Living the Dream
By Jenn Ryan
In 1984, David Francis Stapleton took his first golf swing ever at Crystal Lake Golf Course. He was 10 years old. Stapleton was attending a junior golf event with one of his brothers and their father. His love of golf—and of Crystal Lake Golf Course—began that day.
Now, decades later, Crystal Lake Golf remains Stapleton’s favorite course—so much so that, recently, after almost 20 years of corporate ladder-climbing and more than one stress-related health scare, Stapleton, now 44, finds himself managing his favorite course.
“It’s a dream come true,” says Stapleton, who began the job of general manager over Memorial Day weekend. Not only that: he is working on a deal toward ownership. Although that prospect may seem daunting to some, it is a welcome change of pace for Stapleton, who has been on a de-stress journey this past year.
The Return Home
As a life-long athlete and competitor, Stapleton has long found respite and challenge in the game of golf. Whether as an avenue for sport/fitness, business negotiations, or as a mental “break” from the grind of the workday, golf has been an important part of his life since that very first day, back in 1984.
Stapleton’s family had moved to Benzie County just four years earlier, in May of 1980. He is the youngest of six children, all having graduated from Benzie Central High School. Stapleton actually had a summer job at the golf course during high school, from 1988 to 1991. After graduation in 1992, Stapleton went to Hope College for academics and athletics. He played football for the Flying Dutch, until a back injury that required surgery led him to transfer to Central Michigan University, where he earned a business degree.
Before, during, and after college, Stapleton helped to manage the family business—Stapleton’s Corner Store, at the stop light in Benzonia—before it sold to its current owner in 2004. Additionally, Stapleton has been using his business acumen for the past 14 years in Traverse City, where he led a multi-million dollar print company.
Early in 2018, however, life changed significantly after he was downsized from his long-time employer. A combination of factors allowed him to explore a crossroads of sorts—would he move away, start anew, or invest back home?
Stapleton began researching, doing a lot of self-reflection, and taking care of his health. A long-time sufferer of psoriasis, attributed to a high-stress and toxic work environment and a lack of self-care, his body was covered head to toe with one of his worst outbreaks ever—more than 85 percent of his body was under a major stress attack. His doctor told him that he needed to find a way to decompress and de-stress.
One day at a time, Stapleton started paying attention to what really mattered. He dug into a meditation and self-care practice; he began a cleanse, eliminating alcohol and monitoring his diet.
As soon as spring sprung, he returned to his beloved golf course and found an opportunity that seemed too good to be true—now, five months after what began as a tumultuous shift, he feels like he is 25 years old, and the outbreak is almost completely gone.
“I went from psoriasis covering 85 percent of my body to just five percent of my body within three months of taking good care of myself,” Stapleton says. “My doctor told me that it takes most people four to six months to do that, sometimes even longer.”
With renewed vigor, clear skin, and a new job, he could not be happier. Strong in body, heart, and mind, he works day to day to live a life of intention, with laser sharp focus.
“I’ve learned that it is possible at any age to focus on an idea or goal that gives life purpose and meaning,” he says. “The deliberate and intentional steps forward will not be perfect, however daily progress—meeting or exceeding small daily goals—has reduced my stress level to almost zero and healed my body.”
Not Just A Golf Course
Upon walking into the clubhouse, there is a nearly 360-degree view of the golf course via floor-to-ceiling windows. A sign hangs over the newly refinished wood bar in the center of the room that says, “Forecast: Sunny with a chance of golf,” and the lyrics from John Mellencamp’s “Pink Houses” echo from the kitchen: “Oh, but ain’t that America, for you and me; ain’t that America, we’re something to see, baby; ain’t that America, home of the free.”
Out the windows, the sun shines on the fairway, with lush trees, an apple orchard up the center, and a spectacular view of Crystal Lake’s sparkling blue water. A big, white event tent is set up, as well as patio umbrella tables. Stapleton’s smile is infectious for customers, who comment on the changes that they can see since the last time that they visited this course.
“Yeah, we’re getting some stuff done,” Stapleton shrugs humbly as he checks them in.
The beer-delivery guy cracks a joke: “Man, how can you stand this view all day long?”
The course—located just off the beaten path, along US-31 about a half-mile north of Beulah—boasts a remarkable 160 acres of sprawling fairways and was designed by legendary golf course architects Bruce and Jerry Matthews. Bruce Matthews created the first nine holes in 1970, while his son, Jerry, designed the challenging “back nine” in 1987. Whether played in its entirety or in parts, the course is a challenge to golfers of all skill sets.
Stapleton remembers when he worked here in high school, back before neighboring courses like Pinecroft or Champion Hill were open, when he and the owner would ring up 250 rounds of golf in a day—Stapleton hopes that the changes he is making will bring locals back to Crystal Lake Golf.
Stapleton has already implemented changes, including updates, such as a brew-pub-feel in the clubhouse, a more diverse beverage offering (including local favorites from Stormcloud Brewing Company and St. Ambrose Cellars, as well as Northwoods Soda, to name a few), and live music on (most) Friday nights from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m.
The staff is enthusiastic and hardworking; together, their ideas for the future are growing exponentially, Stapleton says. The “pub grub” menu expands regularly and includes daily specials—burger, chips, draft (soda or beer) for $10; pulled pork sandwich, coleslaw, draft (soda or beer) for $10, for instance.
Not just a golf course, though, Stapleton says that this is both an event site and a fun, local watering hole—with a view. Whether you are a golfer, have a class reunion, anniversary, party, fundraiser, or wedding to plan, there are limitless possibilities with a venue like this, he says.
Stapleton’s ultimate dream is to create a destination that is open year-round; one where people can be happy, be present, be in nature, and enjoy the beautiful wilderness that surrounds the property.
A Day in the Life
The early bird gets the worm, they say; for Stapleton, that means rising early—4 or 5 a.m.—taking a jog on some of the pristine 160 acres of the course, and completing his morning routine, which often includes meditating while gazing out into the wilderness habitat and rolling fairways. (So far this summer, he has seen hundreds of deer, turkeys, birds of all kinds, steer, and even a black bear!) He then grabs a healthy breakfast, cooked by his work colleague, Augie Sanchez, who Stapleton says makes the “best scrambled eggs in the county, sorry Mom!” After breakfast, he gets to work, compartmentalizing his dream.
Making calls, doing research, brainstorming with visionaries, and fine-tuning his goals, Stapleton sets up tee times, takes the time to make conversation with golfers and visitors to the course, slings beverages behind the bar, and works to build a cohesive team, one that is well-trained, as stress-free as possible, and who are in it for the long haul.
Stapleton is like any small business manager, involved in every aspect of the businesses.
Working through training updates, as well as software and infrastructure improvements and efficiencies, he is no stranger to doing what it takes to accomplish a task. No surprise, given that he comes from an intelligent, well-respected, hardworking family of community-minded folks—father Tom Sr. owned and operated Stapleton’s Corner Store for 24 years; mom Eileen worked as an elementary school counselor and currently enjoys retirement thoroughly (especially playing Bridge with friends); sister Christine is owner of Stapleton Realty; sister Trish is a teacher for Traverse City Area Public Schools; brother Tom Jr. works for Watson Benzie auto dealership; sister Sarah co-owns Practical Engineers, Inc. as a consulting engineer for new construction and renovations, and she also coaches varsity girls basketball at Benzie Central High School; and brother Matt is principal of Frankfort Junior and Senior High, as well as FHS varsity football coach.
David Stapleton attributes much of his success to the love and respect of family and friends and the clear-sightedness that he has gained from his meditation practice.
Sure, he knows that he is just at the beginning of his journey, but he trusts that he is now on a sustainable path—it is all about creating a life and venue that is as stress-free as possible and sharing it with every human he can.
Stapleton hopes to one day be able to provide an avenue for people to share their stressors with others and to learn from each other and to support one another.
“A special ‘thank you’ to the amazing, close-knit Benzie community and to those friends and family members who have helped out and supported me during this process,” he says. “In learning about how stress can be linked to some major health issues, staying active is a priority for me to remain healthy.”
Crystal Lake Golf is located at 8493 Fairway Drive. Stay tuned to what is going on at Crystal Lake Golf by liking them on Facebook or visiting their website CLGolfOfBeulah.com or by emailing CLGolf.Beulah.MI@gmail.com. Call 231-882-4061.
Think that you or someone you know might be suffering from the ill effects of stress? Check out bit.ly/StressHotlines to learn more and to get help; there is information for the general public, for veterans and their families—everything from help finding a therapist to the suicide prevention hotline. Do not suffer in silence.