Above, Clark Lake Golf Course & Domenick’s Restaurant was purchased by Frank and Lorraine Forgione in 1969 as a side business. Soon thereafter, they turned it into a hopping place.
By John Hummer
Clark Lake Golf Course is for sale. It went on the market in early July. The Forgione family, long-time owners, have decided the time has finally come to move on to other endeavors and let new owners take over and put some money into the gem of a property on the corner of Hayes and Wesch roads in Columbia Township.
Predictably, the family has seen a huge local interest in the property since it went up for sale.
“After 50-some-plus years we decided to let someone take this diamond in the rough to what it can be,” said owner Lorraine Forgione, now 87. Her husband and co-owner, Frank Forgione, passed away unexpectedly at the age of 76 in 2008. Since then, their son Domenick stepped forward to help his mother run the operation in large part, along with long-time general Manager Mark Cornell.
“They’ve been a great family to work for,” Cornell said. “I certainly hope somebody comes in and does the same thing they did for 50 years.”
With Lorraine looking forward to a well-deserved late retirement (she still works almost every day!) and Domenick looking to venture more into personal business endeavors, the time is right for the sale of the business. “There may be somebody out there that can take it to the next step,” said Cornell. “If it doesn’t sell, we’re going to keep running it as a golf course.”
Frank and Lorraine Forgione purchased the original 9-hole golf course and clubhouse from Hal and Annette Whittington in 1969. Prior to them, Albert Knight owned the property. He sold it to the Whittingtons so he could move to Florida.
Fixtures in the community: Frank Forgione puts his arm around Rose Forgione in the kitchen area of the Clark Lake Golf Course in this 1985 photo. Judging from this picture, you might think Frank had a lot of fun running the business.
The original Clark Lake Golf Course was established in 1924 as a 9-hole course. When the Forgiones acquired it, it had a small A-frame clubhouse. The golf course was initially a hobby for Frank Forgione in his spare time; he and Lorraine had been successful in the restaurant and catering business in the Detroit area for over 40 years.
Frank’s immigrant mother, Rose Forgione, with her broken English and strong Italian accent, ran the day-to-day operations of the business for about 25 years while the entire family was involved in all aspects of both the golf course and restaurant. Frank and Lorraine acquired surrounding farmland and expanded it greatly in the 1970s and added on again in the 1990s to reach the current 350 acres now available for purchase. In addition to adding on to the golf course part of the business, the Forgiones built the all-brick clubhouse with wood beam interior, the banquet pavilion overlooking the course, the driving range, and the solid brick-covered cart shed.
In more recent years after Frank’s death in 2008, their son Domenick helped Lorraine carry the torch. They modernized the kitchen and renovated the bar, incorporated fire, and safety upgrades, and introduced the state-of-the-art golf simulator just a few years ago.
Lorraine shared a handful of memories during the family’s reign over the property:
- Buying a 9-hole golf course that sold egg salad sandwiches through a window;
- Adding on 18 more holes and the clubhouse;
- Grandma Rose and her “Rosie burger” and her “God bless you!” wish to all the customers;
- A cart running (driving) on its own on the course where you couldn’t see who was driving it because that was Domenick at the age of 4 and a half. He would drive but you couldn’t see him behind the wheel;
- The golf special and all-you-can-eat buffet;
- Huge outings and weddings . . .
“I could go on and on,” she said. “Our lives were lived here at Clark Lake Golf Course.
This is where we celebrated all our birthdays and special occasions. It’s been fantastic. This is what’s kept me going!”
Ironically, the family says that COVID-19 has boosted their golf revenues by as much as 70 percent, so the interest in the sport of golf is still out there. Golf memberships have also been on the rise.
Corey Bieber, left, head chef at Domenick’s Restaurant, and line cook Kyle Jackson have been grilling many chicken breasts for the many expected guests coming for a meal.
The current layout is structured with three nine-hole courses – an East Nine, a North Nine, and a South Nine. All three nines are completely irrigated.
The East Nine was the original golf course built-in 1924. Its 1997 redesign by Frank and son Domenick Forgione toughened it up, increasing the yardage to 2,996 yards and making it a par 35.
The North Nine, built-in 1973, measures 3,257 yards and is a par 36. The South Nine, built-in 1971, measures 3,375 yards with a par of 37. The North and South courses are Michigan’s longest regulation blue tees, totaling 7,580 yards.
“If somebody comes in and can take it to the next level, it will help everybody involved,” Cornell said. “This should be a destination for people to come. We can do full service for the community, but we need fresh blood. There might be some development opportunities for the right buyer.”
The Forgiones are hoping to find a buyer that would like to continue the legacy of the historic golf course and restaurant, give it a fresh facelift, and build upon its rich history.