Drinks with Pat

    First May weekend calls for golf and Kentucky Derby
    Pat Evans

    It’s Kentucky Derby week! That means Saturday is my favorite two minutes of the year.

    We’ll get to some special Derby cocktails in a few minutes, but it’s also full on spring and that means golf season.

    Earlier this spring, I sat down with Kent Country Club’s Jason Brower, director of membership and communications. It was a great chat and I am absolutely fascinated by the history of Kent Country Club, the oldest in Michigan. In fact, when it started, it was small course with a clubhouse on Fisk Lake in East Grand Rapids before moving on over to its existing location.

    The clubhouse is full of history and feels like a proper golf hangout, but it recently finished up a big renovation project of its dining area, so that’s what prompted my visit. It worked out well, because it really informed some of the direction I’ll be going with a fun new Michigan golf project I’m launching this summer.

    Anyway, here’s my quick chat with Jason.

    Pat: First, just give me a run through of the renovation.

    Jason: There’s been a push over the last couple of years to have more casual dining space. Really, since COVID, we’ve added quite a few younger families with kids. So just a space that families can enjoy.

    We had a casual dining space that probably sat about 50 people. With this renovation, we’ve added 100 seats in, and with the patio we’re about 150. We have a lot more space for casual dining now.

    It’s also become like the hub of the club, where before we had multiple dining spaces where people were at the patio or they were in at the bar or in the formal dining. Now it’s become, this is the space that everybody comes to enjoy lunch, dinner, or just drinks after a round.

    Pat: How important is it to reinvest and make sure members know that this is still a premier course in West Michigan?

    Jason: Being a private country club, we’re always looking at new ways to enhance the member experience. We have families that have been here for generations. So being able to kind of reinvest their capital into new amenities, new upgrades, renovations, has always been a focus.

    And continues to be over the last couple of years. we’ve added two golf simulators. Last year, we did this pretty large renovation. We’re constantly looking at ways to improve the club, improve the golf course and really make it the premier club in West Michigan.

    Pat: With the course now open [in early March], what’s on the docket for 2024?

    Jason: We’re excited for the course to be open. It’s the earliest it’s opened in the last couple of years, at least. A few course upgrades that we’re looking at.

    We’ve done a pretty large tree project over the last couple years taking out much of trees opening up more playability. Also, the views from up here on the clubhouse you can see all the playing field, the entire course from the patio. And, just excited for the all the new members we’ve recently added.

    We’re getting young families. Our junior sports program is the largest it’s ever been. So that’s exciting to see kind of the younger generation getting to use the club more and growing that aspect as well.

    Pat: You have a go-to drink in the clubhouse?

    Jason: Our Spicy Margarita is the go-to ticket.

    Time for the Derby!

    Honestly, the Mint Julep is such a simple, yet delicious cocktail, it’s a wonder it’s really only sipped on during this one day a year. There are hundreds of thousands poured during the Kentucky Derby, and this year will surely be no different. (Here’s an old NYT article on the backstory of the Mint Julep).

    So go ahead, make one at home. Here’s the extremely simple recipe:

    One Bourbon Mint Julep
    Mint Julep. Grand Rapids Magazine file photo courtesy of One Bourbon.
    • Put a bouquet of mint (like 15 or so leaves), a 1/4 ounce of simple syrup and a splash of water in a rocks glass. Crush the leaves with a muddler or back of spoon.
    • Pack the glass with crushed ice (put cubes in a cloth bag or kitchen towel and smash away if you don’t have ready available crushed ice). Add 2.5 ounces of bourbon. Top with 3/4 to an ounce of simple syrup, depending on your sweet tolerance.
    • Garnish with mint sprig.
    • (Use peach flavored syrup for a twist. Or add soda water for a bit of a longer drink.)

    Also, use whatever your preferred bourbon is — and use Kentucky bourbon, for the occasion, please.

    My preferred bourbons are Buffalo Trace, Wild Turkey and Four Roses — and for a great budget pick, Benchmark, which is a younger bourbon from Buffalo Trace and can be found for less than $15 a bottle. If you want to be real official, the Official Bourbon of the Kentucky Derby is Woodford Reserve.

    If you’re not into the Mint Julep idea, try one of these cocktails, or an awesome canned cocktail from Jim Beam, the Kentucky Coolers.


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