2018-04-15 / News

Alex Petrie with Rick Fleming

Fleming is community-driven, does what he loves

I originally started this column by saying that I’ve never heard a bad word about Rick Fleming. But, upon further reflection, I realized that’s not entirely true. Hear me out. The thing is, I work with a few of Fleming’s close friends. Which means that I’m privy to the way they joke about each other, which is entirely unsuitable for print. It’s equal parts familial warmth and fraternity hazing. Genuine affection and utter ridicule. The language can get quite colorful, and the most imaginative jab always garners the biggest laugh. But it always comes from a place of love, respect.

Now, mind you, these are grown men, but the barbs hurled at each other would certainly not be out of place in a high school locker room. However, the difference, and the reason I tell you this, is that each and every one of these “gentlemen” are fathers, husbands, community-minded and upstanding exemplars, truly and undeniably good guys. And Fleming, or “Flemmers” as his closer friends call him, is no exception. Good guy. Through and through. I started working at View Newspaper Group almost exactly four years ago, which falls under the umbrella of Rick Burrough’s local business ventures. Also under that umbrella is the Metamora Golf & Country Club, at which Fleming, 41, is the general manager and director. In my four years, I’ve found that all of these local businesses have coalesced into an extended family of sorts, and I feel fortunate to say that I can consider myself part of it. I’m always made to feel comfortable and included, and Fleming never ceases to make that known. He treats me like an equal. I respect it.

And, when I met him at the clubhouse at the country club the other day, this feeling was evident yet again as he accommodated me in every way imaginable. The first 10 minutes of our meeting was devoted solely to his asking me questions about myself, making me feel that he was just as interested in me as I in him. Before we even got started, he cordially offered me a “coldie,” which is just one of his many, many nicknames for the things he enjoys. Others include “G” (golf); “Petey” (one of Fleming’s best friends, Pete Clinton); “Blue Lightie” (Labatt Blue Light); “Watsy” (one of Fleming’s friends and cohorts, Craig Watson); and several others.

“It’s three o’clock,” he smiled. “Too early for a Blue Lightie?”

“Of course it’s not.”

He seemed thrilled to be able to indulge me as the natural host he is.

“All right, let’s get this started,” I said. “Where were you born?”

“Lapeer Hospital, grew up in Attica. I have a sister that’s three years older and then a sister seven years younger,” he said.

“So what was it like growing up around here? East or West? Sports or academics?”

“It was great, you know, played baseball and golf, graduated from East. Started playing golf at 9 years old and my dad got me started. He’s a big golfer, always has been.”

He told me about going down to South Carolina a few weeks ago and surprising his dad for his 70th birthday, how special it was to be able to do that. Gave me a little insight to his relationship with his dad. It was warm and loving. Also gave me an idea of how important golf has been to him throughout his life. It’s not just a sport or a hobby, it’s his history, and a connection to that bond he shares with his dad.

“What was your first job?”

“I worked at Arcadia Hills, started when I was 12,” he laughed. “Didn’t get paid, just worked, cleaning up brush and stuff, so I could play golf for free. Started working at golf courses and never stopped. Obviously.” He held his hands up and looked around, smiling.

“What was it about golf that attracted you, that still attracts you?”

“It’s the absolute love for that game. There’s no other game like it. And people that play know that, but when you start improving, hitting shots exactly the way you want to, I mean… Man. There’s not much else like it.”

He kind of looked off as he was saying this, reliving something. He meant it with all of his heart. If you removed the context of golf, the closest adjective I could use to describe his choice of words is romantic.

I pulled him out of his reverie to ask what he did after high school, and that’s when I really started learning about him.

“I was getting ready to go to Ferris (State University) for the Professional Golf Management program, and my girlfriend and I got pregnant,” he said. “So I had my daughter, Audrey, when I was 18.”

“Wow, I had no idea you were that young. What was that like, having a kid at 18?”

“Reality set in. You go to work. You have a family to take care of now. Got married at 19. Working, going to school at Oakland Community College. I was at Devil’s Ridge as the assistant golf professional at 19.”

“Holy sh**. Nineteen years old with a family and already the assistant golf pro. Still a teenager, still a kid,” I said, incredulously.

“Yeah, then I took over as golf professional around 21. I was young, yeah. But I loved it, running a place and learning on the fly.”

He worked for Devil’s Ridge until 2009, after taking over as the corporate director of operations for two other courses owned by the same family. It was stressful, but he loved it. Said that he felt like he was part of that family. But, as they tend to do, things got a little complicated and opportunity presented itself not too far away.

A group of guys with whom Fleming was very familiar decided to buy Metamora Golf & Country Club, and they wanted Fleming to run it.

It weighed on him for a long time, as his family had expanded and he now had a son to look after as well. But he ultimately decided to take it, and the rest, as they say, is history. Under Fleming’s direction, the place has come quite a long way, and in less than 10 years. He really seems to love it, along with the people he works with or gets to see on a regular basis, some of his best friends.

“You know, I love this course. I grew up playing here. It’s great. And I get to operate it, to make it better. And the guys I work with make all the difference. They’re community driven, and they do so much for Lapeer.”

He’s not kidding, either. Fleming is involved in a number of charities, including Lion’s Bear Lake Camp and the LEADER Fund, both of which support youth in the community. Many of his friends are also involved in these charities, as well as innumerable others.

“This group of people, we do all we can do to help, and we get that back from the community and the support they give us. It’s so rewarding. Beyond rewarding.”

And that’s really where the interview ended and the conversation fell right back into place, with the assistance of two more “coldies.” We talked about his best friends, the music he likes, the television he likes (extra points for Curb Your Enthusiasm), and a bunch of other things that brought me right back to feeling like I was talking with a friend. Which is exactly the way he makes everybody feel when they walk through the doors of his clubhouse.

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