A group of friends from Minnesota who found mini-golf as a way to stay in touch with one-another after high school graduation from Anoka High School in 2004, visited the Ludington Area Jaycees Mini Golf Course on Thursday not only to play the game they have grown to love but also to raise money for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Michigan.
The friends — Michael Babcock, Tony Haakensen and Alex Cram — have been on a week long mini-golf journey from Copper Harbor that will eventually end in Grand Rapids.
This is the 12th year that the friends have been raising money and awareness of local charities. It is the first time they have visited the state of Michigan.
The friends call themselves the Mini-Golf Guys, and they have been traveling from course to course putting their way through state after state.
“The basic idea is that we are extremely good friends who wanted to find a way to stay close as we got older and ended up living in different communities. I live in Michigan, Tony in Minnesota and Alex in California, so this trip is sometimes the only time we see each other every year,” he said.
While playing the Jaycees’ course, the group of three were raising money for the Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Lakeshore housed in Muskegon.
“While we aren’t active participants, all three of us greatly admire the work they do and are excited to be supporting it,” he said. “The organizations we’ve worked with so far have been so amazing. It’s hard to know exactly how much we’ve raised, but our guess is we’ll over $1,000 in cash donations and in-kind donations.”
The only rules for the game is to play by the courses house rules, according to Alex and Michael. Michael has a commanding lead in strokes for this year’s tour of courses, and he chooses to play with each course’s shortest putter.
On Thursday, Mary Burden followed the three as they played the course, which is mostly made up of holes that are locally sponsored by organizations or businesses, telling them of Ludington’s and Mason County’s history.
Prior to playing the course in Ludington, the Mini-Golf Guys tournament began at the Mine Shaft & Rock House in Houghton on Sunday and continued to courses in Copper Harbor, Florence, Wisc; Escanaba, Manistique, Munising, Sault Ste. Marie, St, Ignace, Mackinaw, Indian River, Petoskey, Traverse City, Lake City, Interlochen, Benzonia, Manistee and Mears. The group will travel to Rothbury, Montague, Muskegon, Grand Haven and Grandville in the next few days.
By the end of their journey the group will have raised funds for Big Brothers Big Sister of the Lakeshore, Marquette and Alger Counties, U.P. Kids (Big BrotherBig Sisters Western Upper Peninsula), Northwest Michigan and of the Bay Area (Escanaba Area).
Babcock, who is no stranger to Ludington, spent his childhood visiting his grandparents who lived here and was excited to be back to see his grandma and introduce his friends to the area, if only for a day.
“So far to me, the best part of this journey was our night with the men’s league in Munising. They have a bunch of great guys up there that play once a week all summer after the course is closed,” he said. “There were nine of them that night, and those guys were a blast to hang out with. It’s awesome to see them forge strong friendships over the game of mini-golf like that, and something I found very inspiring.”
Haakenson said this is the first time that he has been in the Lower Peninsula.
He said the best part of this year’s adventure so far has been seeing a number of miniature golf courses being recently revitalized by new owners and the local communities showing their support, highlighting the importance of offering social and analog activities for local youth and their families.
For Cram the highlight was playing miniature golf with Lizzie at Pirates Cove. Lizzie is a Little in the Big Brothers Big Sisters of Northwestern Michigan program.
“Having her on the course Wednesday morning with her Big and other BBBS representatives really made what we are doing real,” he said. “Seeing the smiles on these kids’ faces out on the green make it all worth it.”
During their 18 holes of play on Thursday, the friends enjoyed each other’s company along with the several members of the Jaycees who also played a few holes.
Alex said during his game that the Ludington Area Jaycees’ Mini-Golf Course has by far the most local history surrounding its course.
The Ludington Area Jaycees will host charity Monday, June 14, with 30 percent of their proceeds going towards Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Lakeshore. The course is open from noon to dusk, kids play for $5 and adults $7.