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Golf Course Hall of Fame: Country Club of Jackson
By Jack Berry

The Country Club of Jackson is the site for this yearís Michigan Amateur Championship.

What would you say about a club whose three main managers, the golf course superintendent, professional and club manager, have been there a total of 66 years? What would you say about a club where membership costs $8,000 and that covers 27 holes of golf, range, swimming pool, tennis courts and fitness center?

What would you say about a club whose membership roster includes two Michigan Amateur champions and a former PGA Tour star who holds the course record with a 12-under-par 60?

What would you say about a club that has hosted six Michigan Amateur championships including the second of Chuck Kocsis' record six Amateurs and four of Glenn Johnson's five titles? A club that hosted for more than a dozen years racing baron Roger Penske's annual Foote Hospital fund-raiser featuring Greg Norman, Davis Love III, Fred Couples, Jeff Sluman, Chi Chi Rodriguez, Indy car drivers Bobby Rahal, Danny Sullivan, Al Unser Jr. and Tony Bettenhausen, country singer Vince Gill and Miami Vice's Don Johnson. More than $1 million was raised for the hospital.

You'd probably say this is a club with a glitzy reputation and would be surprised that it is the Country Club of Jackson, not quite a hidden jewel but perhaps not given the awareness it deserves as one of the premier golf clubs in Michigan, a club with a tradition of playing, serving and sponsoring the game.

Jackson's roots are deep, all the way back to 1898 when Clara Carter, who learned to play golf while attending an eastern college, laid out nine holes near Vandercook Lake, east of the present CCJ site. That club was called Meadow Heights and eventually its members sold the land and bought two land grant farms on Horton Road. The land grant deeds were signed by President Andrew Johnson in the mid-19th Century.

Arthur Hamm, who had worked as a field superintendent for Donald Ross, laid out 18 holes and it has stood the test of time, nothing fancy, no tricks, no island greens, forced carries or cross hazards, everything laid in front of you with the holes bordered by a variety of splendid mature trees, giant oaks, evergreens, pines and firs.

While most courses built in the 1920s and 1930s sit on 120 to 50 acres, CCJ's original 18 holes are on 340 acres and as GAM Past President Wally Abers said while playing the course this spring "Listen to what you can't hear. No traffic, just the birds."

The park-like setting led Michigan State University agronomists to ask Golf Course Superintendent Bill Madigan if they could plant some test plots of grass along the 12th hole. Madigan gave permission and the agronomists put irrigation flags out to mark the various plots. One day Madigan was driving Greens Committee chairman Robert Hancock on the course and Hancock asked about the flags and Madigan told him.

"Don't they have any room up there?" Hancock asked.

He made sure MSU did, donating funds that resulted in the Hancock Turfgrass Research Center. MSU started with a 10-acre test area on the East Lansing campus and now it is 55-plus acres and part of the program that has produced improved golf course grasses and graduated hundreds of golf course superintendents.

Madigan is in his 33rd year at the CCJ and in Michigan, only Clem Wolfrom of Detroit Golf Club has been at the same post longer. Madigan's tenure is typical of Jackson. Brian Funston has 22 years in as club manager and golf professional Ron Beurmann has been at Jackson for 12 years.

"I've had opportunities to move a couple of times," Beurmann said. "Then when I was driving home I said "What am I doing? Why would I ever want to leave this? I've worked all over the place and no place is like this. Jackson is a close-knit community and everything seems so relaxed here. We have members who spend the winter down South and when they get back here they just kind of let out their breath.

"It's hard to believe what we have here - 27 holes of golf (the third nine, designed by Arthur Hills, opened in 1992), a beautiful driving range, a new fitness center, swimming pool and Bill has the course in perfect shape, like Augusta National. And the price, people can't believe."

Stockholding membership, which includes the unlimited use of all facilities - the golf course, range, pool, fitness center, tennis courts and clubhouse, is $8,000 (including $4,500 for stock purchase) with monthly dues of $305, capital assessment of $35 and a dining minimum of $25 a month. That's for folks 40 and over. Intermediate membership is $2,500 with monthly dues of $228.75 and junior membership, age 21 to 32, is $1,000 with monthly dues of $152.50. And the intermediate and junior memberships include use of all facilities. That is mind-bogglingly low compared to the metropolitan Detroit area.

"We were going down (in membership) in 1995 and we hired a marketing director," club manager Brian Funston said. "We had 450 members. Now we have 590."

The Country Club was an eye-opener for Beurmann who hadn't been there before he interviewed for the position and that's just part of CCJ's proud but low profile.

Vic Cuiss is typical of that. He's been a member since 1953, was club champion five times, was president in 1980 and served golf statewide as chairman of the Michigan Amateur Committee from 1974-86 and president of the Golf Association of Michigan in 1987-88.

"The Country Club always has been a very, very friendly club and the whole county has been golf-oriented," Cuiss said. "We have good golf courses, good junior programs, good professionals and we've had great support from the newspaper, the Citizen Patriot. The late Al Cotton set the tone when he was sports editor. Local golf was covered big time. When the city championship is played, there always are big headlines and that gets the kids interested. There are 14 county-wide tournaments and the paper really supports them. Gary Kalahar is out at all the tournaments now and he comes from a golf family. You talk about a good golf town - it's infectious here," Cuiss said.

Jackson has produced three Michigan Amateur champions and two of them, Steve Maddalena and Denny Vass, are CCJ members. Todd Marston, who won the 1989 title at CCJ, was a member at nearby Arbor Hills. Maddalena, a three-time Amateur champion, has won the CCJ championship 12 times and Vass three times.

The 1989 Amateur marked the sixth time CCJ hosted the championship and it was due to Cuiss, then GAM president.

"Belvedere (longtime Amateur home in Charlevoix) raised the fee. They thought no one else would take the tournament. But the GAM couldn't afford it," Cuiss said. "I went to the board (at CCJ) and asked if they'd take the tournament and they did."

That started the Amateur moving to clubs around the state and now it's so popular that it's booked well in advance, like the U.S. Open.

Jackson was "home" though, for Grosse Ile's Glenn Johnson in the 1950s when he won the Amateur three straight years, 1954-56, at the Country Club. And he won it again in 1961 when the Amateur returned to Jackson.

"The first time I won I played Jack Gregory in the semifinals and I'd never gotten to the final. I'd been beaten twice in the semifinals. I was 1-up on Jack at the 17th and he hit into the bunker and I made a hole-in-one. We just shook hands on the tee and the match was over. When I left Jackson to drive home after winning the final (1-up on the 22nd hole over Ed Ervasti) I was overwhelmed. I thought it was something I'd never do again," Johnson said.

But he did. He beat John Kurach, 3-2, the next year and in 1954 met hometown favorite Dr. Bob Corley, eight-time Country Club champion, in the final. Johnson won, 1-up.

Johnson's fourth victory, in 1961, was over Pontiac schoolteacher Mike Andonian and Andonian led, 3-up, playing the ninth hole and Johnson said he thought "It looks like the silver tea set" which was given to the Amateur runner-up.

But Johnson, a premier match player, quickly turned the match around, won the 10th and 11th holes, the latter when Andonian was forced to play a shot left-handed, and finally won on the 18th hole.

"It's a course management course," Johnson said of the Country Club and no one ever has managed it better than home towner, and CCJ member, Dave Hill who caddied at the club as a youngster.

Hill set the CCJ record with 10 birdies and an eagle for a 12-under-par 60 on June 26, 1974, the year he won the Houston Open, his 11th of 13 career PGA Tour victories. Hill's caddie said it could have been better - he missed three short putts.

Hill played that day with Al Glick, co-owner of ALRO Steel with his brother, Robert, and Glick supported both Dave and Mike Hill during their professional careers and they wore ALRO Steel caps.

Andy Andrews played too and he was a formidable player in the Michigan Amateur along with Bob Corley and then Steve Maddalena came on, winning the first of his three Amateur crowns in 1980 over John Morse at Belvedere Golf Club in Charlevoix. Morse went on to play on the PGA Tour. Maddalena won again in 1990 at Meadowbrook, defeating Tom Gillis who now plays on the European PGA Tour, and in 1995 at Red Run Golf Club.

Maddalena plays in his 25th Michigan Amateur this year and still is a strong player as is Mike Raymond who is chairman of the Amateur. Raymond has teamed twice with Beurmann to win the state pro-amateur championship. And 66-year-old Tom Arch, the club senior champion, qualified for the 2002 Amateur.

Beurmann said the key stretch will be the 7th through the 12th holes.

"They're the longer par 4s (414, 436, 412), the 10th is the longest par 3 (233 yards), the 11th is a tight par 5 and the 12th is a dogleg right through thick trees with two big bunkers at the green. It takes a good tee shot to get a clear shot at the green," Beurmann said.

At 389 yards, that's not a long hole for the field of Michigan's best amateurs. But, like the Country Club of Jackson, it's a handsome hole and deceptively strong. MG

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