by Brad MacDonald | MLive Media Group
Mt. Pleasant is renowned as the home of Central Michigan University, with Division I sporting events, and Soaring Eagle Casino, with superstar entertainment and the largest gaming floor in the state.
The area is also a hub of outdoor adventure with 1,000 acres of parkland and 80 miles of the Chippewa River to explore. It’s where you can discover a historic downtown full of unique shops and inspiring galleries, eclectic restaurants and lively bars.
And it just might be Michigan’s best place for golf, too.
Not only is the Mt. Pleasant area home to several championship golf courses, from PohlCat and Eagle Glen to Maple Creek and Bucks Run. The community also has turned out an impressive collection of touring professionals – more, in fact, than anywhere else in the state.
No fewer than a half-dozen golfers from the Mt. Pleasant area have made it to the sport’s biggest stage, going from humble beginnings at Riverwood Resort and The Golf Center to some of golf’s grandest venues. They’ve won tournaments on professional tours and competed in the sport’s most prestigious events.
“I really can’t explain it, and I don’t think anybody can explain it,” said Ryan Brehm, the latest star from the mid-Michigan community that has produced a Masters tournament runner-up and an LPGA major champion. “We always used to joke that there was something in the water.”
Maybe you’d like to come up and have a sip! There are lots of ways to have fun in Mt. Pleasant, including some great places to play golf.
Book your tee times and take some inspiration from these six professional golfers who got their start on the courses of Mt. Pleasant.
For many golf fans, Dan Pohl is forever linked to his runner-up finish in the 1982 Masters at the famed Augusta National Golf Club. The 3-sport star at Mt. Pleasant High School shot 5-under-par 67s in the third and final rounds to charge up the leaderboard past the likes of Tom Watson, Ray Floyd and Seve Ballesteros. He finished in a tie for first, only to lose on the first hole of a sudden-death playoff to Craig Stadler.
While Pohl narrowly missed getting the iconic green jacket awarded to Masters champions, he did go on to win two PGA Tour events and place in the top 10 at golf’s major tournaments six more times, including third-place finishes at the U.S. Open and PGA Championship. He was golf’s longest driver in the early 1980s and had the PGA Tour’s lowest scoring average in 1987, the same year he won a match in the prestigious Ryder Cup.
“We grew up playing at Riverwood (Resort and Golf Course),” said Pohl, 68, who also was an accomplished baseball and basketball player in his youth. “We were dropped off at the golf course at 7 in the morning and picked up at 7 at night. (Riverwood owner) Dick Figg and the Figg family was always very receptive to us being able to play.”
During his playing career, Pohl tallied more than $3 million in career earnings. In addition to his success on tour, Pohl designed Mt. Pleasant’s PohlCat golf course, which bears his nickname. He’s currently the director of golf operations there, serving local players as well as visitors who come from around the state to play all the great golf courses in the area.
“Having (Mt. Pleasant) looked at as a destination is big,” Pohl said. “We’ve cut the state in half. From Detroit, we’ve cut two hours out of their drive (up north) and have quality golf courses to play. We’ve got options.”
For all of Pohl’s success in the 1980s, the biggest golf star to come out of Mt. Pleasant may be Kelly Robbins. The daughter of longtime Mt. Pleasant High School golf coach Steve Robbins grew up playing at Riverwood and The Golf Center, a practice facility started in the 1970s by the late PGA teaching professional Roy Gunderson.
During her sterling amateur career, Robbins won back-to-back individual state titles in high school before becoming an NCAA All-American and Co-Player of the Year with LPGA Hall of Famer Annika Sorenstam.
Then, as a professional, Robbins won nine LPGA Tour events including one major, the 1995 LPGA Championship, while finishing runner-up in the 2003 U.S. Women’s Open. She played on the U.S. Solheim Cup team six times and amassed career earnings of more than $5.7 million.
“I’m proud to say that Mt. Pleasant gave me every opportunity to help shape my professional career,” said Robbins, 53, who is retired and splits her time between Michigan and Maine. “The men at The Golf Center, along with Dick Figg at Riverwood, had the most significant impact in framing my career. Those men let me do anything I wanted and needed to help me become a better golfer.
“For me, it was an opportunity and a ‘golf family’ commitment. We just worked really, really hard and had the facilities to do it.”
Speaking of family commitment, Cindy Figg-Currier sometimes would babysit Robbins while they were growing up in Mt. Pleasant! Ten years older than Robbins, the daughter of the late Riverwood owner Dick Figg became the first woman from Mt. Pleasant to make it big on the LPGA Tour.
After winning back-to-back individual state titles in high school in the late 1970s, Figg-Currier starred at the University of Texas and enjoyed a prolific professional career. She played in more than 450 LPGA events from the 1980s into the 2000s, finishing in the top 10 more than 30 times and winning the 1997 State Farm Rail Classic.
Figg-Currier, 63, also has been successful on the Legends of the LPGA Tour, winning multiple tournaments. Her career golf winnings exceed $2 million.
Doug Labelle II
When Tiger Woods made his debut at the PGA Tour’s Buick Open in Grand Blanc in 1997, Doug LaBelle II was in the field. Then a 22-year-old, LaBelle was only a few years removed from developing his game in the Mt. Pleasant junior program run by Gunderson.
“Mt. Pleasant junior golf and Roy Gunderson played a huge role in my introduction to the game,” said LaBelle, 48, now a commercial and residential real estate agent in the Mt. Pleasant area. “From that point on, I really loved being at the golf course practicing, playing and learning to get better.”
LaBelle played in tournaments all over the world, winning twice on the Web.com tour and also competing on the Canadian Tour, the Australasian Tour and for a handful of seasons on the PGA Tour. He played in nearly 100 PGA Tour events and won $2.5 million, finishing as high as fourth place in the 2007 Sony Open in Hawaii.
LaBelle also qualified for the U.S. Open twice and made the cut in his lone appearance at the British Open, tying for 51st in 2008 with past major champions Sergio Garcia, Michael Campbell and Zach Johnson, this year’s U.S. Ryder Cup captain.
A three-time individual state champion at Mt. Pleasant High School, Ryan Brehm is the latest pro golf sensation to come out of the area. He was a star at Michigan State who made the cut in the PGA Tour’s 2005 Buick Open as a 19-year-old and later won the Michigan Open three times.
After toiling for years on professional mini tours, Brehm earned his way onto the PGA Tour in 2017 and won nearly $400,000. Yet, he never managed to crack the top 10 in any event until his big breakthrough when he won the 2022 Puerto Rico Open at age 35.
Brehm has played a full schedule of PGA Tour events since winning and remains exempt for many events in the upcoming 2024 season. His career earnings now total more than $1.4 million.
“All these young players just keep getting better, but so am I,” said Brehm, 37. “There’s a lot of gas left in this tank.”
Brehm got his start in the game at PohlCat, which his family owned. He also credits the junior program run by Gunderson and the annual Riverwood State Junior Tournament that he played in lots of times.
Brehm remembers fishing with Pohl on Lake Michigan as a kid, and rooting for Figg-Currier, Robbins and LaBelle while he was growing up. At the recent Wyndham Championship where Brehm finished in the top 25, his fellow competitor’s caddy was the same guy who caddied for Robbins in the 2003 U.S. Women’s Open.
“That’s always fun to hear the stories and see that some of the caddies are still out there and they remember (previous pros from Mt. Pleasant),” Brehm said. “The aforementioned players pioneered the way.
“We all had a common desire to play and learn the game, and we were given the opportunity. All of us kind of have a similar demeanor, too. We just quietly try to go about our business.”
Dick Horgan can’t match the career earnings of any of the other touring professionals from Mt. Pleasant. In fact, he only cashed a check on the PGA Tour a few times in his life. Yet, he remains the first pro from Mt. Pleasant to make it onto the game’s biggest stage.
Horgan grew up playing golf at Mt. Pleasant Country Club, sometimes playing 54 holes a day. He played college golf at Central Michigan, becoming an All-American and finishing sixth in the country as an individual one year.
Horgan remembers trying to qualify for the PGA Tour in the 1970s and being paired with future U.S. Open champions Tom Kite and Andy North. “I found out I wasn’t good enough,” he recalled.
While he went to work as a club pro, Horgan finished runner-up in both the Michigan Open and the Michigan PGA Championship. He also qualified for individual PGA Tour events on several occasions. Making it into the 1979 U.S. Open was the highlight of his career – perhaps until this year when he finally shot lower than his age for 18 holes.
“I’ve been trying to do it for the last few years, and earlier this year I shot a 73,” said Horgan, 75, who still plays a few times a week in the Mt. Pleasant area. “One thing I still enjoy is just to hit a solid golf shot. That’s what hooks people on golf. They hit that one shot that jumps off the face, and they play forever.”
Photos provided by MLive.