As planning for the 2016 summer season began to take shape, Mike Fortino, General Manage, wanted to do something to differentiate the club's restaurant from the golf course. His efforts in the previous year showed with little doubt that there is significant growth potential in providing clubhouse facilities to people who think of golf as a spectator sport. In recent years the Grayling Country Club has become the premier local venue for golf outings, special events like wedding receptions; all with or without golf involved. Why? Largely because of the great view from the dining room, deck, and fire pit patio and simple fact that kitchen puts out great food, cooked on site, from fresh ingredients and at very reasonable prices. A new name seemed to be a good idea.
Club members submitted a plethora of possible names. The clubhouse location along the historic AuSable river made the choice easy. Now the effort to communicate the new restaurant's name and location within the Grayling Country Club Clubhouse and that the facility welcomes everybody, golfers, non-golfers, members, and non-members is beginning to take shape. Local radio advertising, monthly news releases, e-blasts and social media programs set the tone. Management and staff are gearing up for another busy summer season with projections of increased lunch business as well as Friday night fine-dining under the new name. As to special events, the summer calendar is almost full and the clubhouse has only been open for three weeks.
For those who like to know the more legal details. The restaurant has been is classified a "DBA" within the corporation and has been filed appropriately with State of Michigan. The DBA has no effect on the not-for- profit status of Grayling Country Club, Inc. or its liquor license.
Mike Fortino is the general manager of the Grayling Country Club. He is beginning his third season in a new career in the golf industry and he appears to be doing things he really enjoys. The club’s growing restaurant business is the area most members and patrons of the club see changing significantly from his culinary vision. Overseeing a busy golf course, restaurant and bar, as well as keeping track of leagues and special events does not allow much time for other things.
Because there are authentic Italian items showing up on the menu and the unmistakable scent of fresh garlic coming from the kitchen this is going to be a mock interview with Mike , mainly about the restaurant portion of his job .
Patrons of the clubhouse have come to realize that when Mike dons an apron and begins to create a special dish it will go well beyond the barbecue ribs and chicken that are favorites for many of us. Let us take this opportunity to get to know the Mike as the general manager with an apron on:
Q. What led you to be interested the culinary side of the club’s business?
A. My parents opened a restaurant when I was a kid and I learned a lot from them. At the same time I developed a love for creating unique dishes from scratch using fresh ingredients. And I still love to serve family and friends traditional Italian home-cooked meals. I believe the club's restaurant has great potential to better serve our members and guests and to become a vital part of our business.
Q. Sounds like you might do the cooking at home?
A. My wife and I both love the kitchen and we also like trying new recipes. We make our own desserts. Apple sauce is my favorite when made with apples from a tree here at the club.
Q. What is the best compliment you have received from a guest about your food?
A. I recall more than one guest saying something like: “This Ravioli is better than my mother makes it and we will be back next week with some friends.”
Q. What is the biggest reward of being a general manager that loves to cook? And what are the biggest challenges?
A. The fun comes when I walk through the dining room or out on the deck on a Friday night and guests say nice things about dinner and the atmosphere at the club. Our financial guys also tell me that our restaurant is the fastest growing part of our business...I really like to hear that because it means that customers like what we are offering them day in and day out..
A. With respect to challenges, there are a number of them. Getting the right mix of traditional barbecue ribs and chicken with a few more special offerings. Then too, serving 80 to 100 meals in three hours time, on a Friday night, from a small kitchen can make one crazy.
Q. What are your plans in the kitchen for the coming summer season?
A. I’m going to try a blackened chicken, with vine-ripened tomatoes and a Cajun cream sauce on a Friday night this summer. Laughs. Actually, we hope to increase our lunch menu and make our dining room the place to bring business guests or your spouse for a leisurely mid-day dining experience. A new commercial stove is going to help us be more innovative this season.
A. Another important thing is that we have a new kitchen supervisor who is studying to be a restaurant manager (or maybe a chef) and I know he will add some innovations in our menu as a direct result of his energy and creativity.
Since its inception in 1924 the Grayling Country Club has had its share of legends and characters. One of the recent members making that list is IRVING D. McISAAC. Irv as he was know by all who loved him was a life-long resident of Grayling, who worked on the Michigan Central Railroad in a number of capacities. Today we report on some of his activities at the Grayling Country Club. Irv passed away just four years ago and is remembered in so many fond ways for his work with Grayling youth. There even is an annual golf event that generates a reserve for the Irv McIsaac college scholarship fund, which help to support four Grayling High School graduates each year.
For as many years as I can recall Irv was the either the master of ceremonies or the main entertainment at club functions and events. He was in my view Grayling's answer to Bob Hope.
This story about Irv starts in a cold and wet September day. About 40 club members had ventured to Drummond Island in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan to play golf at The Rock golf club. The objective was to play 18 holes on day one, have dinner, stay overnight, play 18 in the morning and return to Grayling. Day one was cold and it rained the whole round of golf. Undeterred, the group gathered for drinks and then off to a fine private dinner at the resort. Dinner was excellent and the wait staff was clearing tables, and providing coffee when Irv stepped to the microphone. Now Irv had a huge repertoire of jokes, many that can only be described as not for mixed company. It also is interesting to note that among this group most of his jokes had been told many times. But no one ever tired of listening to Irv tell stories. He was in particularly good form this night and, as usual, his timing was impeccable.
Seated in the back of the room I noticed as he told the first couple of very dirty jokes that the wait staff (all gals) looked somewhat surprised and amused. They slowed down their clean up tasks. When it was clear that this funny man was just getting started a couple of the girls disappeared into the kitchen and within a minutes out comes the cooks and a number of others from the kitchen. They all pulled up chairs in the back along with the wait staff who had now stopped their clean up. Everyone was focused on this unusually interesting fellow with a cigar and no other props telling stories. As the session began to slow, club members in the audience began to suggest Irv tell certain jokes they really liked , but had not been told so far. For example: One guys says "tell the parrot joke Irv." The real surprise was the whole audience was laughing, and I mean really laughing, before he finished...I am not sure he had to complete the story because the room was rocking.
Irv McIsaac is part of the club's history and a character, also who is memorialized with a life-sized statue, with cigar, looking over the 7th. tee. A par three hole that gave this legend his only hole-in-one.
In the 1960's the club's 75 stockholders decided to add another 9 holes to make the course a full 18 holes. With some changes to the original layout and adding a back 9 that wove its way through the pine forest and followed the AuSable river back to the clubhouse. The clubhouse also was new and provided for dining and multipurpose room with a fireplace. The bar and kitchen rounded clubhouse facilities and were set to overlook the deck. Locker rooms were provided for the convenience of members and guests.
The main feature was and is the golf course. It is par 70 track that rewards the shot maker. There are three sets of men's tees and one ladies. The golf course and clubhouse facilities are open to the public. With about annual 200 members the club is normally a busy and fun place all through the golf season, which last from late April until about mid-October.
During this period the club was incorporated as a not-for-profit Michigan corporation with 75 stockholders. Most of the club's property is within the city limits of Grayling. The land encompasses about 160 acres, 60 of which is dedicated to the golf course. Parts of the 16th. , 17th. and 18th. holes follow the historic AuSable river as it winds into downtown Grayling. Remnants of the circa 1800 sawmill and millpond that was used during northern Michigan's lumbering days can still be seen when playing parts of the back nine.
Governance of the club is provided for in bylaws. Nine elected directors meet monthly and a stockholder's meeting is conducted in September every year. Over time, the board of directors and stockholders have dedicated themselves to providing residents and visitors to the Grayling area a great golfing experience at a very reasonable cost. The golf course in meticulously manicured and the pride of the club's management. During long summer weekdays, leagues provide great fun for members and guests. The weekends are mostly dedicated to visitors to the resort areas of the Grayling and Crawford county.
The year was 1924, WW1 was a fading memory and it was the beginning of the "Roaring Twenties." The northern town of Grayling, Michigan was home to about 800 souls, more horses than cars, and very few golfers. At the same time there was an extraordinary increase in the popularity of golf throughout the United States. The "Roaring Twenties" was just that as Michigan added 89 golf courses, which included Grayling, to its golf course inventory; thus giving the state 162 as it headed into the 1930's. In the past golf had been viewed as sport for the very rich, who had access to private country clubs, but now the game had appeal to the working man and woman, of all ages. This also was the time when woman won the rite to vote under the 19th. Amendment to the US Constitution and were ready to express themselves in new found ways.
Starting in 1923 a small group of men wanted to add this new summer-time sport to help occupy interested residents and to draw more visitors to the growing town's resort area on the AuSable river. The first step was to purchase several acres just the other side of the AuSable river and rail line passing through town. It was to be known as the Grayling Golf Club. Over several years the golf club acquired additional land that at one time had been part of the Hanson,Sailing Company's flooring mill and adjacent to the mill pond that served to move logs to the mill during the years of the lumber boom. In total the land area now reached 164 acres; much of which was swamp and heavy pine forest. But it also provided enough "high" ground to begin establishing a nine-hole golf course. When and who struck first golf ball at the Grayling Golf Course is simply unknown as is the designer of first nine holes.
The Great Depression followed by the Second World War put golf in Grayling largely on hold for almost two decades. Nevertheless, the vision of a few kept the grand plan of a in-town golf club alive for all those years.