A nice day for a drive. Take a walk down memory lane to relive sweet summer memories at Benzie County’s Crystal Downs in Frankfort.

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The deck is wet from last night’s rain. It’s gray and cool. What to do on a summer day when the weather didn’t get the message that you’re on vacation? Rather than let the day slip away, I come up with a way to pass a few cloudy hours. My 91-year-old dad is just finishing breakfast. He’s immersed in an article when I interrupt his reverie.

“Hey Dad, I’m going to Frankfort to pick up some smoked fish, want to come?”

“No, I think I’d rather stay home and read.”

Hmm … I try again: “Why don’t you come just to keep me company?”

“When are you leaving?” “Fifteen minutes.”

“Fifteen, huh?”

“What else are you going to do on a cool, cloudy day?”

That did it. “You know, Carol, I think I will join you.”Yes!

The lake is churning out waves full of attitude. Clouds are slung low and heavy across the sky. I doubt Eeyore could have ordered a gloomier day than the looks of this one. Yet, soon we are cruising along the north shore of Crystal Lake listening to a new CD I picked up in Empire by a kid who just graduated from Hillsdale College. The bluesy folk music matches today’s moody clouds perfectly. As we round the west shore, I see the gate to Crystal Downs and suggest we take the scenic drive to the clubhouse that overlooks Crystal Lake to the east and Lake Michigan to the west. Summer homes nestle in the high hills above this remarkable Scottish links course that steals me back to another time. We drive through a tunnel of trees that winds higher and higher until it opens up to a vast backdrop of rolling land speckled with sand traps and tall, heather roughs.

Man standing on front porch

Photo by Carol Vatow

Designed by Alister MacKenzie and Perry Maxwell, Golf Digest ranks Crystal Downs the 14th best golf course in the U.S., and Golfweek ranks it the best private course in Michigan. Arguably the greatest golf course designer of all time, MacKenzie also designed Augusta National, Cypress Point and the Royal Melbourne.

The views at Crystal Downs are spectacular, even on cloudy days. I park the car and we climb up to the restaurant. We make our way carefully, although we do take a daunting shortcut for a 91-year-old. It’s a bit steep, but I take Dad’s arm and together we climb. We make it to a long stone stairway with a wrought-iron railing that sweeps elegantly to the restaurant perched atop the hill. Like a trooper, Dad climbs to the top. We walk around the patio and admire the gardens and striking views. Five years earlier, I

watched the Chicago to Mackinac Race from this same vantage point. Four yachts sailed past, their spinnakers tightly trimmed, as a brisk breeze propelled them across the horizon.

The restaurant isn’t open, and even if it were, you’d have to be a member to dine. But we didn’t come for the food, we came to see an old friend—a place where the land rolls in green waves dotted with sandy islands tucked between two stunning, glacially carved lakes; a place where time seems to stand still. Overlooking this familiar course, time is unbound and the years tumble away. Looking at Dad, I see the joy of youthful memories in his smile. Tiny lines, earned by a lifetime of living, radiate from the corners of his eyes, making his smile unabashedly genuine.

A cool breeze hints at autumn days just around the corner. On the way back down, I see a sundial that says, “I count only sunny hours.” I pause wistfully and doubt the wisdom of these words. Today’s as cloudy as they come, a day the Scots would call dreich—devoid of sunshine! Yet, Dad and I are thankful to be here overlooking this beautiful course that kindles fond memories on even the dreariest of days. And, I’m secretly charmed to discover that Crystal Downs first opened for play the summer my Dad was born, 1929.

Before we leave, we poke our heads in the golf shop. Dad reminisces about playing the course years ago as I admire the Crystal Downs crest etched on fine glass pilsners and stout brandy snifters.

Soon we’re on our way, driving the narrow road that rises and falls with the bluffs. We pass carriage houses quaint as cottages, and I find it hard to believe they were originally built for horses. Before long, Dad and I emerge from the wooded drive that embraces this timeless golf course. We turn onto Sutter Road and I see a twinkle in Dad’s eye.

“I’m glad we did this Carol. I’ve always loved that course.”

Me too, Dad… me, too…

Photo(s) by Carol Vatow