Golf-Detroit-Skyline
Categories Course News

Detroit golf courses wrap up $2.5 million in improvements

Detroit wants golfers to give its courses a mulligan.

Article by Ken Nagl, Crain’s Detroit Business CRAINSDETROIT.COM (March 27, 2019)

Around this time last year, City Council had just scrambled to keep the courses from closing amid talks to cut losses and potentially sell them. A bitter split with previous operators, coupled with years of underinvestment, left the golf courses in less-than-stellar condition.

As spring commences, and the city finalizes $2.5 million worth of much-needed improvements at its three courses, officials are promising a new chapter. First, they need to remind people the courses are open for business.

“The resounding message that we’ve heard was, ‘Oh, you guys are still open?’” said Karen Peek, director of operations for North Carolina-based Signet Golf Associates, which was contracted by the city last year to run its courses. “I said, you know, we are very much open. We look forward to outstanding course conditions this season.”

Chandler Park, on the city’s east side, has opened on warm weather days for the past couple of weeks, while Rouge Park, on the west side, opened Sunday. Rackham, spread across land in Huntington Woods, is open year-round during fair weather. Palmer Park, a former course on the north end of the city that had been in decline for many years, was converted to a public park last year.

Management is trying to bring back the courses to adequate repair and at least break even from a financial standpoint, said Brad Dick, general services director for the city. Revenue last season was just shy of $2 million, with around $2.8 million of operating expenses. Projected revenue this season is $3.2 million. That would be a comfortable margin for the city, allowing it to pay the bills and maintain the assets, Dick said.

“We’re trying to get the word out that we’re open again,” Dick said. “We had to start from scratch.”

Compared to last year, they are off to a running start. League player registration — a key source of stable revenue — is up from last year at all three courses, Peek said. Chandler added 60 golfers to reach 280 total; Rouge added 70 and is just less than 300; and Rackham is at 550, up 50 from last year. Peek expects those numbers to keep ticking up as the city promotes its courses via e-blasts, social media and other advertising.

In total, Rackham recorded 34,000 rounds played last year, while Rouge and Chandler had around 21,000 each. Expectations this season are to hit 45,000 at Rackham, and 30,000-35,000 at the other two.

“Our projections are very aggressive,” Peek said. “I think we will see double-digit growth from a percentage standpoint.”

The city expects the capital improvements to drive that growth and improve the image of the courses.

The largest investment has been made at Chandler Park, which had been troubled by burned-out greens and tattered fencing along I-94 for years. A new $800,000, digital irrigation system is almost completely installed and expected to keep the course green this summer, while another few hundred thousand dollars went toward new fencing.

Most of the rest of the investment was poured into Rouge Park with several new bridges throughout the course and a $190,000 pavilion in the works. An additional $250,000 will be invested to replace fencing around the course, as well, Dick said.

Chandler and Rouge are still undergoing vegetation removal and turf improvement, as well as drainage enhancements and tee renovations. Rackham received some minimal clubhouse repairs, but as the biggest moneymaker of the trio, the course had not been neglected in years past like the other two.

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The bulk of the city of Detroit’s $2.5 million in golf course course improvements went to Chandler Park for irrigation fixes, fence replacement and cleaning up vegetation along the fence line with the neighborhood.
The city of Detroit’s $2.5 million investment in its golf courses included replacing several bridges at Rouge Park.
Categories Course News

The Future of Operations at the Rouge Park Golf Course in Detroit

The municipal course has been managed by Golf Detroit since late March.

Article by Laura Herberg, Community Reporter WDTE.org (September 4, 2018)

In the 1990s, golfers could choose from six municipal golf courses in Detroit: Belle Isle, Chandler Park, Palmer Park, Rackham, Rogell and Rouge Park.

Today, four are operating. The three run by the city are: Rouge Park Golf Course, Chandler Park, and Rackham Golf Course.

The city floated the idea of selling Rackham under the Kilpatrick Administration and under Mayor Mike Duggan’s leadership as recently as this past March but has run into difficulty because the deed requires it to remain a public course. The Belle Isle Golf Course falls under the jurisdiction of the Michigan Department of Natural Resources as part of its lease of the island park.

As for the other two, Rogell was sold in 2007, closed in 2013, and the city now plans to buy it back and turn it into a park. Palmer Park Golf Course is currently closed, and an advisory council has been created to determine the future of the course, according to the Detroit Free Press.

Earlier this year, despite questions being raised about whether city administrators followed proper protocols for granting contracts, Detroit City Council awarded Signet Golf Associates II a two-year contract to manage the three open courses. The company also operates the Belle Isle Golf Course and driving range for the Michigan DNR. Signet is operating all of these courses under a new brand it developed called “Golf Detroit.”

Karen Peek, director of operations for Golf Detroit, previously worked for American Golf, which managed Chandler Park, Palmer Park, Rackham and Rouge Park for Detroit from 1991-2010. She spoke with WDET Reporter Laura Herberg at the Rouge Park Golf Course in mid-July for a CuriosiD story looking into the question of who designed the course.

They had a bigger conversation about the course’s history and future.

CLICK HERE for an edited transcript of their conversation.

Categories Course News

WDET’s CuriosiD: Who Designed the Rouge Park Golf Course?

WDET listener, Jeff Currier, is a 32-year-old golf enthusiast from Ferndale.

He asked CuriosiD: “Who Designed the Rouge Park Golf Course?”

Article by Laura Herberg, Community Reporter WDTE.org (September 4, 2018)

THE SHORT ANSWER
With the help of Andrea Gallucci, an archivist at the City of Detroit, WDET found a map of the Rouge Park Golf Course from 1928. But, unfortunately, it did not indicate who designed the Rouge Park Golf Course.

It’s not unheard of for a golf course’s designer to be unknown. Of 84 courses known to have been built in Michigan between 1921-1930, the designers of 37 appear to be unidentified, according to a list on Michigan Golfer. This could be because records were destroyed, a designer backed out, or the course might have been designed by a city employee.

But WDET is not giving up the search! A document indicating the designer of the Rouge Park Golf Course may be out there. Read through the steps we took in trying to answer this question, and then let us know if you have any theories or leads by commenting on this post or leaving a voicemail at (248) 660-9338.

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THE COURSE
In 1923, the city of Detroit acquired land for what was — and still is — the largest park in the city: Rouge Park. Plans for the development of the natural area included amenities like swimming pools, walking trails, and 18 holes of golf.

A May 15, 1927 story published in the Detroit Free Press provided this description: “An 18-hole golf course, to be the finest public links in the city, is now under construction and will be open to the public within a year or so. This new golf course, being built over the rolling terrain of the park, with many sporty holes across water, up hill and down dale, is expected to relieve the congestion on the other municipal courses besides being one of the finest courses, public or private in the district.”

The first nine holes of the course were completed in 1928, the next in 1929. Today, the par 72 course is one of three city-owned courses currently in operation, along with Rackham and Chandler Park.

The Rouge course is known for being affordable, approachable for beginners, yet still interesting for experienced golfers. The Rouge River and wooded areas not only create obstacles for golfers but a haven for wildlife. On a tour of the course, WDET spotted a bunny and what appeared to be a groundhog.

WAS IT DONALD ROSS?
The most popular theory about the course’s architect is that it was a famous, Scottish-born golf architect named Donald Ross.

A course review posted on the website GolfBlogger on July 11, 2011 proclaimed, “I ventured into Detroit to the Rouge Park Golf Course on the promise of a Donald Ross course.” Adding later in the review that “the greens all are stereotypically Ross. They’re small, round, and crowned.”

A reviewer on TripAdvisor called the Rouge Park Golf Course a “Nice Old Donald Ross Course.”

When WDET spoke to Detroit Historian Ken Coleman, he says he thought Ross designed it because the golf architect was active in the area around the time the Rouge was built.

Ross, as a designer, was prolific. He is credited with designing more than 400 golf courses nationwide, primarily from early 1900 through the 1930s. In a map created by WDET of golf courses built in Southeast Michigan between 1921-1930 (based on information from Michigan Golfer), the Rouge Park Golf Course is surrounded by courses known to be designed by Ross.

Golf architect Raymond Hearn is familiar with the Rouge Park Golf Course because his company recently sent the city of Detroit a proposal to redesign it.

Of the course, Hearn says, “It is classic in the sense that its lay-of-the land design. Whoever designed it used the land pretty well.”

Hearn admits this is a Ross trait, but he also says it was typical of many other designers active during Ross’s time.
Overall Hearn says the Rouge Park course is nice but, “It’s not this classical gem that has never been discovered yet by someone that’s the Rembrandt or the Picasso sitting in the corner of the attic with dust on it.”

Bradley Klein, the architecture editor for Golf Channel and author of Discovering Donald Ross: The Architect and his Golf Courses says, “In many cases you don’t know you’re on a Ross course because it’s become overgrown with trees or the greens have gotten rounded off, or the bunkers have lost their shape. Even his best-designed courses have evolved dramatically [since they were first built].”

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GIVE ME PROOF
“The best way to know you’re on a Donald Ross course,” says Klein, “is there’s evidence.” In other words, you know who the designer is when it’s documented in course plans, meeting minutes, newspapers or letters.

Karen Peek, director of operations at Golf Detroit, the company contracted by the city since March to run the Rouge Park Golf Course says the question of who designed it is one that’s been asked over and over again.

“I don’t have a definitive answer for you,” Peek says. “It’s unfortunate that no one documented who it was.”

Peek previously worked for American Golf, a national company that managed the Rouge and other Detroit-owned courses for about 20 years. Back in the early 1990s, she says, American Golf tried to figure out who had designed the Rouge Park course.

“There was a significant amount of research that went on during that time to identify some of the selling points, anything of notoriety about these golf courses.” But, she says, the research did not turn up the Rouge course’s designer.

Additionally, the course is not on the official list of Ross-designed courses maintained by the Donald Ross Society. Nor is there any record of it in the Donald Ross collection in the Tufts Archives in North Carolina.

A search in newspaper archives from the 1920s turned up several references to the park and the course, yet none mentioned a course designer, Ross or otherwise.

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