Saturday, August 5, 2017

Michigan and Ohio, July 24-26, 2017

Michigan and Ohio, July 24-26, 2017
I lost in the semi-finals of the Brookline Super Senior Men’s Club Championship on Saturday July 22 to Jay W., whom I was lucky enough to defeat in last year’s finals.  Had the title for two years running, and gave it a run this year but mental mistakes just killed any chance and was closed out on hole #17.  Jay, as always, played well.  The good news is that Pat won again and now has held the Woman’s Super Senior title for 4 straight years and is by acclamation the golfer in the household!
Early Monday morning 7/24 I was off on a flight from Boston to Detroit, then onward to Marquette, MI, a great metropolis on Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.  The connecting flight was about 80 minutes late due to equipment issues so I arrived at the course at about 2pm instead of 12:30.  As there was a shotgun event scheduled for 5:30, I needed to make sure I finished on time.

Marquette Country Club—Greywalls Course, July 24, 2017:  Marquette sits on the northern coast of the UP on Lake Superior, about 75 miles south of the North Pole (remember, I said “about”).  It also is home to Marquette Country Club that has 36 holes.  MCC was founded in 1926 and started with its “Heritage” course designed by William Langford and David Gill.  In 2002 the club decided to proceed with a second course to be built on a 153-acre piece of land acquired 6 years earlier and located just south of the Heritage Course.  It is designed by Michael deVries. The second 18 was completed in June 2005 and named “Greywalls”…most golfers will assume it is named after the magnificent Greywalls Hotel in Gullane, Scotland, that sits behind the 10th tee at Muirfield…but in reality it is named after the grey walls of rocks/boulders that line many of the holes, having been dragged down from Canada during the last ice age (which you will remember ended some 12,000 years ago…just when mankind started burning fossil fuels and throwing excess carbon dioxide into the atmosphere).
I found a very wild and woolly course.  The slopes on some of the fairways are right “on the edge”, off the fairway it can be impossible to find your ball, and the conditioning is far from great. No question that tests all of your game (and no question tests your thinking and decision making capacity…you cannot just get to the ball and fire away here), has some very good views, and makes you think about the risk/reward equation.  One problem I had this day was that it was my first time on the course and I was in a hurry to finish before the shotgun start, so I played a whole bunch of shots with very limited knowledge.  I, of course, was on a mad dash to work my bucket list, so no one to blame but “moi”.  Holes I enjoyed the most were #4, 6, 7, 11, 14, and 16…so lots of very good and interesting holes.  Plays to 6828 yards (par 71) so a little on the short side but strategy dictates off many of the tees…long hitters with have to keep their drivers in the bag on many holes or face many lost balls.  Oh, and I had a 43 – 40 =83.

Greywalls #6--188 yd uphill par 3--look at this terrain!

Greywalls #15 240 yd par 3to angled green sloping to right front

Top 100 wise, Greywalls has not pierced any true USA Top 100.  It has been consistently on GW’s Modern Top 100 starting in 2009 with its highest rating on that list being #66 in 2015 but falling to #81 in 2017 (on the merged GW list its highest rating was #142 on 2015 and in 2017 it was #161).
Overall, this is a very special golf course, but will require a few rounds to be truly appreciated.  Had to be very difficult to design with all the rock outcroppings, and my sense is deVries did an excellent job.  The ongoing question (based on my too short visit) looks to be maintenance and the generation of sufficient revenues to fund day-to-day maintenance.  If there was a good-to-great second track in the area, this place would be much more appealing (bringing back Mike Keiser’s dictum that “two courses is a destination”).  Without a good-to-great second course, the economic viability of Greywalls must be questioned.
After the round I went to my hotel in Marquette and then caught a very early flight to Detroit Tuesday morning.  Happily that flight was early and I was soon headed to my Tuesday morning round at Detroit Golf Club.

Detroit Golf Club, July 25, 2017:  Just to update some of the “kids” reading this blog, back 50 years ago and earlier, the city of Detroit was an economic powerhouse and home to both the USA’s and the world’s automobile industry.  It created giant corporations, bigger than life people, and economic prosperity for the masses in the early part of the 20th century.  After World War II the US spent billions (and multi multi billions in today’s $$) rebuilding the economies of Europe and Japan.  Starting in the late 1950’s VW began importing the “Beetle” to the USA, and others followed (from Japan starting about 10 years later).  Simultaneously, the US auto companies became complacent (a nice way of saying “fat and happy”).  During the 1960’s and 1970’s GM spent most of its time keeping its market share below 50% to avoid a feared antitrust breakup emanating from Washington, DC…as opposed to improving their product.  In the late 1960’s I spent two years working at Ford Motor Company (my first job after business school).  There were starting to be signs of major problems in Detroit…the growing import market share, and the economic conditions of most of the citizens of Detroit.  In the summer of 1967, the Detroit Riots ended with 43 killed, almost 1200 injured, over 7200 arrested, and the National Guard patrolling the streets (called in by President Johnson).
I have been back to Detroit a number of times over the past 47 years.  I remember going there to play Country Club of Detroit in late July 2013.  Backtracking, in my second year in Detroit, I lived downtown…in a redeveloped area.  So, back in 2013, upon leaving CC of Detroit in Grosse Point, I thought I might drive by my old apartment building…but once I left Grosse Point proper, my mind changed very quickly…it was like I had entered a third world country and I made sure to get to I-75 South (I was heading to Ohio) ASAP!
Let me just say that Detroit Golf Club is not in the world’s best neighborhood…but it was nice compared to what I had seen four years before!  And DGC has been renovated and is simply beautiful…and quite frankly, it a very well integrated club.
Now to get back to the golf at hand.  Detroit Golf Club was founded in 1899 and started with 6 holes, which was expanded to nine, then 18.  Finally in 1916 Donald Ross completed two 18 holes courses (North and South) and a new magnificent clubhouse, designed by Albert Kahn was completed in 1918.  In 1992 it hosted the US Mid Amateur Championship on its North Course, as well as a Ryder Cup Challenge Match in 1941 (see more below in Plum Hollow CC write-up).  It has never been on a USA Top 100 listing.
Earlier this year a renovation of the North Course was completed under the guidance of Bruce Hepner of Renaissance Design.  I never saw the course before, so cannot comment on the change, but I can safely say today the North is a beauty.  Playing to 7013 yards (par 72), it is a joy to play.  First, it has some of the best Donald Ross greens I have seen.  Second, while the land it is built on is very flat, the fairways and rough areas are filled with small waves and undulations and present all sorts of lies and stances for the player to deal with.  Third, it is in superb condition.  Best hole by far is #5 a short (514 yards) par 5 that doglegs left to a slightly raised and well protected green…an entrance guarded on the left by a large tree that is perfectly positioned (see picture). 

DGC #5 514 yd par 5 approach from 120 yd to well protected green---tree in perfect position

After the round, said thanks to the pro shop staff and head pro, Jon Gates, and then headed west for Plum Hollow CC…but not before taking the following photo of DGC’s magnificent clubhouse.

DGC's modest clubhouse


Plum Hollow Country Club, July 25, 2017:  I had never heard of Plum Hollow prior to deciding to try to play all the professional major courses…but would note that the same could be said for many of the PGA venues prior to 1960.  But that may simply be an indication of my ignorance.  Many of these tracks were superb, but the clubs fell upon hard economic times as demographics changes resulted in major changes to some neighborhoods, and /or new courses coming along and attracting the area’s golfers.
In any case, Plum Hollow is located in the Southfield, MI and hosted the 1957 Western Open, the 1947 PGA Championship, and the 1943 Ryder Cup Challenge Match.  I had never heard of these matches until researching Plum Hollow and found the following passage on the Ryder Cup website:
With the outbreak of World War II, The Ryder Cup was suspended from 1939-45, and the U.S. retained the trophy from its 1937 victory.
Whilst the outbreak of war in Europe forced the cancellation of The 1939 Ryder Cup at Ponte Vedra Country Club, Florida, both teams were still named.
The United States also continued the spirit of the contest by selecting a ten-member team that participated in "challenge" matches against fellow Americans to raise funds for the American Red Cross, various service organizations and other war-related efforts. With The 1939 Ryder Cup canceled, challenge competitions were arranged from 1940- 43, with two at Oakland Hills Country Club in Bloomfield, Michigan, in 1940 and 1942: at Detroit Golf Club, in 1941: and at Plum Hollow Country Club in 1943. The Ryder Cup Team, which had various members during that period, won four of the five challenge matches.
Walter Hagen captained the 1939, '40 and '41 Ryder Cup Teams, while Craig Wood captained the Team in 1942 and 1943. There was no competition in 1939.
The 1939 U.S. selections were repeated in 1940 in a challenge match at Oakland Hills Country Club in Bloomfield Township, Michigan, against Gene Sarazen's Challengers. Sarazen, who was left off The Ryder Cup Team, challenged Hagen by assembling a team that included Ben Hogan, Jimmy Demaret and Craig Wood.
In 1939, The Professional Golfers Association of Great Britain had selected eight players and Captain Henry Cotton before war interrupted further plans. The eight players named were: Jimmy Adams, Dick Burton, Sam King, Alf Padgham, Dai Rees, Charles Whitcombe and Reg Whitcombe. The remaining two members were never filled.
During the war, the exhibition matches brought together the greatest American players of the era, including amateur Bobby Jones who led his team to an 8 1/2 to 6 1/2 upset of The Ryder Cup Team in 1941, at Detroit Golf Club.
The Ryder Cup resumed with the seventh meeting to the two teams in 1947 at Portland Golf Club, Oregon.
Plum Hollow is one of the very few courses in the USA originally designed by Harry Colt.  Colt did most of his work in the British Isles and some of his finest creations there include: Muirfield, Royal County Down, Royal Portrush, Rye, St. George’s Hill, Sunningdale, Swinley Forest, Wentworth, and Woodhall Spa.  Among his other USA creations are Century (NY), CC of Detroit (MI), Kirkland (OH), Milwaukee (WI), Old Elm (IL), The Park (NY), and Sea Island (GA).  Many astute golf architecture observers consider him the finest architect in history (for what it is worth, I place Seth Raynor upon that pedestal).
When planning this trip (and the month before in trying to plan another Michigan trip) I contacted the Plum Hollow pro shop to see if I could gain playing privileges.  On both occasions I was politely informed that on the days I was inquiring about the club had an event that would preclude my playing.  Suspecting that this might not have been “the whole truth” I searched the web and found a senior official in the Golf Association of Michigan who is a member of Plum Hollow (Jay H.) and was able to find his office number through additional Google searches.  Jay was amused by my story, is making an effort to play as many Harry Colt courses as possible, and was more than sympathetic to my various quests and offered to host me.  This will be no surprise to the golfers out there, but we of course found we had several mutual friends.
We played around 1:30pm, with a good friend of Jay’s and fellow member of PH, Mike R. (mutual friends here as well); both are good players and know their golf architecture (Mike is a GW Panelist).  I played awfully and had a 46-42 = 88.
Plum Hollow was founded in 1921 and the course opened the following year.  Since that time it has been renovated at least five times (by Wilfred Reid and William Connellen in 1928, W. Bruce Matthews in 1966, Bill Newcomb in 1969, Arthur Hills in 1984, and Bruce Matthews III from 2000-2005).  I believe that somewhere along that trail, the bunkers lost their definition and the greens shrunk and lost some of the contours and pinnable positions originally conceived by Colt.  Apparently some at the club are interested in bringing in a top architect to restore the Colt qualities and bring the course back to its earlier glory days.  I applaud these sentiments but am concerned that Plum Hollow sits on a very difficult piece of property.  The Rouge River Watershed runs directly through the course affecting almost every hole.  While this creates some wonderful elevation changes, the watershed itself is often 100-175 yards in width, creating a number of long forced carries.  In my opinion, this will be a difficult assignment.  Today the course plays to 6755 yards (par 72).
After the round Jay and I sat around and talked for about an hour over drinks (Mike had to leave after 15 holes due to a prior commitment).  He is a really good guy and I hope to get him to Brookline next year.
I arrived at my hotel around 7:30pm, ran out for a quick but good Italian dinner, and hit the sack.  Tomorrow was scheduled to be a long day…18 at Meadowbrook CC early, then a 3:30 drive to Columbus, OH and Columbus CC…two more former PGA Championship sites coming up.

Meadowbrook Country Club, July 26, 2017:  Meadowbrook was founded in 1916 and started with six holes designed by Willie Park Jr.  Park won the Open Championship in 1887 and 1889 and after his playing days turned to architecture, designing some 170 courses including Sunningdale-Old (outside of London), Maidstone (NY), and Olympia Field’s North Course (IL). MBCC added 3 holes (which were included in Park’s original design) in 1919, and subsequently purchased additional acreage and expanded to 18 holes shortly thereafter.  These last 9 holes were designed by Harry Collis and Jack Daray, both from Chicago and both having been involved at Flossmoor CC. 
In 1933, Donald Ross was brought in to change the 12th hole and rebuilt the 12th and 18th greens.  Arthur Hills then created a new Master Plan in 1972 that resulted in changes to holes 14-16.  Finally, with its 100th anniversary coming up, the club hired Andy Staples to rebuild its course.
Quite frankly I had never heard of MBCC, and was playing it because it hosted the PGA Championship in 1955 won by Doug Ford in a match play final against Cary Middlecoff.  MBCC has never been included on any USA Top 100.  And prior to a conversation the day before at Plum Hollow, I had no idea that MBCC’s recent renovation included extensive revisions to the basic design of the course.
Happily MBCC was less than 2 miles from my hotel and I arrived early.  The pro shop had set me up to play with another rater from Golf Digest, Rob Curtiss (from Tampa FL).  Was fun playing with Rob…very good guy who has only been playing this game for about 8 years but clearly has been infected by “the bug”.  Amazing the amount of architectural knowledge he has absorbed in only 8 years.
When I finished playing MBCC, I did not know what to think.  The course is quite unique.  The greens are filled with slopes well above 3% (the yardage book shows the degree of all the green slopes…and above 3% at today’s green speeds gets pretty wild).  As we played at 7am and finished by 10am, there was still dew on the ground for most of the round…me thinks some of my putts might have been terrifying later in the afternoon. 
The green shapes are very geometrical with many (if not most) being rectangular or at least squared off in a few corners.  The bunkers are also geometric in shape…with flat sand at the bottom and grass slopes on the sides.  Yes, this course has more Macdonald/Raynor/Banks in it than any other modern course I have played except Old Macdonald at Bandon Dunes.  From the tips, 7026 yards (par 72).
The land had tons of movement and the course makes great use of it.  Trust me this is fun to play, but tough, especially playing it for the first time.  At times when playing it I thought it was too wild, but after the round and having a chance to “digest” it, I started to warm to the course.  I wished I had more time and had been able to spend a couple of hours driving around the property in a cart to get a second feel for it. 
Now the negatives.  There is no question in my mind (and Rob’s) that the course was reopened too early.  The new grass on the fairways is simply not ready for play…and I just hope it does not get damaged as a result.  The greens are rock hard…firmer than most brand new Bermuda grass greens I have played.  On the 4th hole I hit a towering (for me) 8-iron to the green and really “nipped” it, and was shocked to see it bound some 15 yards into the back bunker!  I asked the head pro after the round about the conditions and the possibility of it having been opened too early, and he advised that the course had been closed for 19 months, implying that the membership was losing patience.  Not knowing all the facts may make this one hard to judge (yes, I can hear a number of you readers saying “that has never stopped you before”), and only time will tell. 

MBCC #3 green--L shaped from right of green..note how back right part of green is about 3' lower than rest of green

MBCC second shot on #4 536 yard par 5...green is beyond pond to left

MBCC #8 206 yd par 3...being long is no picnic as we both found out!

MBCC #9 338 yard drivable par 4...this is approach shot


Time will also tell if this course is too radical for the average country club membership.  I think I would like it as a day-to-day course to play (but withhold final judgment until I see it again in about a year or so).  In the meantime, I urge affectionato’s to get to Meadowbrook and play it…I for one would love to hear other opinions on this one. Since you asked, I shot 43-40 = 83.
Rob and I completed our round by about 10:00am and after my brief chat with the head pro, was off to Columbus, OH.  Had top get there, play 18 and then catch a flight to Charlotte, NC and make a connecting flight to Boston.

Columbus Country Club, July 26, 2017:  For a relatively small city (at least not a major one), Columbus has an amazing collection of golf courses.  It’s old classic courses are Scioto CC (where some guy named Jack Nicklaus learned the game) and Columbus CC (which hosted the 1964 PGA Championship…where Bobby Nichols battled to victory against Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer…btw, I distinctly remember watching that PGA Championship.  In fact, the PGA, which historically has often been considered to be the least important of the four majors sticks in my mind for three televised events…Nichols at Columbus CC, Jerry Barber sinking putts of some 60’, 40’ and 25’ on the last 3 holes of Olympia Fields-North in 1971’s 4th round, and Jack Nicklaus’ incredible par on Firestone’s 16th hole in the 4th round of the 1975 PGA).  Then in the 1970’s and 1980’s Jack’s Muirfield Village, Pete Dye’s The Golf Club, and Tom Weiskopf’s Double Eagle were built in the suburbs of Columbus (or actually what had been farms near Columbus).  The list of 323 courses that have appeared on one of more World Top 100 lists includes four of these tracks…Scioto, Muirfield Village, The Golf Club, and Double Eagle.
Columbus CC was founded in 1903 as an equestrian club but shortly thereafter turned to golf with an 18 holes course designed by Tom Bendelow.  Harry Colt, Dick Wilson and Geoffrey Cornish all implemented changes, but the most influential and extensive changes were made by Donald Ross in 1915 and 1940.  It is half way through a renovation overseen by Keith Foster (front nine finished and back nine scheduled for the fall).  It has never appeared on a USA Top 100.
Not surprisingly, the front nine today is far better than the back (which has not been renovated).  My guess is that it will be a much better course but I doubt that it will rise to the level of the four “biggies” in Columbus mentioned above.
It currently plays to 7003 yards but I would expect that to grow somewhat when Foster completes his work.  I ended the trip with a 30-41 = 80.
Then it was off to the airport (only about 10 miles away) and thankfully my flights were on time and all connections made.   I arrived home about 1:15am and did sleep late on Thursday!

Status:  So, after these three mini trips (NY, Chicago, and Michigan/Columbus) where do I stand?:
  • States played—unchanged at 48 with just Utah and Alaska to go.
  • Majors Ever—knocked off 4 so only 7 to go (all former PGA sites).
  • Top 100 EVER—knocked off 2 and have 11 left.
  • Cups EVER—unchanged…4 left.
  • US Senior Open EVER—1 played and 5 left.
  • US Amateur Ever—unchanged with 2 left
  • US Mid Amateur—2 played with 3 left
  • 2016/2017 Golf Week 200—I want to finish the full complement of Golf Week Modern and Classic courses from the two most recent years…7 courses left.
  • Total to complete these bucket lists (excluding duplicates)…36
  • Lifetime course count:  962!!  2017 course count…86…68 new and 18 repeats!!



Next stops…the Pacific Northwest states of OR and WA August 5-15 with Pat!!  We are looking forward to the trip (but nervous about the heat wave they are having).  Actually on flight to Portland, OR as I finish this post.

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