Detroit — When they swing down Detroit Golf Club’s oak-fringed drive next June for the inaugural Rocket Mortgage Classic, the first-ever PGA Tour tournament in the city of Detroit, players will step onto a rearranged Donald Ross layout complete with a 625-yard, par-5 second hole.
On the back nine of the North Course, they will traipse across what might be called DGC’s “Amen Corner” — the revamped par-4 14th, which will become a pond-fronted, 570-yard par-5; followed by a birdie-seducing 160-yard 15th; and then three meaty finishing holes, the last of which will be the 18th, with its two-tiered green and 30 extra yards added to the par 4.
Overall yardage for the tournament (June 27-30) that has DGC’s coordinators hopping, and a starved Metro Detroit golf audience drooling, will be a healthy 7,300 yards — mid-range as Tour stops go but enough territory to keep par from being obliterated by the Tour’s current tee-box blasters.
The famed North Course will borrow a sliver of real estate from another of Ross’ architectural jewels — the adjacent South Course — in a bid to lengthen, toughen, and create greater flow.
In order of those alterations:
►The North Course’s eighth hole will be the tournament’s first hole, as it was in an earlier era at DGC. The hole is a par 4 that will be lengthened from its current 387 yards by way of a pushed-back tee designed to add muscle.
►The current No. 9 becomes the PGA Tour players’ second hole.
►The South Course’s first hole, a par 4, will function as the tournament’s third. There is a second wrinkle: It will be played from the North Course’s first-hole tee box, which will create a right-to-left, diagonal.
►The North Course’s existing second hole will grow by some 75 yards to become a 625-yard, par-5, fourth.
►The North’s current No. 4 will be the Rocket Mortgage Classic’s sixth, a brutish par-4 of 475 or 480 yards after the tee is extended 40 to 50 yards.
►The existing par-5 fifth becomes the tournament’s seventh hole, a dogleg-left with another lengthened tee bringing a blocking tree into the PGA Tour players’ picture.
►The North’s sixth and seventh (tourney's No. 8 and 9) will play as they do now.
The course’s tournament calling-card — and potential oasis for tournament fans -— will be holes No. 14 through 18, which follow the current North Course routing. Here, you are destined to see bleachers and hospitality areas and a vista that can offer a three-hole bounty of green-and-tee visuals.
Fourteen will be a par-5, 570 yards, across the fronting pond. No. 15, a few paces away, will be an invigorating shortie — 160 yards. No. 16, a par 4, will be lengthened some 40 yards, while the par-5 17th will be the now-existent long par-5 (573 yards), all before No. 18 closes things out.
The 18th is a par 4 that will be stretched 30 to 40 yards (to about 440 or a bit more) and then offer its two-tiered green and putting “valley” as something to consider when pin placements will mean everything — especially when tucked into the back right corner, as figures to be the strategy for Sunday’s final round. Having pins on the green’s top shelf, or stuck in front of the valley, means spin — how much to apply, or to avoid — will be heavy on the minds of PGA Tour players on their 18th-hole approaches.
It’s the intersection of holes deep into the second nine that DGC and its coordinators believe a classic gallery site awaits.
“This is where the action is,” DGC president Pat Flynn said last week, showing off the conversion of 14 green, the short 15th tee and green, and 16th tee. “Some really cool spaces in here.
"And three of the most pivotal shots of the tournament will happen right here.”
The alterations turn what already ranked as a bold, but non-contrived Ross design, into a sturdier PGA Tour track that hasn’t forsaken its architect’s tastes.
“Players don’t get to play a lot of great Ross courses,” said Jason Langwell, an executive vice president with Intersport, a marketing company which is running the tournament. “The Tour believes the players will love it.”
The re-weave from DGC’s two courses are part of a courtship by DGC aimed at bringing PGA Tour golf to a club founded in 1899. The Tour, likewise, wanted to connect with a region and city that could blend Detroit’s commerce, golf heritage, and fan appetite to see the Tour’s tournament showmen.
Since the old Buick Open in Grand Blanc disappeared after the 2009 showing, there had been loose talk among DGC and parties about bringing some form of celebrity pro golf to a club that’s roughly bordered by Seven Mile and Six Mile roads, as well as Woodward and Livernois avenues.
There were tentative plans in 2016 to have DGC and Quicken Loans team in an under-the-lights TV exhibition with Rickie Fowler, Rory McIlroy, and entertainment hotshots Justin Timberlake and Mark Wahlberg. But when plans dissolved, the allies instead began thinking about a more serious, higher-profile event.
Conversations between the Tour and Quicken Loans — the Dan Gilbert-owned sponsor of a tournament outside Washington D.C. for the last five years — began seriously within the “last six months,” Flynn said, and by April had turned earnest with DGC.
Logistics were as critical to plans as any rearranging of the North-South courses. Most parking is expected to shift to the State Fairgrounds area, just north and east of DGC, with shuttle buses transporting fans.
Another concern had been a practice range that met PGA Tour tastes and needs. There had been some early notions of using the nearby Palmer Park Golf Course, but planners have decided DGC’s South Course offers convenience and practice options that can’t be matched.
“They’ll be on the course as they prepare for the course,” Langwell said.
The range will be cut from the fourth and 10th holes, with hills behind the tee areas making for a prime spectator spot. Parallel fairways and bunker placements will allow for practice and more precise tune-up options geared for the professionals.
The course will close for regular play for a period in June as DGC gets ready for a tournament that will be played two weeks after the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach.
DGC members in May approved, by a vote of 248-20, hosting next year’s tournament.
“We know there will be some inconvenience for some of our members, but this is not headache and heartache,” Flynn said. “This is exciting for all of us.”