Rocket Mortgage Classic ready for second year
June 23, 2020
By Jim McCabe, PGATOUR.COM
- June 23, 2020
Back on the Tee
Back on the Tee: Rocket Mortgage Classic
Should you see Jason Langwell reach for a calculator when presented the equation 3+1+3, table that curiosity about his math skills.
Instead, study the smile and hear the eagerness in his voice to know that this relatively benign mathematical task leaves him with a multitude of possible answers. He could tell you it adds up to seven strokes, or perhaps explain that 3+1+3 at holes 14-15-16 at Detroit Golf Club translates into 5 under par.
But most likely, you’d learn that 3+1+3 gets Langwell reaching for his calculator because of the significant charitable funds that will be on the table at the upcoming Rocket Mortgage Classic (July 2-5) at Detroit Golf Club. The figure will run well into the hundreds of thousands of dollars at a time when spirits need to be raised and people truly require some assistance.
The goal, said Langwell, who is the Executive Director of The Rocket Mortgage Classic, “is to make that the most charitable area on the PGA TOUR.”
He’s talking about the par-5 14th, par-3 15th, and par-4 16th at Detroit GC, which was a standout addition last year to a healthy list of venerable stages on the PGA TOUR. Though Detroit GC dates to 1899 and is immersed in history (it features not one, but two Donald Ross designs, and three of its head professionals – Alec Ross, Horton Smith, Walter Burkemo – won major championships) it wasn’t until Rocket Mortgage merged its passion for civic involvement and sports sponsorship that it landed the first-ever PGA TOUR tournament within the city of Detroit.
The genesis of this tournament starts with Dan Gilbert, the visionary billionaire businessman behind Rocket Mortgage. For years, Gilbert has made no secret his desire to revive Detroit, the city in which he was born in 1962. Hugely successful in the mortgage-lending business, Gilbert, according to published reports, has pumped more than $5 billion into the city and the downtown area is a sparkling testament to the efforts.
Located on the north side of the city, a 15-minute drive from the thriving downtown, Detroit GC provides the PGA TOUR with one of its few tournaments with the borders of a major city. That notable distinction aside, Detroit GC more effectively offered the shine of a true Donald Ross design, one that while not real short (7,335) is certainly cozy, thanks to trademark doglegs and tree-lined fairways that the Scottish designer was famous for.
Nate Lashley was the dominating winner by six strokes in the inaugural last summer, and while Detroit GC yielded low scores (the winner finished 25-under), it was the high charitable count that put a shine on the tournament. A total of $1.2 million was donated to non-profits within the city borders, with much of the generosity a product of the “3-1-3 Challenge.”
That plays off Detroit’s area code (313), an innovative move that was instrumental in helping the tournament team win post-season accolades. The Rocket Mortgage Classic’s “Area 313 Celebrity Challenge” earned Best Special Event at the PGA TOUR’s end-of-year tournament meetings.
(There were two other honors for the Rocket Mortgage Classic – Best Tournament Sales and the new “Fair Way Award” for its diversity and inclusion initiatives. Not a bad rookie season.)
Creative minds looked at that fun stretch of holes on the back – the 553-yard, par-5 14th, the 154-yard par-3 15th, and the 453-yard par-4 16th – and suggested that a $313,000 charitable donation would be made if any player went eagle-eagle-birdie. It never happened, but there was the Rocket Mortgage pledge that did yield help to city programs.
That’s because the title sponsor pledged $5,000 for every eagle at 14, $25,000 for aces at the 15th, and $5,000 for every birdie at No. 16. With five eagles made at 14 and 60 birdies at No. 16, it meant Rocket Mortgage donated $325,000 to inner-city charities.
What accompanied all those eagles and birdies was a buzz that confirmed that the Rocket Mortgage Classic had succeeded to catch the community’s interest. Sell-out crowds showed up on the warm weekend and “the social event” aspect of the tournament went beautifully.
Not that that should have been a huge surprise, mind you. Michigan is well established as a hotbed of golf, despite the shorter playing season, and for years the Buick Open played in Grand Blanc, 60 miles north of Detroit, drew large crowds to a course – Warwick Hills Golf & Country Club – that players enjoyed. (Tiger Woods won three times, including the finale in 2009.)
Knowing it had been 10 years since the PGA TOUR had been in the area, tournament officials were confident that the Rocket Mortgage Classic would generate great interest, and their beliefs were confirmed. That success in 2019 motivated Langwell’s team to push forth with even more ambitious plans for this year, at least until the pandemic arrived.
“Everything just stopped,” said Langwell, “when that happened.”
Once it became official that the Rocket Mortgage Classic would be the fourth tournament on the re-start to the schedule, Langwell and his colleagues tackled the new landscape. The tournament would be played, but without spectators.
“OK, the ‘social event’ experience is changed,” is pretty much what they agreed the message would be. Going forward, they settled on this: “It won’t be about showing the spirit of Detroit. But there is still the ‘social good’ aspect, the fact that this tournament can still help the city of Detroit.”
The initiative for 2020 is “Changing the Course,” which doesn’t mean the stage on which the golf will be played – Detroit GC is still the host – but a re-focus to the energies. “Changing the Course is a way to bridge the digital divide in Detroit,” said Langwell.
It will not be a one-time fix, so Rocket Mortgage officials insist “Changing the Course” is a multi-year initiative with a vision that provides every Detroit resident with access to the internet, technology, and digital literacy training.
It was a natural extension of 3-1-3, and so that charitable component will be even more important this year. The possible eagle-eagle-birdie bonus is still there and so is the commitment by Rocket Mortgage and its partners to donate funds to the initiative.
But in 2020 there will be another component, one that will produce even more funds. That’s because fans will be able to pledge donations by simply texting “AREA313” and those donations will all go toward ending this digital divide.
True, it will represent a different slice of community spirit. “But it will show that there is still a buzz in this marketplace,” said Langwell. “It will show that not all is lost; we can not only make lemonade, but we can succeed in our challenge to do social good.
“It’s not only an opportunity, it’s our obligation.”