col The Summer of Red's is par for the course

The first 18 holes might be the heart of a golf course.

The 19th is the soul.

At Pebble Beach's Tap Room, spinach salad vinaigrette and a bowl of artichoke soup costs $18. From St. Andrew's Clubhouse Garden, golfers ride in a chauffeur-driven buggy to the first tee.

But the soul of golf can't be found in the bottom of a $9 Brandy Alexander. It's more likely in a warm can of Pabst or a plastic cup of Old Granddad whiskey.

Which is just where it should be.


And there was a college summer -- The Summer of Red's Bar, capitalized now as a historical period, like the Bronze Age or the Victorian Era or the Year in High School I Dressed Like Don Johnson -- during which we spent what little money we had golfing sun-scorched courses and drinking cheap beer in 19th hole dive bars from Ohio to mid-Michigan.

The golf courses, often, were the kind of 2,300-yard nine holers where cutoff-jeaned hackers swing duct-taped clubs at pond-quarried balls. The bars were much worse.

At Mac's -- a late-night, live music torch-and-twang hangout in Lansing, Mich. -- the bathroom door was, more often than not, missing. I do not mean the bathroom stall door. I mean the door straight into the bathroom. And the bathroom stall door, too. Then there was the night a woman naked from the waist up sat drinking at a bar stool while we played pool, and no one said much about it.

At a golf bar near Cleveland -- a place called, I think, the Driver on Inn -- I played pool for a dollar a game against some guy wearing a "Dukes of Hazzard" T-shirt (and this was 1991). I had lost six straight games and we -- my friend Kyle and I -- had, literally, no money left. But, confident I was due for a win, I played Bo (or possibly Luke) again anyway. And lost. So, in a string of events even now almost too embarrassing to relate, I did the following: First, I took my glass of beer -- I had drunk at least a quarter of it -- and, using an old bartender trick, used a stir stick to stir the beer, adding head and giving it the illusion of fullness. Then I gave it to Bo. "Here's your beer," I said, as if that was our bet.

"What the hell is this?" Bo asked. "We were playing for a dollar." He looked at the beer then looked at me. "Not a half a glass of beer."

"Right, right. Let me go get your dollar." Then I said -- and he must have been too stunned to respond -- "I just have to go to the bathroom first."

It gets worse. I nodded knowingly at Kyle, who made his way out the door as I went into the bathroom and crawled out the bathroom window. Kyle was waiting with the car. Even now, I avoid bars in the Cleveland area. My face has got to be burned into Bo's memory. I'm sure he tells the story about the time the kid in the Nirvana T-shirt tried to give him a half-full beer. Then the kid crawled out the bathroom window.

Then there was Red's. It was just a red wooden door on a hunched-over house in a neighborhood that could pass for hell. But if you golfed, and if you wanted to talk golf while drinking cheap beer, and if they let you in, it was a door straight to heaven.


If the porch light was on, Red's was open for business. The light came on when it got too dark to golf. It went off when it was too light not to.

Red's was the after-hours hot spot for Detroit's fringe golf crowd, at least the ones with invitations who dared drive south of Eight Mile Road, where the fast-food franchises stop and the only businesses are the check-cashing stores and temples with names like "Abundant Life" and "House of the Glorious God." At Eight Mile, wheelless, windowless cars and couches slouch in grassless lots and basketball is played on bent, netless rims on courts surrounded by high fences topped with barbed wire. Red's was on Seven Mile.

It was one of those secret societies -- like Yale's Skull and Bones or The Knights Templar or The Sacred Brotherhood of the Grown Men Who Wear Speedos -- that we mock incessantly. Unless, of course, we get invited to join, at which time the organization becomes symbolic of all that is just and meaningful.

And, for three sacred summer Saturdays (with my "in" friend Melvin), I was allowed to enter through that red door and walk down the blessed steps into the hallowed chamber of golf bars.

Red's was decorated in late 20th century male drunkenness. Posters and magazine pictures of bikinied or mini-skirted women stroking bottles of beer or straddling Harleys papered the particle board walls. Golf scorecards were taped everywhere.

From dusk to dawn, the after-hours basement bar hummed with scratchers and slicers and golf hustlers drinking $2 cans of Schlitz Malt Liquor and $2 plastic cup shots of whiskey. They were the guys who lived for golf and sometimes made an illegal living at golf and used Red's as a stopover to drink and talk golf before the courses reopened. The golfers at Red's played the kind of Detroit-area courses where city cops had been known to drag the deeper water hazards for bodies.

Red, white-haired and soft-spoken, was roughly the same height, and width, as the basement's 1950s refrigerator. Red, as I remember, only said one thing to me. "Son," he said, with the voice of an oracle, "I can tell you swing too hard."

After those all-nighter Saturdays, Melvin and I spent hungover Sunday mornings golfing urban municipal courses while paired with Red's regulars who played range balls with visibly warped clubs. I probably lost a rent payments' worth of skins.


It was worth it. I moved away that fall and took a real job. Never saw Melvin again. But I still think back on The Summer of Red's as some sacred place or event, Victorian or Don Johnsonian. Only with less-ornate furniture, fewer pastel T-shirts, and a lot more golf and beer.

Steve Lange is the editor of Rochester magazine, in which this piece previously appeared. Look for the May issue on newsstands now.

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