Retiree, son finish 15-year project in Michigan

John Kazenko, left, and his son, Doug, at Kirkside Golf Course near Lansing, Mich.

John Kazenko, left, and his son, Doug, at Kirkside Golf Course near Lansing, Mich.

LANSING, Mich. – John Kazenko’s retirement, at first glance, might seem idyllic: every waking moment devoted to golf.

Except, he doesn’t play. Kazenko has been called to the game in a different way.

Kazenko retired 18 years ago as a civil engineer, having built roads for Michigan’s Department of Transportation. He still had one more blueprint to follow, though.

On 146 acres of farmland acquired years ago near Lansing, Kazenko, now 80, and his son Doug, 45, have built Kirkside Golf Club. Other than design work from renowned Canadian architect Graham Cooke, they got only occasional help from family and friends during the 15-year project. Remarkably, the Kazenkos completed it with zero debt. The front nine is expected to open by July Fourth, with the back nine scheduled for 2011. Total price: $1.2 million and plenty of sweat equity.

photo

John and Doug Kazenko at Kirkside Golf Club in Michigan.

Kazenko, with the rough hands from a lifetime of working the land, says simply, “I needed to find something to do to keep from going nuts.’’

Kirkside is one of only two layouts expected to open this year in Michigan, where about 30 courses have closed in the past five years. The 6,700-yard, par-72 layout has Kentucky bluegrass fairways and bentgrass greens. Green fees will be $15 for nine plus $5 for a cart, with the owners anticipating “the local, beer-drinking, blue-collar-type crowd.’’

“It’s kind of a relief to finally get the thing put together,” John Kazenko said recently as he looked through catalogs to outfit his course with range balls, flagsticks, yardage markers and other supplies.

The Kazenkos have paid costs as they went along, mostly on profit from nearby houses built by the family – including a second son, John Jr. Very little earth was moved at Kirkside, with just tree-clearing and an adherence to the natural terrain.

“There’s lots of sweat equity; the overhead isn’t there,” John Kazenko said. “We said, ‘We’re not going to borrow money.’ So we went ahead and took the extra time.”

His son Doug shops for equipment on eBay, and they painstakingly used hand rakes to clear stones on fairways before seeding. 

Doug Kazenko calls their work, “two men and a shovel.”

Mike Hughes, chief executive of the National Golf Course Owners Association, marvels at the project’s “fiscal responsibility.’’

“Building within his means will certainly put him at an advantage on opening day.”

Kazenko brushes off any praise for his discipline. He’s just doing what comes naturally – hard work and the desire to see a job well done.

“I’d rather die out here working than sitting inside watching the TV.”

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