The man known as “the guy who rides his bike to the course” talks about the day Arnold Palmer came to town and more in this Q&A.
Just a 3 wood past the 9th tee box at Manitou Passage Golf Club sits the home of Bill Robinson. Robinson first discovered Leelanau County in the 1960s. He moved here in 2000 and says he remembers when there was just a field of knapweed and fiddlehead ferns where the 18-hole Arnold Palmer course now sits. Biking from his home three to four times every week to play makes him one of the club’s most frequent and recognizable players.
Manitou Passage Golf Club has been in your backyard since the beginning. You even remember when Arnold Palmer came here to play. Can you tell us about that?
I’ve been a golfer and member since the club opened in 1999, back when it was known as King’s Challenge. That year, The King himself came to play against that year’s Michigan Open winner. Arnie’s visit was a well-kept secret. So there was only a small group of people following him around the course. I remember him commenting on the beauty of the landscape, the great views of Lake Michigan on the 8th hole, and the revisions made to bunkers and tee boxes. He shot a 40 on the front nine—with a mulligan—and came home in 30. He later changed the 18th hole from a Par 5 to a Par 4. Eventually, it became a Par 5 again.
You’ve been playing Manitou Passage Golf Club for nearly 20 year. What are a few things that make the course so great?
I remember being thrilled to see the land being developed into a premier 18-hole course. Ever since, the level of play and the course itself has been a great source of recreation for me. I love the serene beauty of the place and the wildlife—red fox, deer, sand hill cranes.
I like the layout and variety of tee boxes. And the staff and grounds crew have always been top notch—a bunch of avid golfers in their own right who all care for a golf course and its customers.
Have any tips and strategies you’d like to share?
Absolutely. First, check your ego at the clubhouse—especially if you’re new to the course. A lot of people underestimate the yardage or suddenly believe their game is suitable for teeing it up from the tips, which is close to 7,000 yards, what with the three Par 3s on the back nine.
Manitou Passage requires long, straight drives. And I think most golfers would have more fun if they moved up a tee box or played the combo tees. Scoring well requires a good game from 100 yards and in.
Some other advice: Take an extra club into the wind on the 8th green. Putts often break away from Sugar Loaf Mountain, especially on the 15th green. And, last, don’t forget the wind—especially on the 17th where I’ve used everything from a gap wedge to a 6 iron.