Photo: Mike and Gina Sheldon pose at the site for their putting course on the Crystal River.
By Jacob Wheeler
Mike Sheldon, the longtime CEO of Deutsch advertising agency in Los Angeles and a Lake Leelanau resident since 2017, has broken ground on an 18-hole putting and dining destination at the former River at Crystal Bend in Glen Arbor—where the Crystal River turns and heads northeast toward The Homestead and Sleeping Bear Bay. He received a conditional Land Use Permit last night from the Glen Arbor Township Planning Commission and hopes to open the venue to the public next spring.
The destination will bring even more action to the east side of town, where Crystal River Outfitters, the Cyclery, the M22 Store and Coastal already draw crowds. Less than a mile away, the renovated Mill has generated buzz since it opened this spring.
Sheldon, 64, envisions an 18-hole putting course on permeable Astroturf in a wooded, 3-acre park with a food and beverage pavilion, retail shop, and live music.
“Ours is a passion project, a tribute to Glen Arbor and northern Michigan. We think it’ll fit in beautifully with the up-north vibe,” he told the Glen Arbor Sun. “It’s a place to have a friendly competition with friends and family followed by a beer and good food overlooking the Crystal River.
“The great thing about putting is you can be 4 or 94 and still enjoy it. And it can be as competitive as you’d like. True golfers will love it for the challenge, non-golfers will love it just for the fun.”
The River at Crystal Bend mini-golf course, which Mike Sutherland opened 15 years ago, reemerged as Dale’s Glen Arbor under his brother Paul’s ownership in 2014, but has sat mostly quiet for a decade. Sheldon acquired the property from Paul Sutherland in February.
“Someone recently called it the ‘Sugar Loaf of Glen Arbor’,” Sheldon joked, alluding to the long-shuttered ski resort in the heart of Leelanau County. “We wanted to make something beautiful out of a property that has been derelict for so long. We’ve gotten strong, positive feedback from locals. This will be a great amenity for both vacationers and for locals.”
Sheldon now has the green light from the Planning Commission. Approval from the Leelanau County Road Commission, the county Health Department, and Michigan’s Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy come next. He also needs a name for the business. Suggestions from the public are welcome.
According to a preliminary plan he submitted to Glen Arbor Township this spring, and confirmed by Sheldon this week, AGS, a Traverse City-based golf course builder, will design and construct the course. The property will include a food and beverage pavilion roughly 30 x 80 feet, including a covered patio area. Customers can walk up to the counter, order and pay, without waiting long for the food. The menu will feature healthy food, tasty but not fried, said Sheldon. Think chicken, salmon and tuna bowls with rice and toppings, healthy salads, as well as street corn, gyros, lobster rolls, BBQ’d pulled pork and steak, hot dogs and chicken skewers plus fruit cups for “little putters.”
Beer or cocktails will also be available, though Sheldon emphasized this will be a family-friendly atmosphere. He envisions the destination being open from roughly 11 a.m. until 9 or 10 p.m. during summer peak season. “We want to be respectful of the community,” he said.
Sheldon will partner with Traverse City-based Honest Hospitality to oversee the operations. Local eateries owned by Honest Hospitality include Mama Lu’s, Flying Noodle and The Burrow. “They know the rigors involved with making sure the business is run in an efficient, systematic, and controlled manner,” he said.
Anchoring the property, a 2,100 square foot building featuring a golf check-in desk and putter rental, Michigan-themed merchandise, and ADA compliant restrooms, will be accessible from Oak Street—the street that runs south from M-22 toward the Glen Lake Fire Department. Guests will also be able to enter the premises from the parking lot which will accommodate 60 vehicles. Sheldon estimates the putting course may attract more than 200 golfers per day during peak summer in July and August. A mix of seating options will include picnic tables for dining and bar seating.
Sheldon, who was born in West Bloomfield and attended Michigan State University, spent 30 years in Los Angeles, “doing the corporate thing,” he said. “I made TV commercials. It’s a fun world, but fairly intangible. One project ends and I moved on to the next. I didn’t have anything afterwards to stand back, look at and be proud of.”
After retiring in 2020, it didn’t take Sheldon long to find a new project. “It was a confluence of being bored, finding this lot for sale, and wanting to create a tribute to northern Michigan.”
Sheldon said he and his high school friend Chuck Damman have been working on this project seven days a week since he acquired the property in February. They hope to open in May 2024.