages with pictures and narrative.
“I tried to not just tell the story of the course, but tell the story of member-run club, its ups and downs through history, how it survived through significant world events such as the Depression and World War II,” Byrnes said. “One of the things I want to get across is the importance of the commitment the members had and have to make. The membership has to make a difference if the club is going to continue to thrive.”
Byrnes is a retired English professor. He met his wife, Linda DeMeritt, a professor of German who became the first female provost in the 200-year history of Allegheny College in Meadville, Pennsylvania. Linda’s family owned a place in Indian River for several years. “I fell in love with the woman, and then I fell in love with Northern Michigan and we bought a place up here next to Linda’s parents,” he said. “I’ve been a member since 2000.”
Inspired by a friend’s book about a golfer, especially the book’s cover that showed a historic clubhouse that reminded him of a photo of Indian River’s first clubhouse, Byrnes said he got the “centennial fever” about 2 ½ years before the other members.
He started researching publications, local newspaper archives, connected with a grandson of designer Wilfrid Reid online and learned about “Wilfie’s” career. After learning the name Carl Goerke, the club’s first greenskeeper, he decided to knock on doors on nearby Goerke Road to see what connection he might find. The first knock was at the home of one of Carl’s daughters who gave him a picture of Carl hand-mowing one of the greens.
“There has been some serendipity to this,” he said. “There’s great history. We have families going back to the 1920s who have always maintained a connection with the club.”
Byrnes said there is much more in the book, and he offered a few final nuggets.
“I don’t think many people know that when I-75 was routed north to the bridge, the original routing was going to cut right through the community and right through the golf course, essentially wiping out the heart of Indian River and the course,” he said. “Citizens were obviously up in arms and the routing was moved east of the community where it is now.”
Byrnes also noted that the club has always been administered by member-run standing committees and the club’s officers. During the Depression, the club had only 15 members. By 1963, it was still struggling and showed total earnings of only $10,000. After costs and salaries of three employees, it made just $1,000. Sixty years later, the annual earnings top $1 million with $100,000 after costs. The club also employs 50 people, making it one of the largest employers in the Indian River area.
There’s much more Byrnes is sharing like the club’s investment of over $3 million in the facilities since the course expanded to 18 holes in 1986 and built a new clubhouse in 1994. But for the whole story, you are going to have to get the book, which Byrnes plans to have available for purchase by visiting golfers and history buffs in the pro shop of the friendliest club in the north. Learn more about Indian River at indianrivergolfclub.com and learn more about the Gaylord Golf Mecca at gaylordgolfmecca.com.