Christopherson Column: The family game of a lifetime carries on

Mike Christopherson
Crookston Times

    “It’s the family game of a lifetime.”

    My first thought during my interview years ago with Lee Leach, whose family owns and operates Minakwa Golf Club in Crookston, was that the words he chose to sum up his thoughts on the game of golf amounted to a pretty corny quote for a story I was writing. But I used it. I think I even incorporated it into the headline.

    Cornball or not, Lee was right. From one generation to the next, golf is the family game of a lifetime.

    Golf was a foreign concept to my family when we moved to Minnesota in the late 1970s. Then there were some work-related golf outings for my dad, and soon he was given of a set of clubs for Christmas.

    A set for your average weekend hacker was basic in those days. You had four irons – 3, 5, 7 and 9 – a putter and a couple of persimmon woods. You were living large if you had a pitching wedge in your bag.

    But my dad started to play a bit, and so did I, with him. Oak Knolls in Red Lake Falls was our course. I was just a kid and didn’t have my own set, so when we were out of view of the clubhouse he’d give me his 3 or 5-iron, drop a ball on the ground and let me have at it.

    When Minakwa ditched its haughty private status and became a more affordable public golf course, we played there. I got a basic set of clubs, and soon convinced myself I needed to fortify my weaponry by purchasing, for $10 each, a 4, 6 and 8-iron from an Austads Golf catalog.

    When my parents made Maple Bay their permanent home and I moved back to Crookston after college, my dad and I were introduced to the minor miracle that is Sandhill River Golf Club in Fertile. The course is immaculate and memberships are cheap, so much so that when I tell my golfing friends in the Twin Cities-area and elsewhere in the country what I pay for a family membership in Fertile, they throw up a little bit in their mouths.

    Even better, the staff at SRGC understood the level of dedication possessed by the early morning golfer who wants to tee off when there’s still dew on the grass, a mist over the ponds, and deer meandering through the fairways and along the forest edge. Crack-of-dawn golfers like my dad and I were happy to sacrifice sleep in favor of getting 18 holes in, and often 27, before the parking lot started to fill up with golfers who prefer additional slumber to playing nine holes in an hour.

       Even if our scores weren’t always the greatest, those were always the greatest days. The deer got so accustomed to having us around we could practically drive right up to them in our cart before they’d get spooked. A few times they even trotted onto the greens to check out our balls after we’d hit our approaches.

    Time rolls on, though, as it always does.

    Dads get older. The swing gets shorter and the ball doesn’t soar as far. Most irons remain in the bag, as rescue clubs and fairway metals are necessary for most shots. The aches and pains and various ailments add up and take their toll. There are shoulder surgeries, hip surgery, and subsequent fears of reinjuring or at least re-aggravating something on the course.

    My dad with tremendous reluctance gave up the game a couple years ago. He went out a couple times with me to chip and putt while I played a round, but it’s not the same.

    But it helps that the family game of our lifetime continues. Every time we visit our oldest son in Duluth, we play on a course nearby. He even started working at Northland Country Club in Duluth a couple weeks ago. And our youngest son, much closer by and the most talented golfer in the family, has picked up the go-golfing-with-dad torch and is running with it.

    No, we’re not beating the rising sun to the first tee box in Fertile any longer or at Minakwa, which is located around a par five’s length from our home – funny, as I’ve gotten older, the appeal of setting my alarm for 4:30 a.m. has waned – but the Christophersons are playing the game. That includes my wife, who’s capable of crushing it off the tee and is still picking up the nuances of hitting consistent quality iron shots. (Aren’t we all?)

    I’m finding that playing golf later in the morning and even in the afternoon and evening is downright tolerable. When you’re with family doing something you enjoy, nothing is unbearable, even waiting at every tee box for the epic hackers in front of you who refuse to let you play through.

    I find our youngest son seemingly trying to make sure that I know he’s having a great time on the course with me. It’s like he feels the need to assure me and then reassure me that he’s not just begrudgingly filling the void left in our family golf dynamic by my dad finally having to hang up his bag. He wants to play, and play with me.

    “I had a really great time,” our youngest son must have said a half-dozen times after we played 18 holes last Saturday.

    I didn’t even answer. I didn’t have to. Any words from me would have amounted to stating the obvious.

     Lee Leach’s wisdom lives on. Thanks be to that.

Mike Christopherson, Crookston Times managing editor