Walter Hagen's Northern Michigan
By Beth Milligan | July 1, 2019
Imagine this: One of the biggest sports stars in the world lives in Traverse City. He’s retired and a bit pudgy now. He’s been weathered by years of drinking and chasing women. No doubt he’s past his prime.
But every day, he hangs out at Little Bo’s. On West Front Street. It was kind of a dive bar back then, but that’s where he went and bought people drinks and told them stories. And one time, from the payphone at the back of the place, he called the United Kingdom so that he could congratulate Arnold Palmer on his first British Open win.
Little Bo’s isn’t a dive bar anymore. New owners have taken over and it’s called Little Bohemia Tavern now. But as Patrick Sullivan writes in this week's Northern Express, sister publication of The Ticker, they still celebrate the golfer who once owned a table near the front of the place, to the left of the bar in the corner. “This was his self-proclaimed home away from home, because he liked to do this,” says Little Bohemia’s owner, Nancy Freund, as she made a drinking motion with her hand. “Daily, he was here.”
How did Walter Hagen come to live in Traverse City at a time when he was just as famous as (and sometimes hung out with) Babe Ruth? Though Hagen was born and raised in Rochester, New York, and got his start at a golf club there, Hagen moved to Detroit as a young man and made that city his home base throughout his professional career. As he got older, Hagen did what successful Detroiters did: He got a place Up North.
Hagen’s 20-acre estate on Long Lake, which he bought in 1954, became his life’s 19th hole. “In all my wandering around the globe, I never really owned a home. This, my first, is situated on a knoll facing west on Long Lake near Traverse City, Michigan. My picture windows look out on the silvery blue waters across to the island some half mile distant,” he wrote in his autobiography. “Now instead of counting the strokes on each hole, I count the tall and slender white birches, the spruce, the hemlock, the maples and cedars on my acres on Long Lake…the nineteenth hole on the Haig’s course.”
The infamous phone call with Palmer also solidified a friendship that endured, with Palmer flying to Traverse City in 1967 to take part in a dinner at the country club in honor of Hagen, who by that time was dying of cancer. At the dinner, Palmer said to Hagen: “If it were not for you, Walter, this dinner would be downstairs in the pro shop and not in the ballroom.”
Read more about Hagen's life and career and his enduring ties to Traverse City in this week's Northern Express story, “Walter Hagen's Northern Michigan.” The Northern Express is available to read online, or pick up a free copy at one of nearly 700 spots in 14 counties across northern Michigan.