Nine things you should know about Detroit Golf Club
June 26, 2019
By Ben Everill, PGATOUR.COM
- Detroit Golf Club is the host venue for the inaugural Rocket Mortgage Classic. (Courtesy of Detroit Golf Club)
There are plenty of them hidden around the United States. Donald Ross gems. Old-school golf courses just begging to be seen and played by those outside the locals lucky enough to call them home. This week the PGA TOUR comes to one such Ross gem -- Detroit Golf Club. It's the first time a TOUR event has been hosted inside the city limits of Detroit. Here are the nine things you should know about DGC.
1. The club was founded in 1899 and initial annual dues were $10 for a six-hole course.
When the club was founded on the location on the north side of Detroit, between Six and Seven Mile, it was actually a bit of a hike from the city hub, making it more of a destination club that one you could just pop over to on a regular basis. Detroit was heading toward being one of America’s thriving cities as the automobile industry made a home there. William R. Farrand and several of his friends founded the club and by 1900 expanded to nine holes. By 1916 it had two 18-hole courses.
2. Donald Ross designed the two courses after the “Snowbirds” of Detroit Golf Club visited Pinehurst; his brother Alec served as head pro.
The early members were clearly avid golfers and would travel south to continue playing when the snow hit Detroit.
“The Ross brothers were down there at Pinehurst teaching Americans about golf and the snowbirds obviously liked what they saw,” explained DGC historian Keith Studzinski. “They hired him to come back up here and build this community.
"From the records I’ve found, I think we are the first 36-hole facility he built. He designed it in 1914 and we hired his brother in 1916 to be the head pro. Alec Ross was the head pro here until he retired in 1945.”
3. Three major winners have been head pros at DGC.
Nine years before he was hired at DGC, Alec Ross won the 1907 U.S. Open, posting four rounds in the 70s to win by two strokes at Phildelphia Cricket Club (his brother Donald finished 10th).
Following Ross as head pro was Horton Smith, the inaugural Masters winner (1934) who would win again in 1936. And after Smith was Detroit native Walter Burkemo, who had won the 1953 PGA Championship at nearby Birmingham Country Club.
George Bayer also held the job for some time, a four-time PGA TOUR winner known for long drives. He finished inside the top-15 at the Masters, PGA Championship and U.S. Open during his career.The clubhouse at Detroit Golf Club in 1922. (Courtesy of Detroit Golf Club)
4. Detroit Golf Club has hosted a Ryder Cup … well kind of ... not really.
Due to World War II, the Ryder Cup was put on hold. But before the 1939 matches were officially cancelled, most of the U.S. team captained by Walter Hagen had been selected. Gene Sarazen, a member of Hagen’s first six Ryder Cup teams, was not on the list, and he took it as a slight. Hagen said his team could not be beaten; Sarazen said he could pick other golfers who could beat Hagen’s crew. The challenge was accepted and the two “teams” of Americans played a series of matches for charity. The first one, in 1940, was at Oakland Hills, with Hagen’s team (that included Byron Nelson and Sam Snead) winning.
In 1941, the challenge matches were held at Detroit Golf Club. Sarazen was determined to beat Hagen, and so he called in a “ringer,” managing to coax 39-year-old Bobby Jones out of retirement.
Hagen, the non-playing captain, respected the addition of Jones, but his confidence was not shaken. In a pre-tournament story that he wrote for the Detroit Free Press, he essentially guaranteed victory and wrote the “drinks will be on them.” He also took a jab at Sarazen, writing “Sarazen proved last year that he finds it tough in Cup play when our boys whacked him and his team at Oakland Hills.”
Sarazen, Jones and the other challengers (including Ben Hogan, who beat his old Texas foe Nelson) had the last laugh, pulling off the upset in front of huge galleries for the two-day event. Hagen said he couldn’t believe the outcome “I’m going out to look at that scoreboard again,” he quipped.
5. The clubhouse was built in 1918 and is an Albert Kahn design.
Kahn is well-known in Detroit circles; in fact he was known as the “architect of Detroit” given his stamp on the city. Kahn and his brother introduced new construction methods including using reinforced concrete instead of wood in factory walls, roofs and supports. He designed the Packard Motor Car Company factory and the Ford Motor Company’s Highland Park plant where the assembly line was perfected.
Kahn has multiple buildings of historical significance associated to his name. “It represents a real connection to the past and the building has stood the test of time,” DGC President Andrew Glassberg said.
“Back then we were the excursion from the city to the country and the clubhouse reflects the fact people used to drive out here, stay for a weekend, have a room at the club, and play some golf. While that era is long gone, and we are now well within the city limits, where we are is still kind of in an oasis inside the city.”
The building is nearby to some stately oak trees and stands at 80,000 square feet, with a distinctive red roof and copper trim. Interior features include intricate woodwork, decorative ceilings and marble as well as a Grecian courtyard featuring a fountain and statues among lush foliage.
6. The front nine is tree-lined and likely tougher, the back nine will produce fireworks and a possible huge finish.
The course this week measures at 7,334 yards and is a par 72. Those at the club expect PGA TOUR-quality players to be capable of going lights out on the back nine, and a 28 might even be in play. This comes after the tougher, tighter front nine where the trees come into the equation more.
“There is an opportunity for someone to make a dramatic run to close the tournament,” Glassberg said. “There could be a lot of movement on Sunday afternoon on the last stretch. If someone in the lead is ambling there is no question someone from well behind can light it up and reel them in.”
The real defense of the course might be the tricky poa annua greens. “If you are precise with your irons and can get approach shots close you will score well,” Glassberg added. “But our greens have a lot of character. If you find yourself 20 feet away but in the wrong spot you might find yourself with a very challenging putt.”Bobby Jones and Walter Hagen at Detroit Golf Club in 1941. (Courtesy of Detroit Golf Club)
7. There are some notable past members -- including Henry Ford.
Along with the founder of Ford Motor Company as past members: Horace Rackham, a philanthropist who donated $100,000 for the Detroit Golf Club’s 36-hole golf course to be built over 100 years ago; U.S. Senator James Couzens, who was part of the Ford company in the early years before being paid $30 million for his shares in 1919; and Fred Wardell, founder of the Eureka Vacuum Cleaner Company.
Wardell is remembered fondly as he donated a sundial to DGC which is known as Putterboy. The original bronze Putterboy (known as the Golf Lad) was created in 1912 at Pinehurst and resided in the World Golf Hall of Fame for a while before being returned to overlook the Pinehurst practice greens. The icon is represented in the Pinehurst logo still today.
Likewise, a replica of the Putterboy sculpture stands on the Detroit Golf Club clubhouse patio today. Poet Edgar A. Guest, affectionately known as the Peoples Poet, would get plenty of inspiration for his literary masterpieces at Detroit Golf Club.Horton Smith at Detroit Golf Club. (Courtesy of Detroit Golf Club)
8. It is the flattest course on the PGA TOUR.
According to Shotlink data that limits the elevation to the expected playable areas for TOUR pros, it appears this new venue is a nice flat walk.
“The best way to check how flat a course is for a TOUR player is to limit the data analysis to the extents of the ShotLink data we provide for each hole. So while this analysis doesn't cover the entire property, I'm confident that it covers the extent to which a TOUR player will hit his ball,” the TOUR’s Director of Broadcasting Production and ShotLink guru Alex Turnbull says.
“Since we have a 2-foot terrain grid across all holes, we clipped the terrain data to those limits and then did some statistical analysis to derive the high and low points, the mean, and the standard deviation. Calculating the standard deviation is the truest test for determining how flat a course.”
For Detroit Golf Club, this is 2.18, below that of TPC Louisiana (2.23), Harbour Town Golf Links (2.29) and PGA National (3.00).
9. A Native American artifact sits proudly on the North course.
Keep an eye out for the Indian Trail Tree. Standing between the 7th and 8th fairways on the North Course, the tree was bent as a sapling by native Americans to use as a trail marker for the original Indian Trail between Detroit and nearby Pontiac,
Michigan. You’ll find a plaque embedded on a large stone in the crook of the tree commemorating the fact.
For the Rocket Mortgage Classic, the eighth hole is actually the opening hole, so as players congregate to start their round, they can take in some local history.
“We are proud of our connection to the history of the area and can’t wait for others to come a share it,” Glassberg said.