Category Archives: Golf Detroit

Categories Chandler Park, Golf Detroit, Rackham Golf, Rouge Park

Golfing becoming more popular during the pandemic

Published September 3, 2020 by WXYZ DETROIT by Syma Chowdhry

DETROIT (WXYZ) – Golf courses in our area have become more popular this season. Some say the pandemic has some novice players taking up the sport to keep busy.

With Labor Day weekend right around the corner, tee times might be booked.

Golf courses in our area have become more popular this season. Some say the pandemic has some novice players taking up the sport to keep busy.

“Covid has worked to our advantage,” said Karen Peek, director of operations of Signet Golf Associates. “People are looking at it as an opportunity to really get outside and be comfortable and feel safe.”

Revenue is up 27% at Detroit’s public golf courses this season, including at Chandler Park Golf Course.

Peek says they’ve taken precautions to keep the game safe like removing items that people share or touch, requiring masks when inside the clubhouse, more sanitizing and adding dividers golf carts.

Plus, she says the course is affordable, which is a drive for new golfers.


Categories Chandler Park, Golf Detroit, Rackham Golf, Rouge Park

Golf course memberships in Detroit are surging

Published August 28, 2019 by FOX 2 Detroit

DETROIT (FOX 2) – Golf course memberships at three of Detroit’s courses are seeing a spike.

“The momentum is high. People are talking about golf, they want to play golf, I see young people, I see families out here. I see husbands and wives, it’s just on fire right now,” said Charles Bush.

Rackham Golf Course, Rouge Park and Chandler Park are managed for the city by Signet Golf Associate – and all three courses that have benefited from Detroit’s economy on the upswing.  

“We’ve noticed that there has been a significant spike within the past couple of years and that residents really want to enjoy the services, the courses the parks, bring their families, starting the next generation of participation,” said Tiffany Crawford, city of Detroit. “And we’ve noticed the outside communities have also wanted to participate.

In 1984, Charles Renfrow played in the Horton Smith Golf Tournament and Michigan Medal Play Championship at the Detroit Golf Club. He was the first African-American to be invited. He won in 1984 and then again in 1986, and he is proud to be a Detroit golfer.  

“I have been playing golf for more than 50 years,” he said. “Over 50 years, I can hardly believe that. It’s enjoyable to see your own power and strength (propelling the) golf ball in the air.  I enjoyed that the most.”

Chandler Park has seen a 51 percent increase in revenue between 2018 and this year. That’s not surprising to managers on the three courses.  

“We have made some tremendous investments in this property and what you are seeing today is really a dream come true for me. I’m a native Detroit are and I’ve seen these courses over a period of the last 45 years and I have not seen anything better than what we are looking at today,” said Karen Peek, director of operations.

“My son works downtown and he and his work mates asked me to play golf with them,” said Bush. “It’s just an energy that’s in the city right now that golf is a fantastic sport.”


Categories Chandler Park, Golf Detroit, Rackham Golf, Rouge Park

Motor City Magic: Revenue is Up 27% at Detroit’s Public Courses

by Abbey Hart for Golfdom (Reprinted by National Golf Foundation August 2019)

The Motor City’s four major courses — Rackham, Palmer, Chandler and Rouge Park — have been graced by both local and famous golf lovers, including Motown legend Smokey Robinson and heavyweight boxing champion Joe Louis, who played in Detroit golf leagues 50-60 years ago.

In recent years, the story of public golf in Detroit hasn’t been so rosy. Until 2017, the courses were managed by a company under a short-term contract. The result was a lack of investment leading to dying greens, bunkers crowded with weeds, poor drainage, flooding, worn-out clubhouses and pavilions — and a sharp drop-off in golfers.

These conditions weren’t going to fly with Angie Hipps, contract manager for Detroit’s General Services Department, which oversees the golf courses.

Hipps isn’t a city employee bent only on managing money and resources — she cares about course conditions. She was the first female greens superintendent in Michigan when she worked at Rogell Golf Course, a former city golf course, from 1989 to 2005, before the venue closed in 2007.

The city enlisted the help of the National Golf Foundation (NGF), which investigated conditions at each of the city’s four golf courses. The resulting 152-page report was eye-opening for city officials for its hefty price tag: $15 million to repair all four locations.

There was one other thing Hipps noticed: “Most of the problems could be solved with basic agronomy practices,” she says, which indicated to her that getting the right turf professionals in place was key to saving these beloved courses.

The city opted to close Palmer Golf Course, situated in Palmer Park. (The park also houses the private-membership Detroit Golf Club, which in June hosted the Rocket Mortgage Classic to much fanfare.)

Turning its attention to the remaining three courses, NGF recommended a bridge contract with a management company to help raise the quality of turf and bring golfers back. The city chose North Carolina-based Signet Golf Associates, headed up by owner Peter Dejak, and the city allotted $2.5 million across all three courses to start improvements.

The bridge contract with Signet lasts until March 2020, when the city will move toward an extended long-term contract with a management company.

Signet receives an upfront management fee to handle the financials, but the city reimburses it for all expenses, including maintenance crew salaries and equipment. The city has final say in all purchases, management and superintendent positions and improvements. Hipps’ days often are spent crisscrossing the city, visiting the courses and meeting with superintendents, course managers and city officials. She and Dejak keep in daily contact about the progress of each course.

Dejak is a former superintendent, with stints at Augusta National, Atlanta Athletic Club and Pinehurst National. He began Signet in 1995 with golf construction and management services.

“What I find here is that I’ve never seen a group of courses that are more community oriented,” Dejak says. “The individuals that go to these courses, they really take ownership like it’s their local neighborhood. Some municipalities are like that, but this area even more so.”

It was a tough transition when Signet came on board. “The people who came (to the courses), they weren’t happy because it wasn’t what it could be,” he says. “Now, everyone’s given such great support. You’re driving the course, they’re high-fiving you, and it’s really neat.”

To oversee the management alongside Hipps, Dejak handpicked a big name in Detroit golf to become the director of golf for Signet: Karen Peek, LPGA — the first African-American LPGA professional in the United States. Peek draws on her own experience as a golfer in Detroit, starting out with her first lesson as a teenager in Palmer Park in 1960 and spending more than 30 years as a golf pro in the Detroit area.

The partnership between the City of Detroit and Signet was forged, but this year’s golf challenges posed a different problem — a snowy winter followed by relentless spring rains.

Still, since Signet began improvements in 2018, revenue is up 27 percent over all three courses from last year.

Now that the golf season is in full swing, here’s how the courses began to rewrite their story.


Categories Chandler Park, Golf Detroit, Rackham Golf, Rouge Park

Can this woman save Detroit’s public golf courses from extinction?

Article by Max Marcovitch for (June 26, 2019)

If Karen Peek feels the stresses of her job — the metaphorical time bomb she holds in her hands — she does a good job disguising it. “I’m just as excited today as I was last March, because I’m seeing it,” Peek said the other day, grinning ear to ear. She was sitting in her office at Rackham Golf Course, a Donald Ross design that is the busiest of the city’s three municipal courses.

Minutes later Peek was out on the course, tending to her duties as director of golf operations for the three munis: Rackham, Rouge Park and Chandler Park. She greeted a regular as he headed for the 1st tee, sent off members of a local Elks chapter as they commenced their weekly round, and checked in with groundskeeper Doug Melton and his affable dog, Baxter.

It hadn’t rained in three days, a welcome change amid the unseasonably wet weather. In Peek’s race against time, rain impedes progress. On an inclement day, Rackham might be lucky to have 20 players on its tee sheet.

Rackham is six miles north of Detroit Golf Club, site of this week’s Rocket Mortgage Classic. It doesn’t get the attention that DGC does but it has rich history of its own, extending back to its opening in 1923. Ben Davis, the first black head pro at a municipal course in the U.S., taught there for 50 years. Among his students was famed boxer Joe Louis, a Rackham regular. The two would play money matches. In the 1940s, Louis hosted an annual golf tournament at Rackham, aimed at showcasing talented black players.

Rackham is also where Peek fell in love with the game. As a kid, she convinced her best friend to attend a youth golf clinic with her at the course. Volunteer pros — Davis among them — painted small circles on the 1st fairway and had the juniors swing their clubs back and forth for one carefree hour. Peek was hooked. She recounts excitedly slinging her golf bag over her shoulder and riding her bike down to the course.

Fifty years later, the details flow with a nostalgic yearn. The clinics were a staple in a vibrant golfing community. For Peek, they were the gateway to her livelihood.

All of which is to say, few can speak with the more authority about Detroit golf — its history, spirit, decline, heart — than Peek. She grew up on it. She lives it. She loves it.

Now, she’s trying to save it.


The initial vote was 4-4. Everyone knew the fate of Detroit’s golf hung in the balance. The city council faced a dichotomous choice in March 2018: approve the hire of Signet Golf Associates to take over the operations of its three public golf courses or don’t. The latter option was as ominous as it sounds.

“There was an immediate conclusion that the alternative was ‘we’re going to close the golf courses,’ ” Peek said.

From 2011-18, total rounds played at Detroit’s four public courses decreased by 21 percent. From 2015-16, revenue dropped 22 percent. In 2018, the city closed Palmer Park golf course, leaving just three munis standing in a tenuous purgatory, wondering if they might be next. The city was blunt in its rationale.

“[Palmer Park] hasn’t made money in quite some time, and we didn’t think it was worth investing money into it,” Brad Dick, the director of Detroit’s General Services department, told CrainsDetroit at the time. “We’re post-bankruptcy and looking to be fiscally responsible.”

Slowly, the golf community came to the same fear: Was the game on the brink of extinction in the city?

Ray Custard — known by the regulars as “Sugar Ray” — is a superintendent at Rouge Park. He recalled tensions rising at the time.

If the courses closed, “them people would go crazy,” he said last week, pointing to a foursome meandering its way to the 5th tee box. “I’d start bowling. But I don’t like bowling.”

In 2017, the three remaining munis skirted that ill fate. A week after the deadlock, a tie-breaking ninth vote awarded Signet a two-year contract to take over management. Some called it a “bridge” contract. Cynics might say it was an ultimatum.

Rackham Golf Course Hole #10

Peek refers to it as an “experiment” — and one she’s taken on with vigor. In some ways, her new job was a venture she never saw coming. In others, it’s a role she’s been building toward her whole life. Nearly four decades ago, Peek parlayed those youth clinics into private golf lessons, then three Q Schools. In 1983, she became the first black member of the Michigan LPGA, and became head professional at Rackham Golf Course. But when she left the golf industry in 2005, feeling her lifelong passion gradually dwindling, she figured it was for good.

Then Signet came calling. “What an amazing opportunity this could be, to take this once again and just lead it in a direction of being vibrant,” Peek remembered thinking. “Seeing people stand in line on those tees, seeing people laughing and having fun, seeing those league groups out every day.”

Peek rushed to hire staff, lease golf carts, buy maintenance equipment. It was chaotic, but she loved every minute of it. Slowly, the upkeep of the courses began to improve — aerification of greens, verticutting, maintenance of the rough, consistency of the bunkers. Last May, the city invested a modest $2.5 million in capital improvements, helping Band-Aid over some of the more glaring issues. Without any long-term assurance, change has to come incrementally.

Peek’s mantra is simple: If each prospective golfer is welcomed with open arms, each staff member shares her passion, each day builds on the previous one, everything will work out for the best. Enough hard work and people will stream through the doors. Enough prayer and the rain will hold off. “Show your joy, and that will separate you from competitors,” she says.

“It might take a little more to get back, to get to that level. All I can hope is what the city sees is solid and substantive enough, that even if we fall a little short, they’ll still know we’re the ones for this,” she says, her voice building. “You’re not going to find better people. You’ll see people here who love what they do.”

Among those people, Peek says, is a local school teacher, who works in the pro shop twice a week.

“I guarantee you, I could take you to places today that you’d think you were interfering with their day by playing a round of golf,” Peek says. “Over here, you don’t get that sense at all. You get the sense that, ‘Yes, we want you — we desperately want you to be here — and we’re willing to do whatever it takes to have you here as well.’”

There are days Peek pulls into her spot at 5:30 a.m. to a half-filled parking lot. Those days give her hope. She thinks her courses are making progress, estimating a double-digit revenue increase and a nine percent increase in rounds played from 2018. It’s cause for hope. Now if only that damn rain would hold off.

Still, a vital decision looms. In February 2020, Signet will either be awarded a long-term lease or not.

Peek prefers to imagine a completed rejuvenation of these courses, a sustainable ecosystem of public golf. There are kids waiting to fall in love with the game, like she did. There are clinics to be run, leagues to be formed, future professionals to be bred. After a decade filled with pessimism, Peek offers her life’s tale as a vessel of optimism. She knows what golf has given her. She’s now doing everything to pay it back.

What would it mean to save Detroit golf?

That infectious smile returned as she sat back in her chair.

“A great way to finish,” she said. “It’d be a perfect No. 18 for me.”

Categories Golf Detroit

What’s the future of Detroit’s golf courses?

City Council eyes massive repairs for Detroit area golf courses.

Article by Kat Stafford, Detroit Free Press (April 20, 2018)

A new two-year operating contract approved by City Council last month  may have staved off the closure of Detroit’s golf courses, but one lingering question remains: Is there a long-term future for golf in the city?

All four courses are  in need of significant repairs — with estimates of between $5.9 million and $8.6 million for basic repairs at just Chandler Park, Rackham and Rouge Park. The fourth course, Palmer Park, is in much steeper decline and could be turned into a driving range.

On the high end, up to $18 million is needed to do comprehensive upgrades, according to a 152-page report completed late last year for the city by the National Golf Foundation. The suggested upgrades included a complete renovation of Rackham’s clubhouse, demolishing Rouge’s existing clubhouse to build a new one overlooking the river, a basic fix-up at Chandler and building a new golf learning support building at Palmer Park. The city for now is focused on only bringing the courses up to industry standards with basic repairs.

A chief concern also is whether the city might sell some of the courses, specifically Rackham, which is located in Huntington Woods and is one of the most popular courses in metro Detroit. The lingering concern stems from a previous attempt by the city to sell the course in 2006 to a private developer.

The city says it remains committed.

“Does golf have a future past this contract? I would say yes,” said Brad Dick, Detroit’s General Services Department director. “The future is good. People are there and want to play.”


Huntington Woods officials told the Free Press they have expressed interest before about purchasing Rackham from the city but this time they’d have to look hard because of the deteriorated condition of the course, which needs up to $4.3 million in repairs.

“We want it to remain a golf course,” said Huntington Woods City Manager Amy Sullivan. “We want it to be as prestigious as it originally was when it was deeded to the City of Detroit by the Rackham family. If Detroit is interested in selling it, we would certainly take a look at that opportunity but given the condition of the golf course right now, it’s something we would have to take a good, hard look at.”

The declining revenues and deteriorated conditions at the city’s courses have also raised concerns among avid golfers and experts who say they’re hidden Detroit jewels that deserve significant reinvestment.

Detroit officials say there’s no deal on the table right now to sell any of the courses and the city will seek a long-term contract with a vendor within the next year and a half. The Detroit City Council approved a $180,000 management contract in late March for Signet Golf Associates II, a North Carolina-based company, to operate and maintain the three operating courses.

The ideal long-term contract could be anywhere between 10 to 15 years, officials said.

But challenges remain.

The golf foundation report revealed that the four courses generated just more than $2 million in gross revenue in 2016, down 22% from $2.6 million in 2015, placing the courses at an operating loss.


According to the report, Detroit’s not alone in its struggles. Nationwide, about 67% of all public golf operations are not able to earn revenue sufficient to cover all basic day-to-day expenses plus depreciation and capital investment.  This stems from the lingering effects of the economic recession, declining interest in golf and the condition of the courses.

According to the report, the golf industry is a $22.3-billion industry, down from a peak of $29.1 billion in 2005. But experts argue the game remains popular and has a deep well of interested prospects.

Dick said the city hopes to break even on its three operating courses this year and make a “modest profit” over the next two seasons of about $40,000.

On Palmer Park, which won’t be open this year, the city is in the midst of determining whether it wants to put a driving range on the course and transform the back nine, where the final nine holes are played, into a site that can be used for other recreational purposes throughout the year.

The overall rounds played at each of the four courses has varied over the years but Chandler Park has declined about 30% since 2011, according to the golf foundation report, and the most serious decline — 84% — has occurred at Palmer Park. Overall, Detroit’s total rounds have declined by 21.3% since 2011. Only Rackham exceeds the national standard of 31,527 rounds of golf.

But many believe the city’s golf system could have a comeback story in the making.

“I’m a firm believer that golf isn’t dead,” said Richard Singer, National Golf Foundation’s director of Consulting Services, who led the report process. “In Detroit, I think there’s great potential there. They’re kind of hidden jewels but I think the lesson from it all is you can’t just let it sit there and take care of itself. … The city has to commit to them. You’ve got four separate golf facilities in the city and each has its own physical and business issues it has to solve. They all have their unique stories.”