(CBS Detroit) — The history of Detroit Golf Club dates back to the 19th century. But the Club is a recent arrival to the PGA Tour, hosting its first event, the Rocket Mortgage Classic, just two years ago. The recently established tournament marked another first for the area. It was the first time a PGA Tour event took place within Detroit’s boundaries.
The city of Detroit was a much different place in 1899. Henry Ford had recently constructed his first vehicle, but the city was still known more for its carriages rather than its automobiles. Local businessman William Farrand and some associates established the Detroit Golf Club on 45 acres of farmland on the city’s north side. An initial membership fee of $10 and another $10 in dues allowed access to six holes worth of golf.
The club developed from there, expanding to nine holes and then 18 holes over the next few years. By 1916, it featured two 18-hole courses. Donald Ross, known for creating Pinehurst No. 2, Plainfield Country Club and East Lake Golf Club, among many others, is credited with the design. With its expanding its footprint, Detroit Golf Club added two clubhouses and grew its membership during those first two decades.
Ford, who joined in 1915, was the most notable member of the time. (In more recent years, legendary running back Jerome Bettis and singer Kid Rock have also joined.) Alec Ross, Donald Ross’s brother and U.S. Open winner in 1907, became the club’s head pro in 1918.
Donald Ross preferred to let the natural surroundings determine the design of his courses. And that classic approach is evident on both tracks at Detroit Golf Club. But in that era, players didn’t average over 300 yards off the tee. Flat courses designed 100 years ago often don’t hold up against today’s PGA Tour pros.
The Club’s North Course was updated in preparation for its inaugural event in 2019. A par-72 stretching to 7,370 yards, the Tour’s oldest course was still torched by an okay but not great field. Nate Lashley, an alternate going in, led from start to finish to book a four-day score of 25-under par and win. While he beat the field by six strokes, plenty of others went low. The cutline of 5-under was the lowest since 2016. Three different holes yielded birdies over 40 percent of the time. Last year featured another decent but not spectacular field, which Bryson DeChambeau bested with score of 23-under.
The North Course’s front nine, lined with trees, is a little more challenging than the back nine. Any course will reward distance, but accuracy off the tee helps here as well. The opening hole, a 397-yard par-4, is original to the course, and tees off near the base of a bent oak that marked a Native American trail between Detroit and Saginaw. The fourth hole, one of two par-5s on the front nine and the course’s longest, extends to 635 yards. The green is still very reachable in two shots.
On the back nine, the 14th, 15th and 16th holes came together last year to form ‘Area 313,’ where birdies can fly. Fans will be on hand again this year to create a festive atmosphere for a series of holes that provides some scoring opportunities. The series starts with a 555-yard, risk-reward par-5, depending on how it’s approached. The 15th hole is a par-3 that plays longer than its 160 yards might suggest. The 16th hole, a 446-yard par-4, offers scoring opportunities for those who can navigate the green.
The Detroit Golf Club is a bit of an anachronism on today’s PGA Tour. It’s a classic course in an age when venues are modernizing to counter the power game. But Detroit Golf Club also offers a welcome change of pace along with a sense of the game’s roots. The Tour’s oldest venue will look to further establish itself with the second Rocket Mortgage Classic this week.
Watch the Rocket Mortgage Classic Saturday, July 3 and Sunday, July 4, 3:00 – 6:00 PM ET on CBS.