"Well," Evan Burt said, squinting in the afternoon sun, "I came here seven years ago for a summer job. And I'm still here."
Other accommodations include the Thoroughbred Loft and Homestead Condominiums, both bordering the golf course. I stayed in the Loft, a gorgeous three-story rustic hotel with - gasp! -running water, television, telephone, a minifridge and even Jacuzzis in select suites. Don't expect plush carpeting or mahogany furnishings, but after a day on the ranch, you will welcome the room for what it was designed for - sleeping.
According to the literature, I was "minutes away, miles from the ordinary" attending the annual Media Golf Round-Up at the 1,500-acre ranch with its adjoining championship golf course. So I was ready for anything that weekend, including taking part in my first rodeo on Friday. The ranch holds about twenty rodeos a year, and this particular weekend marked the first of the 2003 season.
During one of the audience participation portions of the rodeo, I was coaxed into the rodeo ring, only to find myself chasing baby bulls with ribbons tied to their tails. The object was to snag one of these ribbons, and the winning ribbon would win a cute lil' statue commemorating the feat.
All but one of the bulls had been stripped, and I found myself uniquely poised to rip a ribbon off the running ribeye.
A kick and a snort later, my cow dung-encrusted hand holds a ribbon up high over my head.
No, I didn't win the prize, but I felt like I had.
The rodeo clowns performed amusing skits, and the real cowboys busting broncos and bull riding were amazing to watch. Other audience participation moments included trying to ride wild donkeys and an impressive display of skill from some of the more regular attendees, galloping atop steeds from one end of the ring to secure a rope on the other end in a rodeo-style elimination game.
I hadn't read the literature before mounting the cart to traverse the Thoroughbred; this course is listed among the top ten courses in America by Men's Journal. Nor did I know it was labeled "one of America's Best," by Golfweek. But I was swept away by the blend of nature and man's nurture, evident on every hole.
Old-growth forest stands amid manicured bent-grass greens. My novice skills were severely tested that day, much to the chagrin of the rest of my scramble quartet. Luckily Evan had played the course, and was able to give pointers to the more experienced players, Robert and Cornell. Me, I just swung and swore, prayed and putted. I found myself wishing that Arthur Hills, the course designer whom we met before the shotgun start, hadn't designed his idea with scribbling lines on a napkin that would later translate into the Thoroughbred and handing said napkin to Double JJ Ranch owners Bob and Joan Lipsitz one day in 1993. The horse I was to ride on Sunday morning and its compadres would have had another 6,900 yards to graze upon. When I read later the course had been named "one of the top 100 woman-friendly courses in America," by Golf for Women, I was relieved that we didn't keep individual scores. Unleashing an amateur like me on a breathtaking course like Thoroughbred - well, we've all heard enough Annika Sorenstam jokes, haven't we?
Sunday's morning horse ride found me astride Lots O' Spots, a mare who was as gentle as she was beautiful. The 45-minute ride meandered through the property at a leisurely pace, allowing us to enjoy the splendor of the scenery. Later that morning I took advantage of a brilliant sunny day to take pictures of the town square, complete with a mock jail and sheriff's office and a real full-service restaurant and country store.
If you get hungry at the Thoroughbred, then be prepared for the deep-fried delights served with friendly faces at the Waterin' Hole open-air bar and grill just behind the pro shop. And while at the 8th hole, or on the back nine, you can even place dinner orders by phone for later at the Sundance.
If you're looking for a posh golf resort replete with amenities, then the Double JJ Ranch and Thoroughbred Golf Resort isn't for you. However, in one's quest for the perfect golf course, if you desire extracurricular activities like participating in a rodeo or swinging on giant wooden swings alongside a picturesque lakeshore or hanging out at a boot-stompin' hoedown, then don't pass up this place I know in Rothbury, Michigan, that has cast its spell on the likes of Evan, and I'm sure it will have you returning year after year.
I'll probably see ya there, pardner.
- By Chuck Tyler, South Bend, Indiana Correspondent.