Golf has a reputation as a rich-man’s sport. And with some courses now charging upwards of $500 to play 18 holes, it’s no wonder that the stereotype persists.
But for Detroit native Keith Anderson, the game of golf was never about status; it’s the reason he’s still alive. Growing up amid drugs, poverty, and gangs, Anderson says his world was surrounded by people who were in prison, or headed in that direction.
Then, an unlikely safe house emerged: The Country Club of Detroit in Grosse Pointe Farms. Anderson, who is now a family man, corporate employee, and Shelby Township resident, recently talked with Hour Detroit about how the club and the game saved his life.
When you were a caddie at The Country Club of Detroit, was there a particular person who influenced you and changed your life?
There were quite a few members who put forth an effort to get to know me as a person. [They] asked me what I wanted to do in life, and where I lived, and my plans for the future. One in particular was Kevin McMahon. He was a member there, just a little bit older than me. Kevin Sullivan, too. They were best friends, and they both really got to know me. They guided me through my job at the course. They asked me about my plans for college. And they were the ones who told me about the Chick Evans Scholarships [which Anderson won, receiving four years of full tuition, room and board]. They would call me at home. They took me up to Michigan State a couple times for some games. We went out to dinner, and Kevin Sullivan let me use his golf clubs for a tournament I was going to play in. They took me under their wings. They really had a genuine respect for me.
Most kids caddie as a summer job, or play golf as a hobby. But you credit it as a life-changing experience. What was it about the game that saved your life?
Everything positive that happened to me in my life is because of golf. My status, career, my family, education [an MSU degree in industrial/organizational psychology], all stem from golf. I was on a dead-end path. My father died when I was 15. There was no money to send me to school. I lived in one of the worst neighborhoods on the east side of Detroit. There was nothing for me. The only way I could make it out, besides the scholarships, was to hustle on the street. I was terrified of becoming a statistic. When I got that scholarship, it completely changed the road I was on.
Tell me about the Chick Evans scholarship.
Back in the early 1900s, Chick Evans learned how to play golf by caddying. He got to be really good at golf, but couldn’t afford to go to college. But because of his golf skills, he started winning a lot of tournaments — I believe over 50 or 60 of them. He decided then and there that he was going to donate a large portion of his winnings to a scholarship fund to help caddies go to college. Country clubs across the country kind of adopted this foundation, and they are called the Par Club … members from country clubs who donate money from their income directly toward the Evans Scholar Foundation.
Do you think the constant interaction with successful people on the course helped your social and communication skills today?
The constant interaction and the networking was great. Initially, you would think in a private country-club setting that the people were just very rich, old money, and snooty, and didn’t care too much about anyone else. … I was able to communicate with these people and express my feelings and it was a two-way conversation. I learned how to adapt my conversation to different levels of people. Which, in turn, is what I do in corporate America. [He works in training and development for the General Motors OnStar team.]
Golf has been credited as a valuable mental exercise for people of all ages. Do you still benefit from that?
Absolutely. Especially with a 5-year old, patience is tough. They say that golf is 80-percent mental and 20-percent physical. You can have the techniques and the foundation of the swing down, but if you can’t control your feelings and emotions, you’re going to create a bad shot. Same thing happens in life. With every situation you find yourself in, you have to be in control of your emotions and thoughts. You have to think before you speak.