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The North Wind is an independent student publication serving the Northern Michigan University community. It is partially funded by the Student Activity Fee. The North Wind digital paper is published daily during the fall and winter semesters except on university holidays and during exam weeks. The North Wind Board of Directors is composed of representatives of the student body, faculty, administration and area media.

Students protest against Israel-Hamas war with campus encampment
Students protest against Israel-Hamas war with campus encampment
Dallas Wiertella April 30, 2024

Chocolay course given to community

Due to a contribution last month, Northern Michigan University became the ninth public university in Michigan to own a golf course. Chocolay Golf Club, an 18-hole course formerly owned by Joe and Patsie Gibbs, was donated to the school near the end of last semester: a gift equaling $1.6 million dollars. Cindy Paavola, NMU’s director of Communication and Marketing, explained that this is an exciting, but not uncommon, gift for a university to receive.

“People donate all kinds of things to universities, and there are many golf courses owned and operated by universities across the country, nine in the state of Michigan. It’s not unprecedented,” Paavola said. “We plan to operate the golf course at least for the immediate future. However, I think a few people were surprised that it happened very quickly.”

In addition to the surprise at the speed of the transaction, Paavola felt that many fellow NMU staff members are excited about NMU’s new property, with many benefits of the acquisition intended to go straight to the students. The golf course will be kept open to the public, with net profits being channeled towards NMU scholarships and other academic programs. The golf course also offers other benefits besides scholarship monies.

“The goal would be that we’d develop academic-related programs,” Paavola said. “Hopefully including a large internship program encompassing marketing, management, hospitality management if there is food service out there, and maybe entertainment and sports promotion. The goal would be to involve students at a really high level to help us operate this course.”

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The 18-hole course sits on 220-acres of land in Chocolay Township, and course website boasts the world’s longest golf hole at over 29,000 square feet of green on the ninth hole. Northern’s Vice President of Business and Auxiliary Services, Art Gischia, anticipates that the course will be open in time for the upcoming golf season.

“We are still setting up our business structure and plans, but weather permitting, we will be open around mid to late April,” Gischia said.

The course also offers a location for the Wildcat golf team to practice, and potentially a place for winter activities like snow shoeing or cross country skiing. There may even be the possibility of a new academic major thanks to the golf course access.

“Right now we have a ski management major with Gogebic, who already owns a ski hill,” Cindy Paavola explained. “So we may look into a golf management major similar to what our ski management program is now.”

The golf course was donated by the Gibbses of Interlochen, Mich., who became familiar with Marquette, and more particularly Northern, because their daughter Marylyn Gibbs graduated in 1984 from NMU with a degree in Hospitality Management. Seven years later, husband and wife moved to the Upper Peninsula and bought property to start building the Chocolay Golf Club.

“We bought it in 1991 and started building right then,” Joe Gibbs said. “We moved up there immediately after we bought it. We had already built a golf course downstate years before, so we knew a little bit about it.”

When the couple decided to move back to the Grand Traverse area in 2006 to be closer to Gibbs’ elderly mother, Chocolay Golf Club was sold, presumably for good. However last Fall, the course was in the hands of the Gibbses once again.

“The California group that bought it was on what is called a ‘long contract’, and they just didn’t continue making the payments, so we acquired it back again,” Gibbs explained.

After failing to sell it, the couple decided to keep a small amount of the land for themselves, and donated the rest to Northern Michigan University as a way to give back to the community which they had enjoyed being a part of for so long.

“We knew we wouldn’t be making it back up to Marquette, so we were happy to be able to do that, because we had a good 13 years up there with business exceptionally good,” Gibbs said. “We were very fortunate to be in the position to do it.”

Head Coach of the NMU Men’s Golf team, Dean Ellis, says the team plans to begin practicing on the course sometime next fall.

“We generally finish the season by the 20th of April so we won’t be using Chocolay much this Spring, and we do host a conference championship in October, but we will be using Graywall to host that tournament,” Ellis said. “We do intend to use it for practice, but we initially won’t be competing at Chocolay.”

Michigan State University, University of Michigan, Grand Valley State University, and Michigan Tech are also among the nine public Michigan universities that own and operate golf courses.

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