Through the late 1980s and into the 1990s, northern Michigan was more than a boat-and-hut destination for weekend travelers looking for a break from their downtown stresses.
It had become a golfing region of international repute, with billboard designer after billboard helping to create more resorts and golf oases along the region’s lakes, hills and pine trees.
All of this brought Dave Richards to the media in Michigan and beyond. A Plymouth-Salem High graduate and student at the University of Michigan who had seen with the eye of a publicist and the acumen of a businessman that golfing in northern Michigan was becoming a story on this continent – and others – should.
Dave Richards died Tuesday at his Bloomfield Hills home. His health had deteriorated after multiple back operations and a stroke in 2019. He was 63.
“Dave was instrumental in putting northern Michigan on the national golf map and across the state,” said Chris MacInnes, president of Crystal Enterprises, Inc., which oversees Crystal Mountain Resort in Thompsonville, Michigan. “He has promoted Michigan nationally and internationally.
“His legacy in northern Michigan is that he came up with the name America’s Summer Golf Capital – it’s the logo under which the major resorts are marketed today.”
With his passion for golf, camera skill, and ability to provide writers and media with good stories about a growing resort phenomenon, Richards used his ruse to spread the word about golf vacations. The stories were devoured at a time when newspapers and magazines were thriving and when the freshness of Michigan’s golf boom with forest and water became the fodder for travelogues and news sites.
It could be a new property in the Boyne Mountain Venues; Robert Trent Jones, Tom Fazio and Rick Smith compete for design skills and openings of real estate at Treetops in Gaylord; Tom Doak brings his growing reputation as a masterful golf architect to a particular project; or Tom Weiskopf, who is adding an 18-hole sculpture at Shanty Creek.
Wherever resort courses were both magic and news, Richards was often involved in bringing the wealth and romance to an audience hungry for Michigan’s growing golf history.
“Dave was the original pied piper of northern Michigan,” said Norm Sinclair, longtime reporter for the Detroit News and Richard’s cohort for more than three decades who has written about northern golf culture for years. “He would cross the state in his blue Mercury Marquis loaded with a shelf of golf shirts in the back seat. He always traveled from property to property, inviting golf media to check out new golf courses or resort developments.
“He was so excited about the entire golf scene.”
His easy-going humor and love of bringing people together made him a natural to introduce golf resort operators, golf professionals and designers to the media. It was an atmosphere devoted to fun but relied on business, which depended heavily on those stories and photos that Richards spurred on with invitations and opportunities that he personally arranged.
He also acted as a sort of intermediary director for golf professionals, course instructors, designers, general managers – all facets of golf that could fall within the scope of his personally founded company, Golf Marketing Services.
“He was that connection, that line for so many of us,” said Mike Bylen, owner and operator of Shepherd’s Hollow and Pine Trace Golf Courses in Clarkson and Troy. “I met so many people in the golf business through Dave.
“He was a great resource because if something was going on in golf, Dave knew about it.”
Richards’ approach to golf advertising was widely viewed as unconventional. He wrote e-mails in a kind of self-created format and in an “adapted” English version, so to speak. He wasn’t a suit, not even a coat or tie, in his business wardrobe. He had his own unique style – and he was uniquely effective.
Glenn Pulice recalls his employment as a PGA professional on the Rattle Run Golf Course near St. Clair. One of the owners remembered a person he had met, “Dave”, who had a golf promotion business that Rattle Run might need. Pulice was instructed to track him down, which he did by a quick phone call to Indianwood Golf & Country Club, where the local pro, Dave Zink, immediately replied: Dave Richards was his man.
“I remember sitting in the owner’s office having this very strange business talk with Dave and the owner,” recalls Pulice, who is now the general manager of the Royal Oak Golf Center. “All he did while we were talking was scribbling on a business pad.
“But the owner said afterwards, ‘You hire them because they know who their contacts are and how they can promote your business.’
“Well, that decision made me look good in the end. The two positions I got later were basically all thanks to Dave. “
Richards leaves behind his 30-year-old wife, Denise Fleckenstein; his mother Milanne; and sisters Cindy Richards and Kris Kaminski. His father Dave died before him.
A funeral visit is scheduled for July 15 at 11 a.m. at the AJ Desmond & Sons Funeral Home in Royal Oak, followed by a service at 1 p.m.
Instead of flowers, donations can be made to the Midnight Golf program at Bingham Farms.
Lynn Henning is a freelance writer and former sports reporter for Detroit News.