It’s like a golf version of a biblical genealogy: Frank Dufina taught Phil Dufina, who taught Dennis Dufina, who taught Jack Parel, whose son Scott has won more than $7 million on the professional golf circuit known as PGA Tour Champions.
That’s just one branch of a giant family tree that goes all the way back to a Mackinac Island farm where summer cottagers put together one of the earliest American golf courses in the late 1890s.
It was on those grounds that the name Wawashkamo – a Native American word that means “crooked trail” – became (somewhat comically) linked to golf on Mackinac Island. Golfers on the No. 1 Best Island in the Continental U.S. have been walking a crooked trail in pursuit of errant shots ever since! And many of them, including the Parel family, can track their golfing heritage back to Wawashkamo Golf Club and its first professional, Frank Dufina.
“There’s this really fascinating history of golf on Mackinac Island and of professional golfers who can trace their roots back to Frank Dufina,” said Phil Porter, golf club historian and author of a book about Wawashkamo and its first pro. “He was a good golfer, but he was a great teacher.”
Who was Frank Dufina? And what’s so special about Wawashkamo Golf Club? Take a look at the incredible history of the course:
- Dufina was a Mackinac Island resident of both Native American and French Canadian descent who became part of the first wave of U.S. golf professionals as the game exploded in popularity in the early 1900s. He was the first Native American golf professional and twice played in the Western Open, then among the most prestigious events of the year.
- Summer cottagers on Mackinac Island sought to build a golf course. They recruited Alex Smith to design Wawashkamo. The Scotsman was one of the best players in the world and would go on to win two U.S. Open titles.
- Wawashkamo was laid out on a farm where the 1814 Battle of Mackinac was fought between Americans and British vying for control of the island, which then was a strategic military fort in the Upper Great Lakes.
- Dufina started as a caddy at Wawashkamo, then became the caddy master and later the club pro while still a teenager. He continued in that role for nearly 70 years, making him perhaps the longest-serving golf professional in history. Some current Wawashkamo members remember taking lessons from Dufina.
- The original Wawashkamo clubhouse built by Patrick Doud still stands with cedar lockers in the locker room. The Doud family has had a large influence on Mackinac Island, and many buildings built by Patrick Doud still stand.
- Wawashkamo once welcomed the early 20th-century’s pre-eminent professional golfer, Walter Hagen, who entered his name in the club registry on July 27, 1919.
In addition to the historic things that have happened on the grounds of Wawashkamo, the golf course itself is one of America’s Historic Golf Landmarks. The whole place has an old look to it that hearkens back to the early days of the game. Wawashkamo sports small putting greens, tiny sand bunkers and fairways that turn brown in the summer for lack of rain. (Only the tees and greens are irrigated.) It looks more like the old courses of Scotland than modern American courses of today.
Interesting features on the golf course include an iconic “circus ring” of high grass around the entire green on one hole, and “chocolate drops” – piles of rocks picked out of the field by previous farmers – along the fairway on another hole.
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Wawashkamo Golf Club also features tributes to the 1814 battle including a cannon near the first tee and signs identifying areas where the skirmish took place. In a unique arrangement, the club leases the land from Mackinac State Historic Parks, and in maintaining the golf course also preserves the historic battlefield.
One of the more notable aspects of the property is a large mound in the middle of the golf course between the 5th and 6th holes. The mound, which is mentioned in a description of the battle that took place more than 200 years ago, is where a massive red Oak fell in a storm some time ago. The club took cross-sections of the trunk for analysis and discovered that the tree was a little sapling that was alive during the Battle of 1814!
In commemoration of the club’s 125th anniversary in 2023, members received pen sets made of wood from that witness tree.
It’s yet another piece of that golfing family tree on Mackinac Island that keeps passing down through the ages.
“It’s another one of those things that makes Mackinac Island special,” Porter said. “Not only does Mackinac have this great history, but so many of the physical remnants of that history are still there.”
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