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This is an honest-to-goodness true story, which I have to emphasize because anyone who’s played a lick of golf with me in the last five years are sure to cry B.S.

I once was a zero handicap, for one magical summer.

That was the summer before my first year of college, when I worked my way through 30 fall and spring credits at a local JUCO by working the golf counter, the bar/restaurant, heck even the cart barn.

The best perk, besides the funding to start a good education, of course, was the free golf, which I took full advantage of, playing 18 before work, and sometimes more, and playing 18 more after work, and sometimes more.

I was home so little, my siblings could’ve been helpful and worn name tags.

But it paid off, quite nicely. That summer, I went three months, at one point, without shooting anything higher than mid-70s, between all those rounds at my home course and several others at neighboring courses, and topped out at 69 in the closest I’ve ever come to a flawless round of golf — four birdies and one bogey.

Why do I bring this us, other than to not-so-subtly humblebrag?

Because those were the good ol’ days — not just the days when I used to actually be good at golf, but the days when I actually got to play golf.

I started thinking about that summer in the late 1990s a lot just a couple weeks ago, while up north, as I stepped onto the first tee on a glorious July morning — about to play, unbelievably, my first round of golf for 2017.

Part of this is my own fault. Having been pretty darn good once upon a time, I’m nowhere close to that level anymore. I mean, I don’t embarrass myself, but I can’t remember the last time I broke 80, and when you used to be good at something and now you’re really not, naturally, you’re going to lose some passion to play the game.

Another part of this, though, is just the reality of getting older. You’ve got more responsibilities, whether at work, on the family front, or in most cases both.

So I take the rounds when I can squeeze them in.

And now, having played three rounds up north, the itch definitely is back, and those certainly won’t be the only three rounds I play this year, or this summer.

It got me thinking — if I could play 18 more rounds this summer, each at a different course, where would I play? Here are the results, keeping in mind these are only public courses, and only courses that I have played and remember rather vividly, hence why Arcadia Bluffs isn’t mentioned. I’m still saving up to play there, and even then it’ll probably have to be spring rates.

In other words, no, this isn’t some top-whatever list you’d read in a golf magazine. This is my list, done my way, without stuffy standards — with courses making the cut perhaps because of affordability, maybe because I’ve had a memorable moment there, or because, most importantly, they’re just plain fun.

After all, fun’s what it’s supposed to be all about, even if you don’t or can’t play much anymore, and you no longer can hit the shots you used to hit or shoot the scores you used to shoot.

18 TO PLAY

Black Lake

Address: 2800 Maxon Road, Onaway, 49765

Details: 5,049-7,035 yards, par 72

Rates: $60-$75

About: This is a Rees Jones classic, and a course that’s owned by the UAW. Lots of scenic looks. It used to be part of a convenient doubleheader, with Elk Ridge Golf Club in Atlanta, but that one closed last year, sadly. Fairwell to the pig-shaped bunker.

Parting shot: The time I played it, I was a bit distracted, as Dave Dombrowski was fired as Tigers GM right around our turn. Spent the back nine alternating between increasingly awful shots and hammering away on my laptop in the golf cart.

Black River

Address: 3300 Country Club Drive, Port Huron, 48060

Details: 5,510-6,501 yards, par 71/74

Rates: $39-$45

About: This is one of the top public courses in the Blue Water Area, as it used to be a ritzy private club. Lee Janzen is said to hold the course record with a 65, though Rocco Mediate was said to have shot a 64, albeit that one’s unofficial.

Parting shot: The par-4 third is a classic hole. Before I played my first of several rounds here during my time in Port Huron, I was warned, stay below the hole on the green at the third. I didn’t listen and putted off the green. It’s no joke.

Cedar Chase

Address: 7551 17 Mile Road NE, Cedar Springs, 49319

Details: 5,883-6,998 yards, par 72

Rates: $28-$35

About: Given the off-the-beaten-track location, it qualifies as a hidden gem, with the course navigating its way through some carved out woods. It’s got a links look, with some pretty penalizing Heather and plenty of well-placed, tough bunkers.

Parting shot: It’s one of the state’s championship-caliber courses that you probably never heard of, again because of location. The Bruce Matthews III design has hosted several big events, from high-school regionals to U.S. Amateur qualifiers.

The Emerald

Address: 2300 W. Maple Rapids Road, St. Johns, 48879

Details: 5,031-,6619 yards, par 72

Rates: $44-$55

About: It calls itself the “Gem of Mid-Michigan Golf,” and the description fits for the Jerry Matthews design. I especially enjoy the variety of picturesque par-3s, most of which are tougher then they look, even the short ones.

Parting shot: Lots of fond memories from a charity outing I held here a few years back, especially a near-ace by my old sports editor (on a hole we thought about making a car hole, no less). The staff and the food are absolutely excellent.

Forest Akers West

Address: 3535 Forest Road, Lansing, 48910

Details: 5,012-7,013 yards, par 72

Rates: $45-$47

About: They’ve supposedly changed this course quite a bit since I was at school, to configure to the world-class practice facilities for the Spartans golf teams. If you’re an alum and still know your student ID number, there’s a slight discount.

Parting shot: I didn’t play here nearly often enough when I was a student at MSU, amazing, since my dorm was Holden Hall, just down the road. But it always was a treat, and while the East Course is nothing too pretty, it has its challenges, too.

Fox Hills (Golden Fox)

Address: 8768 N. Territorial Road, Plymouth, 48170

Details: 5,040-6,783 yards, par 72

Rates: $38-$67

About: There are lots of courses to choose from, 63 holes in all, including a fun, par-3 course. I always was partial to the Golden Fox, though. It’s a great mix between tough holes and birdie holes, and most of the holes are pretty scenic, too.

Parting shot: I’ve made one ace in my life. My two closest calls to add to that list came on the Golden, both an inch away — including one real heartbreaker during a scramble, where an ace on the hole would’ve netted me a new Ford Explorer.

Glacier Club

Address: 8000 Glacier Club Drive, Washington, 48094

Details: 4,778-6,987 yards, par 72

Rates: $32-$44

About: There’s something about this course that I really like. Perhaps it’s the price, as you usually can find some sweet deals on the golf-discount websites — making it, for my money, a better value than its crosstown neighbor, The Orchards.

Parting shot: The staff is top-notch. Once, they closed off one nine in the middle of our round, so we had to repeat the front. They sent us out some free pizza for the inconvenience. The tree in the middle of the first fairway is annoying.

Lakewood Shores Resort (Blackshire)

Address: 7751 Cedar Lake Road, Oscoda Township, 48750

Details: 4,936-6,898 yards, par 72

Rates: They vary; call

About: This is my golf heaven, up at Lakewood Shores, where I’ve been playing since I can remember. This is the newest of the three courses, with its tree-lined fairways and its array of waste bunkers. The greens are impossible to read.

Parting shot: This course shows you don’t need par-3s to be 200 yards to be fun, and tough. All the par-3s on this course are short, and still have their challenges. The finishing holes on both nines are attackable par-5s, too.

Note: Bring bug spray.

Lakewood Shores Resort (The Gailes)

Address: 7751 Cedar Lake Road, Oscoda Township, 48750

Details: 5,246-6,954 yards, par 72/73

Rates: They vary; call

About: Easily my favorite of the three-course rotation at the resort, it’s straight out of Scotland, with high heather, impossible pot bunkers, some double-greens, and no trees, allowing the win to whip like crazy off of Lake Huron to the East.

Parting shot: The first time I played this course, I birdied No. 1, a short par 4, and birdied No. 2, and manageable and scenic par 3. At 14 or so, I was thinking, “This is a piece of cake.” I shot 110 or something. Bring at least a dozen balls.

Lakewood Shores Resort (Serradella)

Address: 7751 Cedar Lake Road, Oscoda Township, 48750

Details: 5,295-6,806 yards

Rates: They vary; call

About: Typically referred to as the easiest and most vanilla of the courses up here, it’s not as easy as most folks seem to think — especially since it’s the oldest of the courses, and the trees have really matured. It’s pretty with slick greens.

Parting shot: If you haven’t been up here, you’re missing out — given the variety of courses at your disposal, and the affordability, compared to the up-north gems. Do your homework and you can get an excellent stay-and-play/unlimited golf package.

Kaufman Golf Course

Address: 4807 Clyde Park Ave. SW, Wyoming, 49509

Details: 5,202-6,808 yards, par 72

Rates: $36-$49

About: Probably among the most-obscure courses on the list, especially for East Siders. It’s a hidden gem, though, this municipal course in the shadows of Grand Rapids. Best thing about munis — free water, making for some lush, green terrain.

Parting shot: The site of my greatest athletic meltdown. At high-school regionals, I shot 37 on the front, then decided to play it safe with an iron off the 10th. I shanked it, made an 11, and our team missed qualifying for states by one shot.

Moose Ridge

Address: 11801 Doane Road, South Lyon, 48178

Details: 4,919-6,892 yards, par 71

Rates: $50-$68

About: Among the pricier options on this list — you can see, value is among the traits I look for when playing golf. But this masterpiece is well worth splurging a bit. It’s got that “up-north” feel so many ‘round here strive for, yet few achieve.

Parting shot: Had an epic team match here with Jeff Riger not long ago, and I’ll let him share the story — if he dares. Let’s just say, it might’ve been his biggest athletic failure, at least until that softball video emerged over the weekend.

Northville Hills

Address: 15565 Bay Hill Dr., Northville, 48168

Details: 4,956-7,003 yards, par 72

Rates: $42-$68

About: Here’s another course that probably charges more than it should, so I don’t play it much. But I really, like this one — especially the landing-strip-wide fairways, which are a nod to the course’s architect, the late Arnold Palmer.

Parting shot: This course always made for a nice back-end of a doubleheader, with the Golden Fox (back when I had time to play 36 holes in one day). Once dropped three birdies in a row on Tim Twentyman, who might still be paying off that debt.

Rackham Golf Course

Address: 10100 W. 10 Mile Road, Huntington Woods, 48070

Details: 5,413-6,555 yards, par 71/72

Rates: $36-$45

About: This might be the most-historic course in Metro Detroit, designed by the legendary Donald Ross and opened in 1923. There’s no water, but some small greens, and is quite the stiff challenge, even if it’s not as scenic as the zoo it borders.

Parting shot: Some courses appeal to the younger crowd, others to older folks. This one typically draws both, given the older crowd grew up playing here, and the younger folks play out of convenience, given proximity to Royal Oak and Ferndale.

Red Hawk

Address: 350 W. Davison Road, East Tawas, 48730

Details: 4,812-6,515 yards, par 71

Rates: $40-$72

About: I always seem to enjoy Arthur Hills designs — there are so many in Michigan, given his ties to to the state — and this one is no exception, making its way through an old forest, just a stone’s throw (skip?) away from Lake Huron.

Parting shot: I pumped up the Lakewood Shores trio earlier, and Red Hawk often is included in my excursions up that way. It provides a fourth course, and one I usually try to hit either on my way up to Oscoda or making my way back downstate.

Shepherd’s Hollow

Address: 9085 Big Lake Road, Clarkston, 48346

Details: 27 holes; 4,906-7,236 yards, par 72

Rates: Dynamic pricing; usually $60-$85

About: They say there’s a “best 18” combination to play, but I haven’t found it. All three of the nine-hole courses are exquisite and scenic. Among public courses, this one has to be among the best-maintained. It’s rarely cheap, but usually worth it.

Parting shot: Make sure to bring your camera — oh, yeah, nobody actually carries a camera anymore. Well, have your cell phone handy, anyway. There’s some really nice elevated tees to help you get some great Facebook profile pictures.

Thornapple Pointe

Address: 7211 48th St. SE, Grand Rapids, 49512

Details: 4,922-7,040 yards, par 72

Rates: $55-$65

About: I played this course shortly after it opened in 1997, and it was breathtaking then and remains that way today. It also was the first course I can remember to have GPS yardages on the carts, which was a treat — and made quite the difference.

Parting shot: Us on the West side liked to call this course, “Planes, Trains and Automobiles,” given there’s a lot of background noise, given the proximity to the airport and major freeway, plus there are train tracks that run through the course.

Treetops Resort

Address: 3962 Wilkinson Road, Gaylord, 49735

Details: Five courses, including Threetops; yardages, pars vary

Rates: They vary, call

About: I’ve only played here once, and admittedly it was for a big Ryder Cup-style weekend, so the suds were flowing and the memory is a bit fuzzy. But, obviously, it’s among the must-plays in Michigan. Golf isn’t cheap, but lodging isn’t too bad.

Parting shot: This place is a heavy hitter when it comes to architects, with courses designed by legends Robert Trent Jones Sr., Tom Fazio and Rick Smith. There’s also the famous Threetops, which used to host the Par 3 Shootout, televised on ESPN.

HONORABLE MENTIONS

Bay Pointe (West Bloomfield), Boulder Pointe (Oxford), Captain’s Club at Woodfield (Grand Blanc), Cattails (South Lyon), Devil’s Ridge (Oxford), Dunham Hills (Hartland), Eagle Crest (Ypsilanti), Farmington Hills, Fieldstone (Auburn Hills), Hawk Hollow (Bath), Inkster Valley, Lake Doster (Plainwell), Lyon Oaks (Wixom), Majestic at Lake Walden (Hartland), Orchard Hills (Shelbyville), The Orchards (Washington), PohlCat (Mount Pleasant), Rattle Run (East China), Salem Hills (Northville), Stonebridge (Ann Arbor), Stonehedge (Augusta), Westwynd (Oakland)

BUCKET LIST

Arcadia Bluffs, Boyne Mountain Resort (Boyne Falls), Bucks Run (Mount Pleasant), Eagle Eye (Bath), Forest Dunes, The Loop (Roscommon), Grand Traverse Resort & Spa (Acme), Meadows (Allendale), Pilgrim’s Run (Pierson), The Quest (Houghton Lake), Ravines (Saugatuck), Tanglewood (South Lyon), University of Michigan (Ann Arbor)

tpaul@detroitnews.com

twitter.com/tonypaul1984

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