Now Playing: Alpena City Open
The author returns home to compete in his local Open, spend time with his family and restore his love for the game
By Ryan French
That night featured yet another round of phone calls among my siblings, my mother and me. I remember the conversation that led to the decision my wife and I made to move home. My dad had wandered off again, just as he had done a few times since his dementia had gotten worse. He wasn’t wearing the device that tracks his whereabouts, and my mom was in tears. After one of the calls, Steph turned to me and said, “It’s time.”
My brother kindly offered his vacation home for us to live in, and after the school year ended in June in Chicago, we attached a U-Haul container to the roof of the car and moved back to where I grew up. Not a day goes by that I’m not thankful we moved home. As my travel has increased, Steph has dedicated her life to caring for my dad and our two kids. On most days, my mom drops my dad off at our house so that she can get a break.
Although I love golf more than most, I haven’t loved playing for some time. When our kids were born, I basically stopped playing. The few times I did play over the course of a year, I longed for the times I could regularly shoot in the mid to low 70s. I hate playing lousy golf, so I often turned down any opportunities. That changed in early July.
Todd Skiba, a family friend who has run a three-person scramble on the Fourth of July for a few years, invited me out. I was put on a team with Jim Olesen, a member at the Country Club (now called River’s Edge, but will always be the Country Club to me) , and the now infamous Benny. We began the shotgun start on the par-5 18th, and the rain had started to fall. Our drive left us 235 yards to the pin over the water guarding the green. I didn’t have a hybrid, so I borrowed Benny’s. As soon as the ball left the face, I knew it was good. But it was difficult to see in the rain. We took the bridge across, and that’s when I felt a slap on my shoulder from Benny. The ball had stopped three feet from the cup; we tapped in for eagle. Just like that, I was welcomed back into the Alpena golf fraternity.
I became a regular in the Wednesday night league. Our regular game features groups of three counting the two best-ball scores. It’s $20 per person ($10 for the team game, $10 for skins), and there are always three to six groups. It has made golf fun again. I can’t thank the guys in the group enough for renewing my love of playing. I look forward to those Wednesday nights.
That led to my playing in the City Open for the first time in years, but sadly, my dad wasn’t on the bag for me, as he had been so many times before. Mark Baldwin came in as a worthy replacement. (At least I thought he would be. We don’t need to remind everyone he forgot the rangefinder, do we?) I hadn’t played competitive golf in some time, and I was surprised by my nerves on the first tee.
My game has improved since I started to play regularly again, but it was not tournament ready. Between the nerves and the chipping yips, I struggled. I shot 83-79 to finish eighth in the 14-player championship flight. And I loved every second of it.
Benny showed up drunk on two hours’ sleep and fired an opening-round 72; Erik Peterson, who had worked at his family’s bar until late the previous night, led after the first round. Nate Swinson, who works in Florida but is from Alpena, made a fantastic eagle on the last to win.
Moving home has opened my eyes about Alpena’s scars, something I didn’t reflect on while growing up here. The industries that have helped shape the town are struggling, and the city has along with it. Most young people leave.
But Alpena has many great qualities too. Most every person who walks by says hello, neighbors will help with anything, and the sense of community is strong.
Mostly, my return has allowed me to help my parents, and it has renewed my passion for the game. Thank you for that, Alpena. I will forever be indebted to you.
Enjoy our video from the Alpena City Open. I hope you love it as much as I do.