LANSING – Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist came out to the large tent on the front lawn of the Capitol to proclaim June is Michigan Golf Month, and Rep. Stephanie Young, D-Detroit, came because the state legislators were all invited to Michigan Golf Day at the Capitol Thursday.
Members of the Michigan Golf Alliance, a cooperative body of five state golf associations, shared its message of economic, environmental and human impact of the game with face-to-face talks over lunch and a program that included presentations by Renee Fluker, the founder and president of the Midnight Golf Program in Detroit, Gilda Johnson, the owner of Lake Forest Golf Club and the Michigan Golf Course Association president, and a video featuring Dr. Brian Horgan of the Michigan State University College of Agriculture & Natural Resources.
Gilchrist and Young learned more about golf’s impact with the over 200 legislators and staffers who attended, and both sought out their friend Fluker, who has demonstrated to them in a very personal way that golf impacts communities.
Gilchrist’s mother has been a long-time friend of Fluker, and Young’s son, Darius, is a former Midnight Golf participant. Midnight Golf’s mission remains equipping determined young adults through life skills training, proactive coaching, long-term mentoring, and the discipline of golf so they can succeed in college, in their careers and beyond. It was founded in 2001 by Fluker, a social worker and single mother. Over 3,200 students have been directly helped, including college scholarships, in the last 19 years.
“Renee is proof of golf’s diversity but also of what happens when you believe in young people,” Young said. “Midnight Golf takes young people who have never held a golf club and never thought there was a way for them to learn this type of sport and then exposes them to it.”
Young called Fluker a trailblazer and said Midnight Golf impacted her son in multiple ways beyond playing golf.
“I believe Midnight Golf was one of the reasons Darius was able to go to college, finish in four years and now is working in his field – animation,” she said. “The program teaches those kids how to manage their time when they get to college, how to manage their money while they are in college and how to find a job after college.”
Gilchrist called Midnight Golf a generational uplifting program for the Detroit region.
“It is a manifestation of what she and her team have poured into the young people in the region and it has produced healthier, better connected, more productive and more successful people – and they learned how to play a bit of golf, too,” he said. “Miss Renee is I think the best of what we want people to be when they contribute to the success of our communities.”
The Michigan Golf Alliance is made up of the Michigan Golf Course Association (MGCA), the Michigan Golf Course Superintendents Association (MiGCSA), the Michigan Section PGA, the Golf Association of Michigan (GAM) and the Greater Michigan Club Management Association and for several years the leaders of those groups have gathered to voice a cooperative message.
In 2020 the day was cancelled due to pandemic concerns, but Thursday the golf leaders tried to engage legislators on a personal level as small business owners, as well as pass on the industry facts like $4.2 billion in annual economic impact, over 60,000 people employed by golf courses in the state. $1.4 billion in wages paid and over 150,000 acres of managed green space and wetlands that provide wildlife habitats.
Brian Calley, former Lt. Gov. and now president of the Small Business Association of Michigan, called the event a chance to engage with legislators and debunk the myth that golf is just a rich man’s sport.
“Nothing could be further from the truth,” he said. “Tell your small business stories, talk about your civic engagement and don’t be shy about the type of things you do to help make your communities stronger.”