Double JJ Ranch & Rothbury Experience

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1:55 p.m. Feb. 16

I first visited the Double JJ Ranch in Rothbury, Mich. in November, 2006. The historic ranch was a gentle, rural escape from the madness of Muskegon, 25 miles south. I returned with my girl friend on New Year’s Eve 2007 to find a new indoor water park and pizza parlor. The vibe was sort of Wisconsin Dellsy. We avoided soggy kids and came away impressed with the ranch’s New Year’s Eve fireworks show.

But now this?

ROTHBURY–a sustainable camping festival that features the Dave Matthews Band, Jakob Dylan & the Gold Mountain Rebels, Primus, Snoop Dogg, John Mayer and more than 60 other acts (www.rothburyfestival.com) is scheduled to be held July 3-6 around the ranch. Its like Burning Man for the Heartland. Besides the music, there’s daily yoga sessions (one with Michael Franti & Spearhead) face painting and DJ master classes. Nearly 50,000 people are expected to attend and there’s camping available on 300 acres of land that surround the ranch.

I’d check out Conscious Alliance’s effort to get into the Guinness Book of World’s Records for the “World’s Largest Canned Food Sculpture,” which will also generate 40,000 cans of food to be donated locally. The sculpture will be on exhibit all weekend. So if you’re planning to go to ROTHBURY or some more tranquil time here’s the backstory on the JJ Ranch, whose name is derived from Jack & Jill. Or now its Jack and Jerry as in Garcia….

This edited story appeared in the Nov. 26, 2006 edition of the Chicago Sun-Times:

ROTHBURY, Mich. — The folks at the Double JJ Ranch & Golf Resort in wild western Michigan rope you in with the tagline “Outside the Ordinary.”

Where do I sign up?

The 2,000-acre resort north of Muskegon celebrates its 70th anniversary next year. It features heated log cabins, hotel rooms, horses, three lakes and a natural cranberry bog…….

….The resort opened as the Jack & Jill Ranch and has been a getaway for generations of Chicagoans, including George “Cheers” Wendt. Late country singer Waylon Jennings stopped at the Double JJ to get

off the road.

I’m a dude who had never heard of this ranch.

But I knew this would be an unusual experience when I arrived at the ranch. I was lost. Sheriff Glen Pine approached my car singing Tom Paxton’s “Can’t Help Wondering Where I’m Bound.” Well, he was

playing the role of a sheriff. He wore midnight black sunglasses and his baritone had the bottom of an empty wishing well. Pine turned out to be a former Chicago folk singer who appeared at Cal’s Corrall at 78th and Ashland in Chicago, run by country singer Cal Starr.

Rothbury (population 438) is a mile-square town, only six miles east of Lake Michigan. It is definitely outside of ordinary and inside of nowhere.

In 1988 Detroiters Bob and Joan Lipsitz purchased the adults-only Double JJ dude ranch. They partnered with Wally Wojack, a 79-year-old Canton, Ohio, businessman who had been coming to the

ranch since 1950. The trio added a golf course and a family ranch. The Double JJ has been family owned for its entire 70 years.

This weekend the resort debuts its New Frontier complex that includes a 60,000-square-foot mining-themed indoor water park with a 57-foot-high water slide — the tallest water slide in Michigan

— a wave pool, interactive waterfall, row bridges and a family raft ride.

I can’t wait to see Govt. Mule on the water slide during ROTHBURY weekend.

“We were the largest winter resort in the country that didn’t have an indoor pool,” Bob Lipsitz said over coffee at the resort’s Sundance Saloon & Steakhouse. “Now we’ve gone way over the top.”

The ranch also offers sleigh rides, a snow-tubing hill, cross-country skiing and horseback riding. The ranch makes its own snow for the tubing hill and snowboarding. Call ahead if there is snow on the ground because the ranch tends to fill up.

There is also daily horseback riding in the winter. The ranch houses 140 horses (110 private, 30 public), and equestrians can bring their own horses. The trail leads to Lake Michigan and people

can ride horses in the lake. The Double JJ is one of the largest horse resorts in America.

The ranch also has 120 new condominiums available for nightly rental along with 32 hotel rooms. The ranch is west Michigan’s only four-season full-service resort. There’s even a convention center that has hosted Kodak and Motorola out of Chicago. When the Double JJ Starbucks opens this weekend, I

bet it will be west Michigan’s only Starbucks.

The ranch was founded by Michigan farmer Joseph Stousch and his wife Mary. The operation was taken over in 1939 by their sons George and Bob Storm, who were based in Chicago but owned a livery

in Whitehall, Mich. “They’d bring horses out for the weekend and the kids would ride horses through the cherry trees,” said Wojack, the ranch’s resident historian. “The ranch was named Jack and Jill in honor of those little kids. George and Bob also wanted a name that was more Americanized, which is how Stouch became Storm.”

Wait. It gets better.

George’s wife was a singer who went by the name Sunny Storm.

During the 1960s and ’70s there were Double JJ Clubs in Chicago and the suburbs. “The first club was in Chicago,” Wojack said. “At one time Chicago had 950 members. Cleveland, Detroit and Indianapolis

also had clubs. The ranch had no offical connection with the clubs. It stayed the Jack and Jill Ranch until 1973 when it became the Double JJ.”

Lipsitz added, “In the early days a bus would take people from Chicago and Detroit into the Greyhound station in Rothbury. A horse and wagon would pick them up and bring them here. They had barn dances on Saturday night and the guys would line up on the road to be screened to dance with the girls. Up until the 1980s our population was 70 percent female. It wasn’t necessarily 70 percent single female. The guys were going golfing outside of town. The women were riding horses on the ranch. When we built the golf course in ’93, we started attracting more couples. We still have the gals weekend without the guys — and the guys weekend without the gals.”

And when there’s lots of guys and gals there soon will be kids.

“In ’98 we built the Back Forty ranch,” said Lipsitz, while looking out a window at a dense grove of pine trees. The Back Forty has 41 family cabins, 23 log homes and kids-only 10-bunk log cabins, Conestoga wagons and tepees.

“Basically we provide grandma and the adults can go play,” Lipsitz said. Men’s Journal rated the Thoroughbread 18-hole championship golf course as one of the 10 most challenging courses in America. The course was built in the dune ridges, which account for its rolling hills. The rock band Hootie and the Blowfish has stopped in to play golf at the ranch.

Lipsitz is not a cowboy, nor is he a Double JJ veteran. He had been to the ranch only once before he became owner. His intention was to start a boys camp. “The land and the tradition was too valuable for that,” he said. “I was in the kid’s recreation business and at first ended up with adults here. But I’ve always appreciated horses and I rode horses as a teen.” The Double JJ even presents public rodeos from id-May until mid-September.

Lipsitz, 51, builds the buildings and his wife decorates the interiors. He never hired an outside contractor until the water park/entertainment center expansion. The restaurant chandeliers are

adorned with the Double JJ logo and they are are made by the anch’s blacksmith. The steakhouse seats 170 with panoramic views of the golf course and wildlife that includes bluejays, fox and hungry wild turkeys.

Nighttime activity on the ranch currently includes a small bar at the Sundance Steakhouse and the Silver Dollar Saloon on the shores of Big Wildcat Beach. (The bar is seasonal; it will reopen in May.) “We’re western,” Lipsitz said. “The Double JJ has a 70-year tradition of being a ranch. We want to keep that feel. Glen Pine has worked for all four owners. Where do you find that? This is history.”

DIRECTIONS: By horse or car, from Chicago, take Interstate 94 east to Benton Harbor, Mich. Travel north on U.S. 31 and take the Winston Road/Rothbury exit east to Water Road, then turn left (north). The Back Forty is on the right (east) side; the Double JJ Ranch is just beyond that. Continue one more mile to reach the Thoroughbred Golf Club and Conference Center.

CONTACT: For more information, visit www.doublejj.com or call (800) 368-2535.

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