Category Archives: Rouge Park

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.”

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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.

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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 Golf.com (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 Rouge Park

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.

Rouge Park Golf CourseAs 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 Rouge Park

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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