Lovely Belvedere a Treat for LA’s Cliff Martin

(This account, written by an SoHG member, seemed a fitting way to describe the 2015 Belvedere Hickory Open. “MacDuff”, as he prefers, has occasionally penned an article or two for the SoHG. For those of you who wish to skip to the tournament’s results, scroll to the bottom of the page for PDFs of the results by division. Photos, or a link to a photo gallery, will be added when available. – JD)

   I had been traveling this June and looked in at the Belvedere Hickory Open, which was described to me as one of modern hickory golf’s most charming events. At the urging of friends, I offer this account of my experiences there, with the necessary information regarding those who claimed victory in the several divisions. Alas, I was not among them.

   Dennis “Marty” Joy II, the host professional at the Belvedere Golf Club in Charlevoix, Mich., told me that some 66 players were in the field (from 18 U.S. states and Canada) and that it might have been more had there not been cancellations from “regulars” for such reasons as prevent all of us, on occasion, from enjoying our cherished traditions. Still, there were some 15 players who were new to the Belvedere Hickory Open, including Terry Pemberton of Virginia, who quickly fell under the spell of the lake region’s beauty and the hospitality of the warm and generous Belvedere Club members, who seem to make it a personal goal that every visitor feel at home and welcomed. Mr. Pemberton said that he, too, had come to Charlevoix on the recommendation of his fellow hickory players in Virginia. So much did he enjoy the Belvedere experience that he says he will make sure his wife accompanies him for a return visit in 2016. It was a common theme, repeated by fellows who came to golf, experienced the enchanting combination of Belvedere’s golf and socializing, and returned the following year with wives who were rewarded for their wisdom and patience in allowing their gentlemen to come in the first place.

   Mr. Joy takes great care in planning the event such that those ladies who have avoided golf’s allurements are presented with delightful day-long outings that include shopping and a lunch at the Casino, a comfortable and well-furnished clubhouse hard by Lake Charlevoix that is the gathering spot of the Belvedere Club members. Some 30 ladies enjoyed a walking tour of several of the old, but thoroughly modernized and quite lovely, Belvedere “cottages.” I place this within quotes as “cottage” may evoke the image of a small and cozy dwelling, nestled in the woods. This is not the Belvedere style. The grand cottages in the Club proper, founded in 1878 on land overlooking Lake Charlevoix, are many storied and multi-roomed, having housed successive generations, and enlarged and refurbished to suit the requirements of the latest inhabitants. There are 91 of these summer retreats. It is a wonderful old place of tradition and many families ties and friends who have come for years to enjoy the refreshing summer breezes of the lakes, the sparkling water… and the golf. For golf there was.

   The Belvedere golf course, designed by William Watson and opened in 1927, is not terribly long by the steroidal standards of modern championships, but is just right for the hickory player. Its fescue fairways are as wide and generous as its greens are tricky and fast. Over the past 10 years, for this was the 10th Belvedere Hickory Open, it has developed a reputation, deserved, of course, of fair and challenging golf, with the guarded exception of one devilish par four which brooks no mistake and suffers no fool gladly. Errors here may be compounded with impunity, to the extreme embarrassment of both the scratch man and the high handicapper. More on the 16th hole later.

   The weather was as fine as could be. A brief shower on the Thursday practice and scramble rounds did nothing to dampen enthusiasm, as all gave way to cool breezes, sunshine and the innumerable greens and textures of lush fairways and beautiful northern woods. The southern gentlemen were glad to escape the humid furnaces of their customary golfing grounds for a respite in northern Michigan’s delightful early summer paradise.

   As has become the tradition, all players, their friends and spouses, were hosted to a welcoming cocktail party on Thursday evening. In the past these have often been at the home of a gracious local host or hostess, but such was the number entrants, that Mr. Joy arranged an evening (as he did in 2014) on the spacious grounds of the Knight’s Courtyard at Castle Farms, a local establishment designed with rambling spaces and lawns, all well-suited for the many weddings and receptions that find Charlevoix the perfect setting. It is completely booked throughout the season.

   The room that held our buffet repast also stored two or three carriages, no doubt for the conveyance of brides and grooms to their appointed vows. Our own appointment was with the delicious food that had been arranged and with the open bar, liberally availed of nearly all of us.

Friday at the Belvedere Hickory Open
   Cool weather greeted the dawn on Friday and cool breezes, thankfully, remained throughout the day, for the sky was cloudless, a deep and lovely blue. Mr. Bert Hogg, the lanky Scotsman with a rich accent redolent of that country’s glens, moors, and links land, announced each group and player off the tee. Though the assembled on the tee might have numbered only four or five, hearing one’s name and town announced to God and man on that daunting and elevated tee above the first fairway, with high grass immediately below and all along the right hillside, well, it is enough to stir up a tremble or two. Several cries of “Oh, no!”, or “Keep an eye on it!”, or “I’ve got it”, were heard from that tee throughout the morning. Happy was the player who reached the fairway, glad to have his round underway, let future trials bring what they may.

   Your hapless correspondent was betrayed by a faithless niblick during the course of a lackluster performance punctuated by fits of accuracy and the occasional sinking of a monstrous putt of some 4 feet or so. I am told I possess a fine “push slice.” I would gladly part with it, but it seems to have taken up residence deep within my DNA.

   I mentioned this earlier – the 16th hole. It is, mostly, a fairly common par 4 of some 315 yards (the length from the “senior” tees) that bends gently right. A fairway bunker on the far right snatches only the most severe of slices, for there is generous landing room to the left. Following a successful drive, one is faced with perhaps a mashie or mashie niblick to the green. The longer fellows might take a niblick. From here, however, the hole comes into its tragic and fearsome reputation in the character of a malevolent narrow green maliciously carved into the gentle slopes of steep hill. Surely the hole’s creator divested his soul of its last shred of cruelty on this merciless green. The entire right side is shaved smoothly into the steeply sloping hillside. A careless approach or putt will quickly run toward the bottom, perhaps 15 to 20 feet below, where a community of divots and other desperate marks bear mute testament to the horror and debasement that have gone before.

   I managed a respectable double bogey and a bogey on my two trips to this little monster. My partner was not so lucky. He was one for whom all nature looked askance. There is little to describe in his repeated attempts to mount the hill. We have all been in such a spot. We know his frustrations. It is as equally hard to watch as to endure. It was a large number he took. He did so with head high and a wry, if weary, smile; a paragon of dignity in the face of pitiless tribulation.

   But succor was to come. Awaiting everyone at the Clubhouse was a bar of medicinal beverages and welcome snacks. The early warriors passed in their cards to the waiting scorekeeper, took refreshment and seat, then took stock of each successive group as these, too, came in and found comfort in drink, fellowship, and golf talk (“Did you hear about Dr. G on the 16th?”) on the shady Clubhouse patio. As the final scores were posted, each player, as students assessing exam results, came up to the board to learn his standing in the tournament. For many, this was a mere amusement, but for others there was anguish, perhaps, and not a little calculating as to what score must be posted on Saturday to have a go at whatever title may be within grasp. Friday’s scores, too, were the predictor of the Saturday pairings.

   Mr. Cliff Martin of Los Angeles, Calif., was the standout player of the day, having posted an unheard of 70. Eight strokes back were Ben Hollerbach, a former U.S. Hickory Open winner, and Jerry Esselman of Tampa, Fla. Marty Joy was another back at 79. From this final foursome would come the 2015 champion, though Messrs. Esselman, Hollerbach, and Joy had much work before them if they were to catch the soaring Mr. Martin.

   The Club hosted an early evening party in that same Clubhouse, where guests and players mingled to live music, and more good food and drink. Though a bit cool on the patio, it was a lovely place to watch the sun set behind the woods and trees that mark the far boundaries of the golf course. As the gloaming deepened to evening, groups of friends drifted off to more hearty repasts and nightcaps at one of Charlevoix’s many friendly pubs and restaurants. Some gatherings, I heard, went well into the night. As I was no longer “sleeping upon the lead,” I enjoyed a restful night when head finally found pillow.

Saturday at the Belvedere Hickory Open
   Should we be treated to another lovely day? Why not? Splendid Lake Michigan zephyrs continued to bless the area. Heavy storms that were predicted for the afternoon failed to produce more than a few dark clouds and light rain, and this only on the final groups.

   A brisk trade in putting, chipping, and range work was in progress as the early players worked to discover that last bit of magic that would see them through. Warm-ups completed, the groups made their way to the first tee at the elegant summons of Mr. Hogg.

   Paired with two congenial Michigan men, this golfer enjoyed a most pleasant round. It was a round of comedy and errors, of tragedy and triumph. Birdies were missed, triple bogies avoided and bright, unlooked for pars that provided considerable encouragement were all part of the day. (I am bound by honesty to report that a smattering of strong language may have been heard once or twice from my direction. For these, I heartily beg forgiveness and offer, as my defense, membership in that long suffering tribe of frail and vainglorious humanity – golfers.)

   As with Friday, finishing golfers reported to the Clubhouse to deliver the stories of their day as told by the cold, pencilled numbers on the score cards. Of course, the card tells but one part of the story as 18 holes of golf over a challenging course generates a jeremiad of woe and noble endeavor that only each golfer knows and, by tradition, relates at length to all within earshot throughout the long evening.

   As for the Final Four, if we may so describe it, the uncanny golf of Mr. Martin, with the exception of a few early stumbles, allowed no hope of pursuit. His 143 was the lowest score to be recorded at the Belvedere Hickory Open. Second was Mr. Hollerbach at 157, followed by Mr. Esselman at 160. Mr. Joy, perhaps diverted by his duties as host, fell to fifth with 163.

The Conclusion
   The Belvedere Hickory Open does not fold up when the last putt is sunk. The fun is just starting. At 6:30 p.m., the players, their spouses and friends, and many Belvedere Club members gather for a banquet and awards at the Casino. Lively is the talk during the preceding cocktail hour and dour must be the man who fails to find a pleasant and engaging conversation.

   I shall say it again, for I have found this to be true in all my hickory golfing travels, the gentlemen and ladies you find among hickory golfers are keen stewards of golf history, their enjoyment of the game and their depth of passion for the many aspects of modern hickory golf are without peer. Surely, this is a fundamental reason for the growth of hickory golf, whose numbers do not swell by leaps and bounds, rather in steady and incremental stages, nurtured by those discerning few who somehow understand, who intuitively feel, that hickory golf is, indeed, very close to the heart of the old game. Mr. Chuck McMullin noted that the personification of this ideal was well evidenced in the person of the late Ralph Livingston III, one of the early founders of modern hickory golf.

   Dinner of beef and whitefish, followed by a lovely dessert, were the stuff of a very tasty meal. Mr. Joy, ably assisted by Mr. Bert Hogg, presided over the awards, which were many and well deserved. I shall not elucidate here, as the score sheets are provided below. We will note here, however, that Mrs. Kris Ellington of Riverview, Mich. captured the Ladies title. She and Mrs. Sally Shiff, of Parkland, Fla., represented the better side of an overwhelmingly male field. I, for one, certainly hope that more ladies will join them in the future.

   Well done, all.

   Mr. Joy told me that he is most grateful to the many lads and lasses on his staff who began work at 5 a.m. during the event and stayed to close up the Clubhouse. He especially wished to thank Beau Boss, Andrew Plude, and Logan Hess.

   To all of them, to Mr. Joy, and to the players and guests at the 2015 Belvedere Hickory Open, I, too, thank all of you for helping this lonely wanderer enjoy one of the finest hickory golf outings in the world, on one of the loveliest golf courses, and among the finest people anywhere.

   As for 2016, Mr. Joy said, “I do have a few ideas up my sleeve.” We do know that the 2016 tournament is scheduled for June 16-18. It is already marked on my calendar.

   For now, I do have a fine “push slice” to work on. Any ideas?


Click here for the overall Belveredere Hickory Open Awards and Results.

Click here for Open Division results.

Click here for Senior Division results.

Click here for Super Senior results.

A word with the champion
   Mr. Cliff Martin, who is a member of the Bel-Air Country Club of Los Angeles, felt the golf bug in 1985 when he discovered the famous series of golf instructionals made by Bobby Jones Jr. “I watched those tapes from start to finish and I try to keep that visual image ingrained in my mind,” he said.

   During one of his occasional visits to St. Andrews, Scotland, Mr. Martin saw an advertisement for the Kingarrock Golf Course, a 9-hole hickory-only course on the grounds of a former estate in nearby Cupar. He went out with six clubs, shot a 36, repeated that during a follow-up visit the next year and was in love with hickories.

   He had hoped to compete in several hickory outings in 2014, but needed time to recuperate from a neck surgery. Now, in 2015, he hopes to carry through on the plan. Mr. Martin had heard and read about the Belvedere Hickory Open and put it on his itinerary. He brought his 6-year-old son, his mother, and the boy’s nanny along to make the Charlevoix trip a family outing. They took great pleasure in the many wonders of the Charlevoix area as well as Mackinac Island.

   “You would not see me swimming,” he said, “but we enjoyed seeing the clearest water anywhere as well as the green woods, and sunsets, and boats – there is just a great vibe to the whole area.”

  The golf course, he said, “was a delight. It fit my eye and made sense the way the layout was designed,. The green complexes were interesting, you could put yourself into some really bad places. The whole experience was wonderful and the staff could not have been nicer.

   “I will make every effort to return next year to defend the title. I’ll bring my son again and try to come earlier to take in more of the area.”

   Mr. Martin often tees it up with some of the California hickory groups, and estimates he uses his hickory clubs about 70 percent of the time. He says he is working on fellow Bel-Air members to give it a try, but the going is slow for now.

   The clubs in his bag are mostly modern replicas, which he prefers to travel with, saying he is loathe to put his originals through the dubious baggage practices of modern airports. But there is a mixture of originals that he enjoys. “My putter is an old Spalding and my favorite bulldog is a Wilsonian that I hit as well or better than any reproduction club.”