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Posted on Sun, Aug 16, 2009 : 11:54 a.m.

Geoff Larcom: Rules changes ignite tailgating debate at Ann Arbor Golf & Outing Club

By Geoff Larcom

It’s almost as intense as the question of who will start at quarterback for the University of Michigan this season. It’s the great tailgate debate at The Ann Arbor Golf & Outing Club.

You might not know of the club, but you’ve seen it. It’s a nine-hole, private tract located on the corner of Stadium Boulevard and Main Street, notched neatly into the surrounding University of Michigan Golf Course.

The 118-year-old club is one of the oldest courses in Michigan and is located across the street from Michigan Stadium.

G&O, as members call it, has become one of the finest football tailgating territories in America. The hilly course makes for all sorts of excellent niches where you can set up a canopy and party all day, with the game but a minor intrusion.

The best place to party is a valley in the middle of the golf course, but dozens of groups have staked out other cool spots. For years, fans have arrived early in the morning and set up elaborate spreads that involve dozens of cars.

For those who indulge, it’s a big deal, which is why a new set of parking rules have irritated longtime tailgaters more than a warm beer or cold bratwurst.

Citing safety concerns, the club’s board of directors ruled that canopies must be no larger than 10 by 12 feet, and must be located to the front or rear of your vehicle, not to the side or in traffic lanes.

More important, group parking will no longer be guaranteed at a favorite spot. Instead, parking supervisors will direct vehicles to only one section at a time. A new section won’t be open until the previous one has been filled.

And to some, that’s a problem. Partiers who’ve occupied the same location for years no longer are assured their favorite spot.

The reaction to the decision this summer was swift and angry. Larry Eiler, a member of the board and parking supervisor for the club, received hundreds of e-mails on the issue. The comments flowed in, a river of vitriol.

The club says the changes will preserve routes for emergency vehicles and provide a safer parking environment.

Bah, said some fans; this is simply a way to cram in cars and make more money. And where is the loyalty to customers who year after year have made Golf & Outing their party place?

After the initial outcry, the G&O board again discussed the rules changes this summer, but reaffirmed the decision. “Safety must be the primary criterion for allowing guests to park on our course,” club president Jeff Carter said in a statement to members. Well, it’s hard to find two more stubborn groups than board members of a private club, or football fans who feel entitled to party in the same place year after year.

What’s needed here is some mutual understanding. A little tailgate empathy, if you will.

First of all, I’m confident Golf & Outing does not care about whatever extra revenue can be generated from these new rules. Depending on the game, the club makes about $50,000 to $60,000 per game in parking about 1,500 to 1,700 cars at $40 a pop each football Saturday, according to Eiler. The new rules will add no more than a couple hundred cars in a best-case scenario. “Cost is not a driver,” he says, and I believe him.

Second, safety is a legitimate issue. Have you walked around G&O recently during a big game? It’s a traffic mess. Last year’s Michigan State game was amazing - a world-class party scene but a disaster waiting to happen. Imagine the flap that would ensue if somebody died because nobody could get into help.

There might be a middle ground in this turf war, however. I agree with the suggestion of longtime Ann Arborite Rex Stanczak, who has tailgated with his buddies at G&O for nearly 20 years. They gather at a neat location in the rough along the seventh hole, near Main Street, next to a grove of pine trees.

Stanczak says he understands the club’s safety concerns, and will gladly set up his site as required. But why not let the big groups in early in the morning, say from 7 a.m. to 8 a.m., an hour before the gates normally open? After that, you must park where they tell you.

“Let’s take care of the best customers you have,” Stanczak said last week., calling his solution a “win-win.”

Stanczak says his group will move to another location if it can’t have its longtime spot. He’s serious - even appearing on the radio to make his group’s case.

But with only a few more weeks until the season, it appears the G&O board will not back down.

I can only offer Stanczak and his friends one sliver of comfort. As it was for last year’s 3-9 Wolverines, there is always next season. The great tailgate debate will arise again.

Geoff Larcom can be reached at



Tue, Aug 25, 2009 : 10:24 a.m.

One last post. Two gentlemen at U-M reached out to me and our group--Fernando Canales and Rob Radamacher. Rob met with three of us from our big tailgate group yesterday. We are carving out a new spot at U-M golf course adjacent to AAGO. We have found a beautiful spot in a new area that U-M is opening for parking. To all that have parked in groups at AAGO, I encourage you to leave and go to U-M. They actually reach out and listen as opposed to AAGO. We are excited to begin a new tailgate tradition and hope enough others will boycott AAGO as well. A little decresed revenue might wake up the president of the board. At least I know they won't be receiving the $7-8,000 per year from us anymore.


Mon, Aug 24, 2009 : 5:19 p.m.

so it is a great place to park


Mon, Aug 24, 2009 : 9:50 a.m.

We've tailgated at AAGO for years - same spot every game. There is a group of us who see each other only at the tailgates, although we do email each other a few weeks before the season opener about how excited we are about the season. We are moving to the UofM golf course next door, and if they change the rules their too, we'll find someplace else. I'm sure there are many others doing the same thing, but it probably won't affect AAGO. They will probably still be at capacity (just not as quickly), so what do they care. I don't like the rule, but my opinion doesn't matter...reality.

Marvin Face

Sun, Aug 23, 2009 : 1:34 p.m.

stangedom, that is Ann Arbor Golf and Outing property as well.


Fri, Aug 21, 2009 : 7:46 p.m.

Hey everyone I found the perfect spot. On stadium across the street from the U of M golf course is a triangle parking lot that just put up a banner for season parking pass 50 spots. would be perfect for big groups. check it out. Could solve all your problems.


Wed, Aug 19, 2009 : 9:10 p.m.

AARichard, Then sell us a spot/season pass. Paying for a specific spot is not uncommon in parking. I'm sorry, this was a solution in search of a problem. There could have been a win-win. They chose to go the other route. My business is already gone and coach's is likely gone as well. The whole value of the place was the spot where everyone knew where to come. Where many memories were made. Also, you can drop the safety cover. Tailgaters were more than willing to abide by safety guidelines. We were never asked to, nor given an opportunity this year in our spots. They have ruined the traditions of many and are not being straight about it. When they go back to the old rules in a year or two, we probably won't be back. Shameful.


Wed, Aug 19, 2009 : 3:34 p.m.

bballcoachfballfan: We applaud your generosity for such wonderful causes (I too have a family member with autistim). However, the fact remains the same. You can't give preferential treatment to any group, regardless of the size. It creates hard feelings among the patrons who don't recieve the same benefit. Although you will be missed at G&O I'm sure the success of your charities will draw a crowd regardless of your location. Good Luck to you!


Wed, Aug 19, 2009 : 9:44 a.m.

AARICHARD, while Danb5520's group is only two cars (still important to them), my group is approximately 20-30 cars depending on the game. If we take an average of 25, that means $1000.00 per game that we spend to park at AAGO--7-8000 per season. That's a heckuva lot of money. Again, I don't think you or some of the others understand the tradition. Yes, we could get there early and park together in a different spot. However, we have traditions that require a designated spot. We have an annual pig roast in which we have raised thousands of dollars for American Red Cross, U of M Department of Neurology, etc. and this year we were planning to help out the Autism cause. Hundreds of people know where to find us and come to that pig roast and donate. This is gone. This is what I mean. No disrespect intended but those of you commenting on the side of AAGO really don't understand the dynamic here--or you are in their pocket. There really is no other explanation for siding with them on this issue. Maybe you should tell the Autism folks that you think it is more important for AAGO to do whatever they want than to have a group raise funds for them.


Wed, Aug 19, 2009 : 7:58 a.m.

danb5520: I don't get it. If your willing to pay more and get in earlier why wouldn't you pay the same and just be the first in line? That way you can still park together. Just not at your usual location. The way you talked I thought this was a huge caravan party. But after reading additional comments your only talking about two cars ($640.00 for the season) Thats about 1/10th of 1 percent of G&O revenue for the entire season! You can pay the same at Pioneers lot. Except there you have asphalt and gravel instead of grass and no open intoxicants on public school property (loosely enforced). It seems to me that your making a big mistake taking your business elsewhere. By the way how much are you willing to cough up if G&O gets sued. The end result maybe no more parking at all.

Marvin Face

Tue, Aug 18, 2009 : 9:31 p.m.

You know what danb5520? Maybe AAGOC folks don't want to get up an hour earlier to let you and your buddies in before everyone else. And you're right, they never did worry about safety and sucurity issues in the past. You know what else? Now they do and that is what matters. Treetowncartel, I never liked it once they painted the chain link and barbed wire dark blue. But when it was painted yellow...those were the days!


Tue, Aug 18, 2009 : 7:50 p.m.

AARichard, What does safety have to do with not allowing people to go to their spot for a designated period early in the morning or paying for a season spot license? Why is a win-win not possible? Everyone is FOR safety. AAGO could have marked off spaces and egresses for emergency vehicles in the past, they did not. They could have instructed patrons how to position their canopies properly, they did not. Tailgaters like Coach and myself wanted to work with them on implementing the new guidelines and help self-police our local areas, they have said no. So instead of working with loyal customers, they say screw the public, screw the people who make our dues low and our course nice, it's our way or the highway. That's a great approach and one that has our group's two cars ($640) going elsewhere. Shame on them for ruining something special and not listening to their loyal patrons.


Tue, Aug 18, 2009 : 3:43 p.m.

Tradition? Bring back the chain link fence and the barbed wire around the stadium, that was tradition.


Tue, Aug 18, 2009 : 2:40 p.m.

I believe that the wealthy board members you suggest are running G&O are just average people like you and me. Trying to do a job that promotes the safety of the community and protects the clubs interest at the same time. In the meantime I suggest you get a G&O member to sponsor your application for membership, sit on a wait list for four or five years, become a member and then submit your input to the board regarding your concerns. As non-members of this club it's really none of our business how they conduct themselves.


Tue, Aug 18, 2009 : 12:20 p.m.

Again, in response to AARICHARD, no one disputes it needs better organization or that others can fill the spots. The question is, why wouldn't you do it all--raise extra revenue, improve safety and take care of your long time patrons? I can't understand why so many folks seem to have a perception that it has to be one or the other. We can accomplish it all by offering pre-paid spot licenses to groups and enforcing new safety guidelines. It's amazing to me that in a town like Ann Arbor, we have folks on this comment board who seem to be championing the power wielding of the wealthy board leaders rather than the everyday folks who pay.


Tue, Aug 18, 2009 : 11:47 a.m.

Laura, I don't think you are fully understanding the proposals of the longtime patrons. No one has asked for AAGO to backpedal one bit on their safety concerns and new provisions. We support them. We are offering a third alternative solution which is better than the one they are currently using. By allowing pre-paid spot license people in an hour early, they can avoid any safety troubles because they would know ahead of time where each pre-paid group would park. We say keep all the safety policies intact and simply take care of your loyal customers. It seems that you misinterpreted our complaints. We aren't criticizing making the course safer--we are upset that several members of the board refused to listen to their loyal customers--and rejected the proposal of their own board member and parking chairman. He told the board they should implement a policy almost identical to the one I have proposed for pre-paid spots. They wouldn't even listen to him. Sorry Laura, no one is going to pat anyone from the AAGO board on the back. Larry Eiler deserves credit for trying to implement a safer environment and attempting to find a way to take care of the loyal patrons. The leadership at the top of board should be taken to task for their arrogance and lack of empathy. This could have worked out great for all.


Tue, Aug 18, 2009 : 11:43 a.m.

G&O could raise the price to $50.00 per car and still fill the available parking. The vacant spots will be easily filled by the next car in line. P.S. I parked at G&O last year and it was a mess. It needs to be more organized.

Laura Bien

Tue, Aug 18, 2009 : 2:50 a.m.

danb5520: The club has the right to make the rules. The club would also likely be legally liable at this point if they back-pedaled on the safety guidelines & someone got hurt. No sensible business owners would expose themselves to that legal risk. Thank the club for putting in place safety guidelines, enjoy your tailgating in lieu of the majority who can't afford the money or time to do so, and be grateful, and a little more humble, that you have a cool chance to have a fun fall experience with friends. If you shun the club, scores of folks will be all too happy to take your place.


Mon, Aug 17, 2009 : 10:15 p.m.

Laura, The central question is: How come customers can't go to their spots and operate under any new safety guidelines? It doesn't follow. The club has still not answered this question. Also, if safety was such a concern, why wasn't any effort made by the club and it's volunteers to inform customers of how to properly position canopies, maintain safety lanes, etc.. in the years leading up to the rule changes? Our group will not be parking at AAGO this year after 6 years of loyal patronage (we are rookies next to some of the people I've met there) and I encourage everyone else to build a new tradition elsewhere. The UM Golf Course is next door, as is Pioneer. There is plenty of private parking in the neighborhood west of the Press Box as well. You'll probably even be able to save a few bucks like we will. It's sad that AAGO would throw out the decades of traditions for many over stubbornness and a few extra dollars. GO BLUE!

Laura Bien

Mon, Aug 17, 2009 : 8:51 p.m.

Thanks are due to the club for making sure every tailgater has a safer environment so that no one gets hurt.


Mon, Aug 17, 2009 : 1:27 p.m.

I'm going to try this again since my last post was taken down. I won't call out anyone this time around. A couple of pieces of misinformation must be debunked. First, AAGO is a private club but I disagree with the assertion that they can do whatever they want with no regard for the public. When they open their gates on footbal saturdays and charge $40 of public money, they become public. Otherwise, only members would park there. Second, members do get preferential parking treatment--they have a spot up front in the paved parking lot. The third is this idea that we are asking for preferential treatment--that is simply untrue. We are offering to pay a big dollar amount up front to reserve our spot (in addition to the parking fee--much like Michigan's PSD). We are offering to come early before anyone else. We are offering to uphold and even help with the safety issues. In short, we are giving AAGO the chance to increase their revenues, alleviate safety concerns and continue to serve their long-time customers. Who loses here? Where is the preferential treatment? We would have to be asking for something without giving anything in return. We are proposing a win-win for everyone involved--the Club, the Tailgaters, the police/EMS. The fourth and final misnomer is this idea that we are part of a privileged few. We are not. Very few in our group would be considered wealthy. Many of us pile 3 or 4 in a vehicle to save on cost. Most of us have young children and football saturdays have become one of the last remaining centers of our social life. We are all die-hard Michigan fans--not people of privilege. The only privileged few here are the 4 or 5 members of the AAGO board who, despite the urging of their parking chairman to compromise, decided to fly in the face of all their 20 and 30 year customers. They told members of club who I know personally that they didn't care what the public thought, and they didn't care if there was a way to do it to satisfy those people. They were going to do it their way because they could. That is the voice and the face of privilege--not a bunch of regular people trying to hold onto a 20+ year tradition of fun, friendship and comraderie.


Mon, Aug 17, 2009 : 2:36 a.m.

Both the AAGO and those who apparently are able to afford "recreation"of that kind on this scale year after year are (A) a privileged - tiny - minority and (B) hopefully getting a lesson on how Reality works.


Sun, Aug 16, 2009 : 7:29 p.m.

"Just like the people that are purchasing the new stadium sky boxes they are ruining the spirit of true Michigan football." This statement is ridiculous. The fact that groups are pleading for a compromise is an effort to preserve the true spirit of Michigan football (which includes tailgating traditions), not destroy it. AAGO prides itself on being "America's greatest tailgate spot" and that's the way we'd like it to stay. Additionally, the loyal groups that have spent their fall saturdays at AAGO have allowed the club to set a new standard in parking admission fees. $40 to park is worth the price to enjoy the entire tailgating experience, but to just park your car and walk to the stadium, it is exorbitant. While I doubt that anything is likely to change this year with the new policy, the tailgating experience at AAGO so special and unique, that it is well worth the effort to try to preserve it.


Sun, Aug 16, 2009 : 4:41 p.m.

Golf and Outing is allowed to do whatever it wants. Yes, it makes money from parking cars but they still have the right to dictate rules. Years ago when my father was still alive (he was a LONG time member) we parked there for games but got no preferential treatment. Why should non members just because that's where they party each year. Just like the people that are purchasing the new stadium sky boxes they are ruining the spirit of true Michigan football. Relax, take a step back and tone it down a notch.

Marvin Face

Sun, Aug 16, 2009 : 3:06 p.m.

I'm afraid a compromise is unlikely. AAGOC is a private club and they can do what they want, any way they want. Folks in AA are used to being able to influence outcomes by forming very vocal minorities but it won't work here...not when AAGOC holds the "public safety" card. The tailgaters are lucky the club allows them at all. My guess is that the couple hundred tailgaters they lose to this policy, they will gain due to the more efficient parking arrangement.


Sun, Aug 16, 2009 : 2:08 p.m.

Maybe we should revisit the old "Level Larcom" promotion, but make it "Level G&O" instead. If you beat Larcom, you get your old parking spot back.

Rich Rezler

Sun, Aug 16, 2009 : 11:41 a.m.

My family has been tailgating at the same out-of-the-way location behind Pioneer High School for roughly three decades, and the school district started a similar "park where we direct you" policy a couple years ago. Their solution, while understandably not perfect from our point-of-view, was to carve out special group tailgate sections and allow them to be reserved for $50 per game. Seems like something similar -- tying in Rex's suggestion -- could be easily implemented here.


Sun, Aug 16, 2009 : 11:23 a.m.

Great column Geoff. As a current AAGO tailgater, I thank you for keeping this issue alive and still hope that a "win-win" scenario can be reached. Go Blue!