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Making improvements: Portage Lake Golf Course continues upgrades, this time to the menu

Patrons of the Portage Lake Golf Course in Houghton sit down at the Par and Grill for a quick meal before the start of ladies’ league Tuesday. (Daver Karnosky/Daily Mining Gazette)

HOUGHTON — Since he stepped in as the general manager of the Portage Lake Golf Course, Erik Crowley has slowly working to upgrade areas where he can, whether it is a new tee box on the first hole, or improvements to the driving range.

“(We’ve) been very fortunate, in the first couple years, that we’ve been able to make some of the changes that we’ve been able to make to improve the overall, or what I call the total golf, experience,” he said. “The first one, and kind of the biggest project that I wanted to tackle when I got here, was the driving range. It used to be only six, seven, maybe you could fit eight people on the driving range before, but it was tight, and I wouldn’t say the most conducive for safety.

“I’ve spent so much time on driving ranges in my golfing career that for me, it’s almost as enjoyable to spend a good, solid hour practice on the driving range as it is to go out and spend time on the course.”

Another change that came with the driving range was how the course charges for the service. Instead of charging members for a bucket of balls each time they are hitting the range, the fee for using the range was added to the membership cost.

“That was kind of a prime example of there’s a real opportunity to better service our membership and the patrons,” said Crowley.

Crowley and his team are careful to add to the course without losing the hard work of his predecessors, both on changes to the course and improvements to course programming.

“A lot of that also starts with our programming, and some of our programming that’s been in place since, I think Mike Augustine was here, and Mark Maroste, as the last pro, (who) had wonderful attention to our junior population and our juniors,” Crowley said.

In recent months, the PLGC’s clubhouse has gone through changes with the addition of the Trackman golf simulator, which is a major change indoors. Along those same lines, the Par and Grill has also gone through some changes, although much more subtly, but just as

“I think that’s really a broader conversation with when the university brought in Chartwells (Dining Services) to kind of manage their dining operations,” he said. “Chartwells manages the dining operations for all of campus, and that also extends to the Par and Grill at the golf course. What that means is that we had some change. But, so far, it’s been all very positive.”

What Crowley is referring to is that the golf course now offers other options for food, whether golfers are making the turn between nines, or have finished their round for the day.

“The menu has expanded,” he said. “The menu resembles much closer to what you might find in kind of a restaurant setting, as opposed to what it’s been in the past, which has really been a lot of burgers, hot dogs, and maybe we have one other kind of specialty item on there, or a grilled chicken sandwich or things like that. Now they’re making paninis and also doing kind of expanded offerings for some of our programming.”

Crowley is excited about being able to now offer theme nights for both the men’s and women’s leagues.

“Really excited for men’s league this week,” he said in an interview last week. “We’re doing a steak night and kind of as an initial pilot and test run to see how that goes. It sounds like they have some excellent steaks on order, and (we’re) excited to try that out. Then we’ll see how that goes. (We are) also planning on doing that similar kind of programming for our ladies’ league and our other events.”

With the golf course’s connection to Michigan Tech University, catering for tournaments has been something that the PLGC has always been able to offer. However, with Chartwells at the helm now, the course is excited to be able to expand what options they can offer.

“For all of our events, we’ve always catered through dining services at the university, but Chartwells is definitely bringing kind of that next level of service and product to where the product that we’re getting now is superior,” Crowley said. “It’s definitely an elevated product. For our two-man best ball this year, the first day we had chicken quarters, which I had never seen it kind of worded like that, but the product was fantastic. It was like a chicken breast on a leg, and it was fantastic, very well seasoned, and just, overall, a delicious meal.”

While the hot food has always been a staple of what the golf course can offer, now, the course also offers up some ready-made meals that golfers can grab on their way through.

“(We have had) a lot of positive interactions,” he said. “I know for a fact that the grab-and-go (is) very popular. I actually had one of the gals in ladies’ league, before they went out for league, just stopped by and said thank you. (They were) very excited for the grab-and-goes, because there’s a lot of health-conscious items in the grab-and-go salads or ready-made sandwiches. Also, there’s parfaits and fruit. There’s fresh fruit in there that’s cut up daily. It just kind of provides that ‘another level’ offering that we haven’t had in the past.”

For Crowley, being able to offer more health-conscious food choices is important.

“We have been making breakfast sandwiches here in the past, but now there’s just another option, certainly trying to cater to the more health conscious,” he said. “Those things are ready daily. You can walk in, grab them out of the cooler, and they’re good to go.”

Expanding the menu helps those golfers who are hitting the course after work, as well.

“This provides us the opportunity to still deliver on providing,” he said. “You can come straight from work, you can grab a wrap or that fresh fruit, and head right to the tee without missing a beat. So, that’s really the wonderful piece about the grab-and-go stations.”

There are plans for further changes and additions down the road, but for now, the golf course is excited to see how patrons embrace the new menu.

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