For brothers and past Michigan Amateur golf champs, 84 and 82, memory lane is a fairway
The first time the Stevens brothers held golf clubs, it was the middle of World War II.
Now they're 166 years old between them, and they still have a grip on the game. Or maybe it's the other way around.
Don, 84, played on his birthday last month, "but not very well," he conceded. Celebrating early, "I think I had a few too many tonics the night before."
Bud, 82, can still shoot lower than his age, especially over the winter in Savannah, Georgia, where he plays five times a week.
They were having lunch the other day at Plum Hollow Country Club in Southfield, where the game began for them and where their past will resurface Monday through Friday with the 104th renewal of the Michigan Amateur Championship.
It was a chance to reminisce a bit, to give one another some brotherly grief, and to tally the score of who's still strolling the fairways.
A yellowed photo from the long-deceased Detroit Times was on the table, showing a scene from a caddies' tournament, and Bud pointed to a teammate: "He just died a few weeks ago."
The Stevens boys were only 12 and 10 when they became caddies at Plum Hollow, walking the four blocks from home.
"We carried doubles," Bud said — one bag on each skinny shoulder — and "then we'd play golf afterward until dark."
Sixteen years later, Melvin (Bud) Stevens won the 1959 Michigan Amateur at Black River Country Club in Port Huron. In 1960, Don claimed the same title on the same course.
Two brothers, two trophies, two years. It's a remarkable achievement, unprecedented then and unequaled since, and they can still replay shots from championship rounds that concluded before any of this year's competitors were born.
Or even before some of their parents were.
Golf paved their way
Bud's picture was hanging on the wall next to the lunch table in the locker room, commemorating his selection as the club's first winner of a caddie scholarship in 1952.
Don's name is on a plaque in the card room — and on it, and on it, and on it some more, commemorating his 10 club championships.
He's been a member since 1959, and in the spirit of brotherly teasing, he likes to point out that he earned his way to a club membership. Bud, he said, married into his spot at another course.
Bud will give Don grief about his deliberate style of play, and likes to remind him of his run-in with a rough crew of Plum Hollow caddies from Hamtramck.
They ruled the caddie yard, Bud said, and "you had to pay them protection money."
When Don refused, "they took his clothes and hung them from the flagstick on the 9th green."
But the job was good to both of them, far better than they could have expected when they started out earning 25 cents a loop.
Bud won his scholarship, starting at Michigan and finishing at Michigan State. A group of members took up a collection and sent Don to MSU.
"We didn't grow up wealthy," Don said. Their father was a spring-winder at a Ford plant.
Golf bags carried them a long way.
No sibling rivalry
Bud could bomb the ball in his youth. Members once offered to bet a well-known pro that they had a caddie who could out-drive him; the pro wisely refused.
These days, he said almost mournfully, he can only drive the ball 200 yards or so — 100 fewer than when he won two more Michigan Ams in 1963 and 1965.
He lives in Northville and still puts in time at the auto supply company he bought from his father-in-law decades ago. Don, who lives in Commerce Township, has severe enough arthritis that he can't fully close his hands — but he put up a 40 on a recent league night.
"The only time we were really rivals was when we were caddies," Don said. "We don't try to show each other up."
Gentle ribbing, however, is a different matter.
Don has recorded 10 aces, several more than Bud. "For somebody who plays as much as you," he said, "you should have more than that."
Then it was time to warm up, and they excused themselves. A title wasn't on the line, but pride counts, too.