The Golf Association of Michigan – Farmington Hills, Michigan

August 1, 2023
The Golf Association of Michigan - Farmington Hills, Michigan

The Golf Association of Michigan

‘driving’ the extra mile for its members


Coming out swinging of behalf of Michigan’s amateur golf members, the Golf Association of Michigan has a winning agenda

Golf in Michigan, one more year removed from the post-pandemic surge in popularity and play, is in a good place.

That’s the state-of-the-game message from the Golf Association of Michigan (GAM), the not-for-profit governing body for amateur golf in the state.

“When I travel around and talk to administrators and our allied associations, we have a pretty positive outlook,” GAM Executive Director Chris Whitten says.

“It feels like people have rediscovered the game for different reasons, not just because the economy was on a little bit of an uptick and they had a little more money to spend. This feels more like an emotional connection with the game. It’s different. And I would say it’s even more different in Michigan than anywhere else.”

Whitten feels monitoring the state-of-the-game continues the GAM legacy. Founded in 1919 the organization seeks to represent, promote, preserve and serve the best interests of the game, and currently provides membership to almost 80,000 golfers and more than 450 golf courses.

The GAM’s most visible service is conducting championships – more than 130 days from spring through the fall – 30 amateur championships for male and female golfers of various playing ability levels from age 7 to 80-plus, 15 United States Golf Association (USGA) national championship qualifying events and multiple other play opportunities with team events and 21 GAM Golf Days at participating courses and clubs.

The Golf Association of Michigan - Farmington Hills, Michigan

The most media and public engagement is generated by its major championships, especially the Michigan Amateur Championship and the Michigan Women’s Amateur Championship. This year’s Michigan Amateur is sure to draw over 1,000 entrants in part because it will be played at historic Oakland Hills Country Club (North course), and the Women’s Amateur will be played at Spring Lake Country Club, which has celebrated women in golf for 102 years with its renown Spring Lake Invitational Tournament.

Beyond determining the state’s top players, perhaps the primary responsibility for the GAM as the governing body is enabling members to post scores and establish a Handicap Index®. It is accomplished with access to the GHIN® Mobile App to post scores and use other statistical and GPS course map services, and with the USGA® provide access to the World Handicap System™ service.

The GAM also has many volunteers who are authorized by the USGA® to measure and rate golf courses in accordance with the Course Rating System™ standards, and they annually measure and rate more than 60 Michigan courses. Courses are measured and rerated every 10 years.

“The GAM serves the golfer in so many ways the general golfer doesn’t realize, like helping fund turfgrass research by the Michigan Turfgrass Foundation and our Youth on Course program through the GAM Foundation,” says Jay Hults, a longtime volunteer from Plum Hollow Country Club in Southfield and a GAM officer who is the president for the association in 2023. “We have great volunteers, a dedicated staff that works so many hours, and I feel we make a great impact.”

The GAM Foundation was established in 2015 to introduce more people to golf and help grow the game. Among its efforts to reach those goals the GAM invested $175,000 in programs to grow golf in the past fiscal year. That includes subsidized rounds and practice for 7,000 Youth on Course members at participating golf courses and practice centers, and joint efforts with Michigan Section PGA professionals in player development and covering costs of golf equipment for in-school training of youth golfers.

The Golf Association of Michigan - Farmington Hills, Michigan

The GAM is also active with the Michigan Golf Alliance, which includes the Michigan Golf Course Association, the Michigan Golf Course Superintendents Association, the Michigan Section PGA and the Michigan Club Management Association. Chief among the Alliance activities is connecting with state legislators to support an industry that measures a $4.2 billion annual economic impact in the state.

Growth of the game remains a priority of the GAM and Whitten points out that despite overall rounds in the United States decreasing from 2021 and flattening out in 2022 according to the National Golf Foundation (NGF), Michigan was one of five states that reported an increase in rounds played.

“Michigan was up seven percent last year,” he says. “I think there are a lot of things that contribute. We are a popular summer golf destination, and I’m convinced that the people who live in Michigan are outdoors people. When the snow is on the ground, they’re ready to ski or they’re ready to snowmobile, and when it’s golf season, they’re more than ready to play golf.”

Overall Whitten says the NGF numbers indicate golf continues to grow consistently.

“Over 41 million people are playing golf nationally and while there are those of us who think well, it’s the retired generation, the people over 50 playing theses rounds, that’s not necessarily the case,” he says. “The National Golf Foundation says the 18 to 34-year-old group actually comprise the most golfers and the segments that are growing the fastest – and I love to hear this – are women and juniors.”

Judy Lazzaro is vice-president of the GAM, a rules official and president elect in 2024. A member through Oakland University’s Golf and Learning Center facilities, she feels the GAM has made progress in growing the game as well as emphasizing diversity, equity and inclusion.

“At the (recent) annual meeting we were introduced to the new (GAM Governors) and half were women, and for the first time ever we have a person of color on the officer team (Secretary Robert Ofoli),” she says. “Our major tournaments have full qualifiers and that is a good indication of growth in my opinion. The GAM is also doing more programming that highlights diversity, like the grants to cover tournament entry costs for those in economic need and of course awarding grants through Youth on Course and the foundation.”

Lazzaro said moving forward she feels it is important to seek more females for leadership roles in the GAM.

“We need to have more females involved in course rating, officiating and outreach in the community with golf,” she says. “The great thing is that leadership in the GAM is aware of it and continues to work toward that goal.”

Whitten says that goal and others keeps the GAM working to answering the next question: “Where do we go from here?”

“We have developed a strategic roadmap and a strategic vision,” he says. “The GAM is dedicated to connecting and serving all golf in Michigan – for players, administrators and facilities. By providing excellent core services and products, we strive to make golf accessible and inclusive in all its forms for players of any age and ability.”

Hults says strategic planning provides for his leadership role and the association with a specific direction and goals.

“For instance, our strategic planning process touched on the importance of connecting with nontraditional golfers,” he says. “Nowadays, there are as many players at places like Topgolf,  X-Golf and simulators as there are on the course. Our goal is to convert some of them to become GAM members.”

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The Golf Association of Michigan - Farmington Hills, Michigan


Golf Association of Michigan

What: the non profit association that representing amateur golf interests in the state through advocacy and educational initiatives

Where: Farmington Hills, Michigan


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