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September 2021

When the Supporter Becomes the Supported

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By Steve Eubanks

Michigan Country Club Renewal is Emblematic of The Country

For decades the small town of Midland, Michigan, two hours by car from Detroit and a healthy bike ride from the sandy shores of Bay City, has relied on its local country club, the Midland Country Club, to be there when charities needed help. From Monday outings that are a regular part of the club’s portfolio, to the local charities that benefit from the Dow Great Lakes Bay Invitational and the annual LPGA Tour event hosted at Midland CC, the club was always the place to raise money for worthwhile causes and keep the community whole. 

Then, in the middle of a pandemic, the dam broke. Literally.

On May 19 of 2020, three dams holding the Tittabawassee River breached. The first caused most of Secord Lake to spill into Wixom Lake. Catastrophe followed when the dam on the Wixom Lake also burst, sending all that water into Sanford Lake, which couldn’t hold it. The third dam breached and Sanford, Midland and other farms, unincorporated hamlets, and roadside stops most people outside Michigan couldn’t find on a map were swallowed in a biblical plague.

Low-lying Midland Country Club didn’t stand a chance. According to Wendy Traschen, who owns a high-end restaurant in Midland called Whine, but who is also the tournament director for the Dow Great Lakes Bay Invitational, “The whole place looked like a lake. Within six hours, homes were swept away. Many others were flooded. We had about four feet of water in the basement of the country club clubhouse (which sits on the highest part of the property). If you were lucky enough to have a home on high ground, you were lakefront for a couple of days. But the damage was enormous.”

Then, in typical understated Midwestern fashion, Traschen said, “It was a lot for Midland. There wasn’t a lot of notice.”

So, what happened when the club that had supported the community for years needed some support of its own? 

“We had some wonderful people who all came out,” said Todd Beals, the club’s general manager. “We had high-level executives with Dow (the chief employer in the town and the reason a town the size of Midland has so many high-end amenities) out here in waders moving furniture and helping people save what they could.”

Then Beals paused for a moment before saying, “I’d rather go through a pandemic and a flood here in Midland than just a pandemic anywhere else. The people here are that good.”

A year later, you would expect to see remnants of the flood. The 9th Ward of New Orleans has yet to recover from Hurricane Katrina and that was in 2005. But the town of Midland looks like a Disney park. Both sides of the main road from US Route 10 to the entrance of Midland Country Club are lined with flowers, yellow and orange, without a weed in sight. The lawns and shrubs are manicured, and the downtown restaurants are hopping. The minor-league baseball park is one of the best in the country, with citizens riding scooters to the gates before the first pitch. And, with the return of the LPGA in July of 2021, Midland Country Club was, once again, one of the best-conditioned courses on the professional schedule. If you weren’t told, you’d never know that the bridge to the island green at the 18th hole is new. And you would have no idea that the lower level of the clubhouse, including the locker rooms and gym, were full of water only 14 months prior.

“The great thing about Dow Chemical Company is that they are masters at problem solving,” Traschen said. “Within an hour (of the flood), Jim Fitterling, the CEO of Dow, had a plan. They had a task force in place and the communication was incredible. They worked with the American Red Cross and began a process of rescue and renewal immediately.”

Visitors, including the LPGA Tour players who participated in the Dow event, certainly noticed. “That's what's so great about towns like this,” said former American Solheim Cup player Alison Lee. “You see the bond they have, not just to each other but to the town and to the event they host. There is a sense of coming together. You go to a restaurant down the street and they’re like ‘Oh, are you playing in the tournament?’ Where I'm from in Los Angeles, we have the Wilshire event and I'll go to a restaurant, literally across the street from Wilshire Country Club, and they'll be like, ‘Oh, you play golf? That's a thing?’”

It’s a thing in Midland, Michigan, where people who are not members at Midland Country Club came out to support the professional event, the town, and to take pride in the recovery efforts all had made.

“To have this tour event means a lot to everybody,” Traschen said. “You have your inner circle of people that you have remained close to for the last 16 months. But then you have your outer circle - Jim in the coffee shop, or Sarah down the hall - people you’ve been in contact with but that you haven’t seen. This might be the first time you are seeing those people in more than a year. That’s what is so great about this club and this event. That’s why everyone you see is so emotional.”

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