No offseason: Evart man an active golfer year-round

EVART – John Drake doesn't consider himself the world's best golfer. It's just that he loves being on the course a lot.

Drake plays regularly at Birch Valley Golf Course near Evart. It's about a a 14-mile drive but the Evart area resident doesn't really mind. He resides in Cedar Township and lived in the area for 15 years.

“This was a one-room cabin and we added on to it,” said Drake, who will be 70 years old in a few months and is retired from the banking and credit collections business. He had lived in Troy Mich., and is originally from Miami, Fla. He lives in the Evart area year-round. He's lived in Michigan 35 years.

“I've only played golf for 15 years,” Drake said. “It's an extremely difficult game. There's a lot of finesse to it. It can be very frustrating.”

At Birch Valley, he's the senior member of the course. It was a nine-hole course and became an 18-hole facility about 10 years ago. He plays about six days a week.

“Golf has gotten to the point where, yes it's an athletic endeavor,” Drake said. “Anybody that plays any kind of sport is naturally competitive. Everyone wants to do well. But it's gotten to the point where it's more about the social aspect and the camaraderie, and knowing the people, a social outlet.

“I'm very competitive but the social aspect is very important.”

Drake calls himself a “hard-core” golfer.

“Up here in Michigan, I've golfed every month of the year at some time whether it be January, December, February, whenever,” Drake said. “There have been times when we've had it warm up and you've be able to go out and play, even if there are no flags up. But I have been able to say I've played every month of the year in Michigan (at Birch Valley). But that's a rarity. It's not in one year, but a combination.

“There were two years in a row that the last day of golf was Dec. 15 and the first day we were able to play, due to the weather, was March 15. There was only a 90-day hiatus. It doesn't happen often. It's a freak deal when you have weather in February when there's no snow.”

This year, Drake was able to start in mid-March. The last day in 2011 of golf was around Nov. 14.

“I'm well known out there,” he said. “I'm not a league person, I've substituted in leagues and I'm familiar with the leagues out there.”

He's had no holes-on-one but has holed many eagles.

“I used to play a lot of courses in this area,” Drake said. “Michigan has the most public course of any other state in the union. There's a lot of courses. There's four right here in Osceola County. Anymore, I take a cart, although I did walk today a bit. The group you play with, if they take a cart, you take a cart, what your peers do, I do.

About 90 percent of the time, Drake is playing with someone, usually, just with whomever is at the course and is ready to play.

“I play with a lot of different people,” he said. “There's no tee-times. Usually, a group meets first thing in the morning. That's the way it is pretty much is at every golf course. They have the same guys get out there and play.”

Almost all of his golf is at Birch Valley.

Drake's best 18-hole score of his career is a 79 and the best nine-hole score is a 35, both at Birch Valley. He has about an 11 handicap.

Drake usually takes pride in his short game and considers himself a “fairly decent” putter.

As for his long game, “I've gotten better at it,” Drake said. “Also about golf, as soon as you think you've reached a plateau where you think you're pretty good it will come right back and kick you right square in the butt. Golf is a tough sport. One thing I like about the sport is most golfers you meet on the course are relatively humble because golf has taken its toll on you.

“When you watch it on TV, it looks easy. But it is so difficult. It's all finesse.”

Drake said he likes all sports such as professional and college football.

When it comes to individual sports, “I used to play ping-pong,” he said. “I have a basketball court outside and I used to play basketball...I like all athletics.”

Drake is not into hunting or fishing sports.

“I'm a golfer, that's what I do,” he said. “It's a very addictive sport. It's tough to kick the habit once you get involved, I'm telling you.”

He lives in such a remote area that deer and bears are occasional visitors in his backyard, plus raccoons and coyotes.

But when it comes to golf, Drake figures he might play another 15 to 20 years.

“No reason not to,” he smiled.