Memorial Links in Pleasant Mount won't be the same without John & Mary Lou
John McAndrew is a big, loud, happy Irishman who who possesses an infectious laugh and loves to make people smile.
We met for the first time two decades ago and have been friends ever since.
John is the owner and proprietor of Memorial Links, my all-time favorite golf course located on what was once farmland in the heart of Pleasant Mount.
At the moment, he's standing just outside the clubhouse surveying the scene. It's a beautiful autumn afternoon, but things are quiet since golf season has pretty much run its course for 2017.
Nevertheless, the greens are a deep emerald hue, manicured to perfection. The fairways are sharply cut and, at the moment, bathed in unseasonably warm October sunshine.
Mary Lou, John's constant, loving (and long-suffering!) companion of the last 28 years, is right by his side. We've been trying to decide where to take a photo for the story and finally settled on this spot.
The two of them take their places beside a beautiful stone monument dedicated to the memory of John's brother, Dr. Patrick McAndrew.
After shooting a dozen or so wide-angle, I zoom in on the happy couple and focus on their faces. John leans in and whispers something to Mary Lou. She looks at him, rolls her eyes and slips an arm around his waist.
John leans back, looks up to the electric blue sky and laughs heartily. Mary Lou sighs in resignation, smiles and rests her head on John's shoulder.
For just a split second, they both look at the camera and I manage to capture the moment: Two hard-working folks, relaxed and content in one another's company.
End of an Era
I have mixed emotions about this latest journey to northern Wayne County, since the reason for my trip is to document the end of an era.
After nearly a quarter century, John and Mary Lou have announced that they're preparing to retire and putting Memorial Links up for sale.
I've visited this place many times over the years. I've written sports stories and columns about it. Heck, I even witnessed the only hole-in-one my Dad's ever made right here.
To consider that this may be the last time I'll ever visit Memorial under the care of John and Mary Lou is … well, it's unthinkable. And yet, I understand that, in life, one chapter ends and another begins.
“This has been a labor of love, but it's time,” John said. “Thankfully, I don't have to sell it, but we aren't getting any younger and there are lots of other things we want to do.”
Chief among those things is spending time with their “grandbabies:” Hayden, 6, and Preston, 4 … two adorable children who are already calling it “their” golf course.
In the interim, John and Mary Lou have listed the property for sale. They've already had a couple of nibbles, though nothing has worked out.
“I want to keep it as a golf course,” John said adamantly. “I'll even stay on for a year to help with the greens and make it a smooth transition.”
He purchased the land from a distant relative back in 1985. It had been a family farm for generations, but John had big plans … plans he didn't reveal even to Mary Lou until years later.
John's father, the late Dr. Lorain McAndrew built the course many of you know as “Lake Lorain” back in the 1960s.
“I grew up there,” John said. “Born and raised. It was my Dad's dream and he made it happen.”
Sadly, Dr. McAndrew died in 1966. However, the dream of owning and operating a golf course trickled down. While two brothers went on to become physicians like their father, John worked hard to make his own dream a reality.
In 1993, eight years after purchasing the land, John began the backbreaking work of transforming a fallow farm into a nine-hole links paradise.
“I remember the day he first told me,” Mary Lou said with a wistful smile.
“He sat down at the table for breakfast and said: 'I think I want to build a golf course.”
Her immediate reaction still makes them both laugh.
“She told me I was crazy,” John said. “And, looking back I guess I probably was. I had no idea how much work I was in for. No idea.”
While John had the entire 9-hole layout pictured in his head, the real work began when he and Mary Lou tried sketching it out on the computer.
Unfazed by what would become a mammoth undertaking, John rolled up his sleeves and went to work. He labored long and hard all through 1993, opened for a partial season in '94 and then celebrated his first full year in '95.
The finished product measured 2,900 yards from tee to green. There are nine holes and more than a few treacherous greens. Par is 35 and the longest hole comes in at a whopping 565 yards.
In the end, though, no matter what type of yardstick you use, the true measure of a course is the reputation in gains.
“I've always said: It's not a country club, it's a club in the country,” John stated. “People get a kick out of that slogan.”
Memorial Links inspires loyalty in its clientele. There are leagues here still thriving after 20 years, family and work groups that have played on the same day each week for decades.
The dream had become a reality, not just for John and Mary Lou, but for thousands of folks who've made the drive and played the course.
Our impromptu photo session complete, the three of us have repaired the clubhouse and perched on stools around the bar.
Mackey, a big, friendly 7-year-old lab and Memorial's unofficial mascot, sits happily at John's feet. Mary Lou leans on the counter, ever the attentive host.
Our time here is winding down and there are so many folks to thank … from family and friends to workers and volunteers.
“When the time comes, it's the people I'll miss,” said Mary Lou. “Ninety-nine percent of the folks we deal with on a daily basis are just wonderful.”
She would especially like to thank her 'Thursday Morning Crew,' Al and Chuck in particular. No matter what difficulty Mary Lou encountered (from angry bees, to stalled mowers and flying rocks) they were always there to help her.
John nods in agreement.
He's deeply indebted and grateful to all the fine folks who stuck with them. However, family is foremost on his mind on this day.
“We called it Memorial Links in memory of my dad and brother Rick,” he said. “Now, my brother Pat and my mom are gone, too.”
It's a quiet moment and perhaps a fitting one to end on. After all, when the laughter dies down and the smiles fade, what's left is family … and all of those who've supported Memorial Links over the years are a kind of extended family.
John hoists his drink in the air and offers a heartfelt toast, saying simply:
“On behalf of myself, Mary Lou, Steph, Dave, Hayden, Preston and my sister Kathy, thank you!”