Memories of Meadowlane and the summer of ’70

Now closed, Meadowlane GC

Kentwood’s Meadowlane was 18 holes with one nine being lighted.

One of the pleasant outcomes of contributing articles to Michigan Golf News is reconnecting with old friends and acquaintances. This was the case last week when Chuck Worsfold from East Grand Rapids dropped me a friendly email after reading my column.

He reminded me we worked together one summer at Meadowlane Golf Course in Kentwood during our college days. He was attending Western Michigan University while I was at the University of Michigan.

First off,  as a golfer I always thought working at a course was an ideal summer job. In some ways, it was because it was outdoors and didn’t demand too much strenuous work.

The downside to the job was that after being at a golf course eight hours a days, five days a week, I really didn’t feel like playing golf in my spare hours. To me, it seemed like going back to work. Looking back, I played very little golf in the summer of 1970.

By the way, now closed after being sold to real estate developers, Meadowlane off 44th in Kentwood was an affordable, entry level public course that had the distinction of being the only lighted course (one nine only) in the area. I remember playing there a few times before my summer job. At that time, the most memorable aspect of the course at night was the size and ferocity of the insects!

But working at the golf course is full of vivid memories. Here are a few of my favorites and Chuck’s.

—I didn’t grow up on a farm so my tractor and mechanical skills were pretty limited. After the owner’s son (Shorty) quickly showed me how to run a tractor and mow the fairways, I severely tested his patience over the course of the summer.

One time, I was mowing fairways and going at a nice clip (Chuck was on the other mower on the first nine) and thinking life was grand, listening to Top 40 tunes on my transistor radio.

Mower blades must be regularly checked

Mower blades must be regularly checked

Shorty drove up in a cart and asked me to get down from the tractor. He then took me back to the mower blades where he showed me how loose they were. In fact, they were so loose they weren’t cutting any grass. In fact, for the last hour or so, I had merely rolled the fairway not cut it.

Another time, after over-tightening the mower blades, I ended up scalping a wide path of fairway before I noticed it. Fortunately, Shorty either didn’t see it or just let it go. 

—My most embarrassing mishap occurred when I was bringing the tractor back in at the end of my day to the maintenance building. As I got ready park the vehicle, I hit the accelerator instead of the brake and crashed into the building. No major damage occurred except for a badly battered ego.

—Chuck also remembers me flipping a mower over when we were hauling limbs and brush after a summer storm clean up. I vaguely recall the incident but I didn’t think it was me behind the wheel but someone else. But heck, maybe I just suppressed the memory. Thanks for the therapy, Chuck!

—Meanwhile, Chuck recalls the time he was hand-mowing grass on a steep bank and his foot slipped under the mower. Though he wasn’t wearing steel-toed work boots at the time, amazingly he escaped with a superficial bruise.

—Besides cutting greens and mowing fairways, Chuck says we also checked the sprinkler system when it was on. On hot days, Chuck said we “intentionally drove through the sprinklers to cool off.” He also said we raced the tractors back to the maintenance building. It was much less exciting than the chariot race in Ben Hur.

—One of the pluses was being able to take off your shirt when driving the tractor. Truthfully, the only time I ever had a good tan was that summer and I bet that was same case for Chuck. We weren’t exactly bronze Greek gods but at times we sure felt like it.

—As mentioned, I also loved being plugged into my transistor radio and listening to the Top 40 hits. In that summer of 1970, the big songs were “Mama Told Me Not to Come” by Three Dog Night, “Band of Gold” by Freda Payne, “Ball of Confusion” by the Temptations, “Close to You” by The Carpenters and “Spill the Wine” by Eric Burdon.

But it was another song later that summer by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young (CSN&Y) that to this day I’ll always associate with Meadowlane.

A 1970 publicity photo of Crosby Stills Nash & Young

A 1970 publicity photo of Crosby Stills Nash & Young

It started on May 4, 1970, when done for the day I went into the Meadowlane clubhouse bar for a cold drink. On his normal stool was seated Shorty’s dad, Pat, who was watching a news bulletin about a shooting at Kent State University in Ohio. As the news later reported, four unarmed KSU students protesting the Vietnam War were killed by the National Guard. I remember seething with anger after hearing Pat say “the students got what they reserved.” He made light of the tragedy unfolding on the television. 

At the time, it bothered me so much that I considered quitting the job. But I didn’t because I enjoyed it and liked working outdoors alongside Chuck. And I never interacted with Pat anyway.

A month or so after the Kent State shootings, CSN&Y released “Ohio.” 

Its lyrics were haunting, “Tin soldiers and Nixon’s coming/We’re finally on our own/This summer I hear the drumming/Four dead in Ohio…”

Written by Neil Young, the song provoked David Crosby to say Young keeping Nixon’s name in the lyrics was “the bravest thing I ever heard.” In fact, the song was banned in many parts of U.S., including in Ohio. Nevertheless, the song solidified CSN& Y’s  place and status in the counterculture and protest movement.

In spite of the carefree days of summer, those were tumultuous times.

—In due course, Chuck returned to WMU and I went back to UM. He ended up going to law school and became a successful attorney and partner in a Grand Rapids law firm. He retired in 2015 but stays busy being a state and federal court mediator on a part-time basis. He also plays golf at Thousand Oaks GC with his fellow “Walkers” who use battery-driven trolleys.

And thankfully he still finds time to read Michigan Golf News and reconnect with one of the most mechanically inept tractor operators this side of the Mississippi.

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