On A Whim
Golf Camping from Chicago to Northwest MichiganBy Michael WilliamsMarch 26, 2021Photos by Brendan Carroll
Whim is the combination of many things that we appreciate: style, golf and things made-in-the-USA. Founded by Colin Heaberg and Will Gisel, these two Chicago natives started the brand because they loved golf but couldn't find a way to make it mesh with their own personal style and point-of-view. Necessity breeds invention as the saying goes. With Whim a free spirit resonates and there's an openness that is expressed through both design and approach. Some would refer to this as vibes. Whim has them.
Whim is a both a clothing label and an attitude. There's a certain 90s-ness which is often paired with prep staples with a twist —like these made-in-USA Penny Loafers or special Brooks Brothers oxfords that Whim decorated. We like how much fun Whim is having doing things its own way. It's fun and completely authentic to the way Colin and Will see the world. That's something we can get behind for golf or just for life in general.
In the spirit of continuing to combine things they love, Will and Colin left Chicago to golf and camp their way through Northwest Michigan. This all happened in the before times, but still provides important inspiration for us all as we (hopefully) emerge properly again to take trips with friends. They shared the complete photo story with ACL Golf and we love the spirit of this adventure. It's something we could all probably use at this point.
We chatted with Will and Colin about Whim, their entry into golf and how much fun it can be to golf-camp through Michigan. Thanks to Brendan Carroll for the great photos. Hope you like our conversation.
ACL: What was the motivation for this trip?
Colin: Golf trips are typically broadcast as these indulgent, brofests. We don't see golf trips the same way. Selfishly, we wanted to play the courses, Michigan has some great public courses that had always been on our radar. Our brand always looks to present golf as we understand it - this wonderfully diverse and wide ranging experience. This was another way we could communicate our view to an audience
Will: We love camping and we love golf. When people think of a person who plays or loves golf they might imagine that golf defines that person's identity. Of course, we know there are tons of people who play golf and don't fit into this "golfer identity". This trip was an idea to connect two parts of our identities as outdoors people who also play golf. We brought our close friend and incredible photographer Brendan Carroll along with us to document the whole trip because we really felt like it was an opportunity to introduce a type of golf trip that nobody has ever considered before.
Where did you play?
Diamond Springs, Dunes Club, Forest Dunes, Arcadia Bluffs and Manistee National.
Colin: We played mostly public courses, in an effort to make the trip repeatable in a sense. But started our trip by stopping at the Dunes Club. Really a great experience and highlighted some of the details I love most about golf. The tiny clubhouse, minimalist approach to amenities, quick round, a good hot dog. The sunset over Lake Michigan at Arcadia Bluffs was a standout as well, just a perfect mellow moment.
How did you guys get into golf?
Will: My first set of clubs got me into the game. My dad bought me the Wilson x Michael Jordan collaborative youth starter set that came with a driver, 5 iron, 7 iron, 9 iron, a putter, and a red and black bag. When I was about 10, a friend's dad owned a driving range outside of Buffalo, NY and in the summer he organized a golf camp for a few weeks at a Bob-O-Link Par 3 course. That was amazing because you're playing only with your friends. Another friend also lived behind the 2nd hole on a nice public course right in the city, Grover Cleveland, and we would hop the fence to that tee box at night to go play. There really were a lot of entry points for me to start playing and enjoy the game from a young age. Despite all that, I pretty much gave up golf from age 16-22. I wasn't into it because it didn't match up with anything else I was interested in, I guess.
Colin: I think we got exposed to the game the same way most people do, an adult in your life put a club in your hand and brought you along a bit. At some point, I realized that was a privilege that not everyone is afforded. Despite that experience in my youth, I didn’t stay committed to the game, falling out of practice in my teenage years. In my early twenties I fell back in love with the game, the maturation I had undergone helped me to see golf in a whole new way.
What do you feel like is missing from the game? Why did you start Whim?
Will: There aren't enough people who want to play golf, especially young people. Golf needs more opportunities for people to have positive first impressions. Our free indoor putting greens in Chicago and Manhattan addressed this in a small way. I don't think the game itself is actually that far off from where it needs to be, but the public perception of golf is its biggest challenge, and that's not that easy to change. We need to help people take small steps toward playing golf on a golf course -- driving ranges and Top Golf are good, but they leave more to be desired. How can we meet people where they are and encourage them to consider the game by letting them try it?
Golf is out of sight and out of mind for the most part. You don't see golf the same way you see basketball courts and tennis courts, etc. Neither of our free putting greens were over 500 square feet, but we created the conditions for people to form their own opinion about golf based on a personal experience rather than what they hear from other people, or see on TV - and that's critical.
Colin: The game is limited because of a lack of visibility, a kid doesn’t see golf on her way to school, going to supermarket.... whatever. We are focused on that change. Will and I have always had a really strong creative relationship, and it has lasted more than half of our lives. When I came back to the game in a large way, I quickly noticed there weren’t any brands that were speaking to me. Being who we are: Working for brands in the past, having a love for craftsmanship it felt inevitable that we would start our own thing.
Will: We started Whim without a clue of what we were doing or trying to do. Colin and I became close friends through making tee shirts and stuff together and have always wanted to start something like Whim together. Whim existed for 2+ years before "Golf" was our focus. We chose to focus on something because we felt like our design language needed more constraints to have any success as a business level and to develop a perspective that people could interpret. We chose golf specifically because we feel like there is some timeless style to the game and that's really what we want to do clothing wise. We want to make things that a 25 year old buys in 2021 and still wears when they're 50. We aren't trying to re invent stuff all the time, or make stuff that attracts a lot of attention to the person wearing the clothes.
This was obviously done before COVID, but even then it feels like there's such a pronounced divide between big urban areas like Chicago and rural parts of places like Michigan — what was your experience like?
COLIN: Will and I like to be locals, and look to experience the community from that angle. I had never really been to Michigan - there was an escapist element to the getting away from our computers and downtown. It was all good, very relaxed and enjoyable - the people were welcoming, classic Midwest atmosphere.
WILL: Most of our experiences were so chill that they're almost unmemorable. Which is to say, people were just nice to us. At our first diner, the waitress thought it was funny when I ordered no meat with my omelette. The only other people in there that morning were yelling to us across the restaurant about what diners not to go to nearby. We had great experiences. One young-ish girl who worked at one of the camp sites where we had to pay for a "spot" to park our car and then pitch a tent was drawing a portrait of her dad in marker when we checked in, I just thought that was kind of cool. By far, the most memorable experience we had with a local was picking blueberries at a pick-em-yourself / pay what you weigh blueberry farm. This guy was there picking also and showing us all the tricks of the trade for blueberry picking.
You guys don't dress like typical golfers. What's the look you're going for? And tell me about the pants you both are wearing.
Colin: Pants, everything starts with the pants. I like well made and long lasting clothing, that could be a technical rain shell or the vintage Ralph Lauren corduroys I am wearing right now,.. Pinnacle items. The things I choose to buy and support come together to create my style. I do not think that I am “look-oriented” but more attracted to certain things and products. Maybe that comes across in our approach to clothing…
WILL: I'm not too sure - I like wearing no logos at all if possible. Logos communicate something whether you want them to or not, and the lack of logos communicates something too - maybe that I want to the clothes to just speak for themselves. This preference carries over into our design for Whim, too. The pants are Red Kap work pants. They are incredible and I wear them every day in the summer, whether I play golf or not. This is the misconception about golf -- that it requires specific clothes. Red Kap makes uniforms for mechanics and chefs, mostly. I love their pants, though, they really strike a perfect balance between having structural integrity and being lightweight / breathable.
I noticed you guys ate at a lot of little midwestern diners. How was the food?
Colin: Many table pancakes were consumed. The diners were one of the hidden joys of our trip, they worked their way into our trip based on our needs more than anything. Driving around from town to town in areas unfamiliar diners had to be the move. Diners help you really tap in like a local, you see townspeople, you talk to people who love and live in these communities. The food is so reliable, you know that it is going to be good because the food on diner menus are the best foods on earth.
WILL: The food was incredible. The US is full of small diners for people passing through and we found some amazing ones in Michigan. I ate an omelette at every single one and we ordered pancakes for the table at every meal, too. Diners are pretty amazing places to get an intimate feel for the people of any given town. We're regulars at Tommy's Grill in Chicago.
I love the blue collar golf vibe and it seemed like you got a good dose of that on the trip? What's the non-famous Michigan golf scene like?
COLIN: Michigan rules, there’s a really great energy in northwest Michigan. The courses that sit in between are full of challenges. I truly enjoy playing the walk-up as much as the top 100, they are all a great chance to be outside with friends. Those are the courses you grow up playing and play for your whole lives. When you say blue collar, I think “easy-going” and I have found that I play best and have the most fun on the course when that is the feeling.
WILL: Solid. Too solid. My favorite course was Manitou Passage, perfectly woodsy, scenic, and not pretentious at all.
How was the camping? Was it awful to play golf after sleeping outside?
Colin: Absolutely not, Will and I met at a summer camp, on a hiking trip actually. It was nostalgic, and by the time our tent was up we passed out pretty hard. Camping is really fun and has benefits especially because of the way we spend most of our lives on a day to day basis. The screens, sitting at a desk chair, yada yada yada. Sleeping on the ground after playing a round of golf with your friends - not bad.
Will: The camping was epic and really the biggest reason we went on the trip. We did everything from a 1hr long hike in to a public camp site in the middle of a National Forest to parking our car and pitching the tent right next to it. Our whole idea was to highlight how we love camping and we love to play golf, thinking that might strike people as not the typical golfer thing to do. It was not awful to play golf after sleeping outside -- we rotated air mattresses each night. One, which we called the surf board, was definitely the best. Sleeping on the ground and outside is really nice.
Where do you see golf going?
Colin: I see golf evolving and adapting to the realities of modern humanity. More inclusive, diverse, and importantly more opportunity. Opportunities for people to learn and experience the game and be welcomed into it. We want to be a part of the progress, constructive and open-minded.
Will: Golf is going to take a long time to change at scale or go anywhere different from where it is now. As the amateur game grows and more people want to play every year, I see it moving away from being so performance-driven. The performance thing has really messed up the perception of golf. 99/100 golfers don't need a faster club head speed, they just want to hit the ball in a way that feels, looks, and sounds like a good shot rather than one that makes them think the game is too hard to even be worth trying to learn. Car commercials and golf club commercials are too similar. It should be easy to buy a golf club, not intimidating at all.