All systems go, say organizers of Detroit golf tournament

Francis X. Donnelly
The Detroit News

Detroit — The bigger crowds haven’t arrived yet but so far, the first professional golf tournament in Detroit is proceeding smoothly.

It helped the Rocket Mortgage Classic that a strike threatened by the golf course’s mechanics and groundskeepers hasn’t materialized.

People exit the shuttle buses at the Detroit Golf Club Thursday for the Pro-Am tournament of the Rock Mortgage Classic. So far, transportation is running smoothly.

Instead, 40 members of Teamsters Local 299 picketed Wednesday at one of the entrances to the Detroit Golf Club, which is hosting the PGA Tour event.

The demonstration, which will continue when the tournament begins Thursday, didn’t seem to affect traffic flowing in and out of the golf club Wednesday during a match involving professional and amateur players.

“We’re very pleased with how things have gone so far,” said Jason Langwell, the tournament executive director.

Like any first-time event, the tournament has run into a few challenges, he said. Workers are re-calibrating the amount of concessions and fine-tuning signs that direct traffic, both vehicular and pedestrian.

Because of the rainy spring, tournament sponsors and VIPs have to park with the hoi polloi at Michigan State Fairgrounds, said officials. The bigwigs were originally slated to use Palmer Park but the ground is too wet.

Langwell said he is using pre-tournament festivities, like a celebrity golf match that was held Tuesday, to iron out the kinks before the main event. Attendance at such tournaments grows as the week proceeds.

“(We’re) working around the clock,” said Langwell.

Fans like what they have seen so far. They reported no problems getting to and moving around the golf course.

Terri Schwartz, who attended the celebrity match Tuesday and Pro-Am on Wednesday, said she hardly had to wait for shuttle buses taking her back and forth from the golf club.

“No complaints. They’re doing a good job,” said the Sterling Heights retiree.

Connie Anderson once worked at the Detroit Golf Club as a caddie but, during a visit Wednesday, barely recognized the place. Hospitality tents and grandstands with cushion seats have sprouted throughout the golf course.

Anderson of Detroit said it took him several minutes to regain his bearings as he traversed the course.

“There’s a lot of buildings,” he said. “I’m not used to it.”

Some fans griped about the $15 fee to park at the fairgrounds, which will jump to $25 Thursday. The fairgrounds are a mile from the golf course.

Jim Hillhouse, who drove across the state from Walker near Grand Rapids, said he would have liked to see free parking, considering its distance from the golf.

But he had no trouble with the transportation. Buses left the fairgrounds parking lot every few minutes, sometimes with just a few passengers.

“At least we don’t have to wait,” said Hillhouse.

Streets around the golf club were kept clear with barricades and police posted at several spots. That allowed the shuttles and other transport to move freely to and from the club.

Fans also were impressed by the army of volunteers working the tournament.

Schwartz said the volunteers were unfailingly cheerful and helpful when she was trying to find a shortcut to the 15th hole.

“The woman didn’t know but she found someone who did,” said Schwartz. “Everyone was very nice.”

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Twitter: @francisXdonnell