July 15, 2008

Relatively clean, guy-type fun

THE 2008 MMGI TOP: Bob Graham, Bob Majkowski, Dave Bozek, Jon Zamora, Larry Gabbard MIDDLE: Len D'Angelo, Matt Ginella, Mike Oliver, Mike Wrost, Pat Darish BOTTOM: Pete Kornaga, Rich Parke, Mike Romain, Todd Bengtsson, Tony Kornaga

THE 2008 MMGI

TOP: Bob Graham, Bob Majkowski, Dave Bozek, Jon Zamora, Larry Gabbard

MIDDLE: Len D'Angelo, Matt Ginella, Mike Oliver, Mike Wrost, Pat Darish

BOTTOM: Pete Kornaga, Rich Parke, Mike Romain, Todd Bengtsson, Tony Kornaga

Art Edmunds was allergic to losing, and he didn't settle for ties. In 1993, the founding foursome of the Mid-Michigan Golf Invitational (MMGI) needed an excuse to finish a match that ended all square. Edmunds insisted they meet a few months later for a playoff, and he invited friends, family and colleagues to join them. A buddies trip was born.

This year, 14 invitees met in Northern Michigan. Though they usually try to fill four foursomes, "part of me thinks 14 guys feels right," says Pat Darish, the comedian of the group and the most colorful one of the bunch--literally. (He wore a solid yellow shirt with a yellow hat.) "We aren't missing our 15th and 16th," Darish says. "We're really missing our No. 1 and 2."

The MMGI lost its best golfer, Pete Strachan, to a car accident in 2003. He was 43. Edmunds died of cancer in 2004. He was 42.

"It was tough the summer after they died," Darish says. "But we played. That's what Pete and Art would've wanted us to do."

I ambushed the MMGI at Garland Resort in Lewiston, Mich., about an hour and a half northeast of Traverse City. The resort features four courses, golf cottages and the space for buddies-trip debauchery. "We don't let them get away with murder," says Fred Bauer, Garland's general manager, "but it's pretty close." I bought them dinner and gave each guy a dozen balls and a $50 gift certificate in the golf shop.

They played six rounds of golf in four days. They put up $92 each for the bets, but "it's not about the money," says Rich Parke.

This group uses Tums and bottle caps as ball markers. They talk during backswings. Golf shoes are optional. They "fluff" their lie, and they rattle in a four-footer for a 12. Parke once holed out from 150 yards--for an 8. "It was the highlight of my golfing life," he says. If someone shoots a 115, it's a "Tony K," because Darish jokes that "Bony Tony" Kornaga weighs only 115 pounds. They bring 150 homemade Jell-O shots and use greasy pizza boxes as kindling for bonfires, but they stay within the code established by Edmunds: "The MMGI is relatively clean, guy-type fun."

Bob Graham was a member of the original foursome. A few days before Edmunds passed away, Graham went to visit him in the hospital. "Remember the last time we played?" Edmunds asked Graham.

"I beat you."

At Garland, in room 503, before they competed for an old bowling trophy, Darish led the group in a toast: "To Art and Pete... " And then they drank and played golf.

Senior Editor (Travel) Matt Ginella might ambush you. Submit your buddies-trip itinerary here.