Future Game Plan

Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins is setting up his post-NFL life by purchasing a golf course near his hometown.

October 30, 2023 | 0 min.
By Mark Craig

Kirk Cousins spent the fall of 2022 saving more NFL games and golf courses from becoming housing developments than any other player in football.

As Minnesota Vikings quarterback, he had an NFL record-tying eight game-winning drives, including the largest comeback in league history after trailing the Indianapolis Colts 33-0. As an avid golfer, 11-handicap, history buff and man of considerable means with over $201 million in career earnings before endorsements, he and his wife, Julie, purchased Clearbrook Golf Club near their beachfront home on Lake Michigan when it appeared the course might not live to see its centennial celebration in 2026.

Clearbrook, a public course, sits in the small town of Saugatuck, Michigan (population: 865, including Kirk, Julie and golf-loving sons Cooper, 6, and Turner, 4). It’s nine minutes from the Cousins’ NFL offseason home and 10 from Holland Christian High School, where 35-year-old Kirk’s football journey began.

“Saugatuck is a great community that’s really become attractive to housing developers,” Cousins says. “I had heard it was likely that Clearbrook would go that way. I love the land, its history and thought it would be nice to preserve it for the next generation. I have some ideas, some dreams for what we’ll do w?ith it long-term—after football is over.”

Jim and Candy Jeltema owned the course since 1984. They met and befriended Kirk and Julie nine years ago when the Cousins would frequent Clearbrook’s restaurant, owned and operated by Jim and Candy.

The Jeltemas are in their 70s and no longer wanted the financial burden of owning a golf course but wanted to keep their restaurant. They were negotiating with a housing developer who just wanted the land when Cousins reached out with the ideal Plan B. Cousins would buy the golf course and the Jeltemas would continue running it until Cousins, a durable and still-driven 12-year veteran, decides to retire at some point in the future.

“It was a win, win, win all the way around,” Jim Jeltema says. “Candy and I are just so happy to no longer be dealing with a bank mortgage. It’s a win for the community. And we know that a great young man of high character is committed to preserving all we’ve done the past 39 years and then taking this place to the next level of opportunities in its second century as a golf course.”

Love of the Game
Cousins plays golf 12-15 times in the offseason only, shot a career-low 80 at East Lake Golf Club in Atlanta five years ago and is, for the time being, as mellow at golf as he is super intense at all things football.

“You would be amazed at how not competitive Kirk is at golf,” says Kyle Schonewill, Cousins’ No. 1 receiver growing up and lifelong golf buddy forevermore.

“Every ounce of his competitive energy is in football. He loves golf for the relaxation, the social aspect. He’s a great golf partner because he’ll hit an absolutely horrible shot and be like, ‘Well, OK,’ and keep walking and talking about something else. Golf is his escape from that other world in the NFL.”

Schonewill says Cousins is a connoisseur of golf course architecture and Golf Digest’s Top 100 courses.

“He did a crazy golf trip in the spring,” Schonewill says. “He went to Shinnecock Hills, Maidstone Club and Fishers Island Club in New York, and then Cypress Point and Pebble on the West Coast.

“And, typical Kirk, he’s all about efficiency, as you know. He’d play 36 holes a day to maximize playing all those places while not being away from his family too long. Kirk’s always trying to fulfill his potential.”

Top on Cousins’ bucket list short-term is Pine Valley in New Jersey. Long-term is even better: Taking his sons on golf trips to Ireland and Scotland when they’re old enough. And, of course, taking them down the road to Clearbrook to play dad’s very own course, “as the first group off the tee,” Cousins adds with a smile.

“And I’m telling my high school buddies to get their practice rounds in now because once I retire, golf will replace football as my competitive outlet,” Cousins says. “That’s when I’ll worry about breaking 80. Right now—being a hack—I don’t really care about the score, or I’m thinking, ‘How can I not screw this up?’

“I think more than quarterbacking or any other sport, golf is truly so mental. The thing I marvel at watching golf on TV is to know what’s riding on touch shots and how guys are able to control their hands and perform such delicate shots under such great pressure of the moment. It’s unique to all of sports.”

Schonewill knows he hasn’t seen the best Cousins has to offer on the course.

“You can tell playing with him that if he ever put some work into it, he’d be really good because he’s obviously a great athlete,” Schonewill says. “He has great distance with his mid- and short irons. He’s slicey off the tee because he lunges at the ball. His short game needs work and he’s not exactly lights-out putting. But it’s all because basically his whole life right now is football.”

Next Level Thinking
Clearbrook is a 6,556-yard par-72 layout with a 131 slope, tight tree-lined fairways and small, well-bunkered greens. The 491-yard par-5 fifth hole, which crosses two creeks, is a classic risk-reward hole that ranks among “West Michigan’s Top 18 Holes,” according to Grand Rapids Magazine.

The idea to turn an old farm and orchard into a golf course was hatched 99 years ago. The front nine opened 97 years ago as Liberty Links. The back nine was added in 1969. The original farmhouse on the property still houses the clubhouse and restaurant.

“Kirk is crazy about the history,” Jeltema says. “He’s been asking for photos and a detailed history of the past century.”

The course has had seven different names. Cousins is the eighth owner and isn’t likely to follow original owner George Fields’ lead by employing extra goats to keep the grass from getting too high during the 1920s.

Cousins doesn’t partake in the daily operations, but he has forwarded some big-picture ideas to Jeltema.

“Yeah, Kirk’s mind is already turning on what he wants the place to look like in five to 10 years,” Schonewill says. “He’s calling me talking about picking out trees and shrubs.”

Cousins had Jeltema plant 2,000 small trees and shrubs, mostly around the perimeter. While no houses are on the property, it is surrounded on all four sides by residential neighborhoods.

“Kirk envisions the course being a little more secluded,” Jeltema says. “Planting saplings now is in line with his timeline for when he’d take over running the course. I’m not sure when that is. Right now, he’s all football.”

No. 1 on Cousins’ wish list is capturing the Vikings’ first Super Bowl win. No. 2 is landing a contract beyond the 2023 season that enables him to finish his career as a Viking.

After that, who knows.

“I’m basically on a year-to-year deal with Jim running Clearbrook,” Cousins says. “And I’m kind of year-to-year in my life in general right now, so that’s where we are now. But I do know that eventually I will be playing a whole lot more golf with my buddies. And my two boys.” 

Mark Craig

An award-winning sports-writer the past 35 years, Mark Craig has covered golf, the Gophers, the Vikings and the NFL since joining the Minneapolis Star Tribune in 1999. His Back Spin column in the Minnesota Golfer magazine has won three gold awards from the Minnesota Media & Publishing Association.  

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