Source: McIlroy, Fowler to stage Detroit golf match

Lynn Henning
The Detroit News
Rory McIlroy

Not since World War II has the Detroit Golf Club drawn Tour golfers for an event showcasing even a handful of the game’s elite.

But a pro-golf revival is set for June 7, when Rory McIlroy and Rickie Fowler are expected to play an under-the-lights exhibition, paired with two celebrities who haven’t been named, in a novel four-man celebrity match at the club just south of Seven Mile Road and the Palmer Woods neighborhood in Detroit.

Contracts have not yet been signed, but a Detroit Golf Club source, who requested anonymity because of the sensitive nature of discussions being conducted, said Monday the match is tentatively set and the 18-hole event is to be televised by The Golf Channel and CBS.

The same source confirmed Quicken Loans, founded by Detroit native and entrepreneur Dan Gilbert, will be the event’s chief sponsor.

The story was first reported Monday by Associated Press golf writer Doug Ferguson.

It is known DGC for some time has been negotiating to hold a celebrity golf event at the 117-year-old property, which features two 18-hole courses designed by grand-master architect Donald Ross.

As noteworthy as the headliners, McIlroy and Fowler, appearing at a Metro Detroit event, the night-time format is viewed as an obvious national attraction of interest to Golf Channel and CBS.

Although a starting time is not yet set, Golf Channel is tentatively on board to televise the first half of the evening event, with CBS handling the final two hours, from 9-11 p.m. Daylight in southeast Michigan typically allows golfers in early June to play past 9 p.m.

But the match will be played, at least partially, with reliance on artificial lights.

The DGC source said no contracts had yet been approved for golf-course lighting but lighting typically used for night football games at unlighted stadiums could be delivered to DGC.

Negotiations continue in a bid to lock down two non-Tour celebrities and partners for McIlroy and Fowler.

It is known CBS and other network bidders had floated thoughts of using NFL stars, and even late-night talk-show hosts.

It is believed the list of potential celebs could also involve two heavyweight entertainment names: singer-actor Justin Timberlake, a skilled golfer with a 6-handicap; and actor-producer Mark Wahlberg.

Rickie Fowler

No competitive format for such an event has been decided upon, the DGC source said.

Box office appeal would be provided by the two Tour names: McIlroy, ranked No. 3 in the world and winner of the U.S. Open (2011), British Open (2014), and the PGA Championship (2012 and ’14), and Fowler, who is ranked No. 4 in the world and who won last year’s Players Championship at Ponte Vedra, Fla.

For area golf fans, an event with billboard Tour names would mark the return of pro golf to southeast Michigan after a long lapse.

The Buick Open, in Grand Blanc, was the last regular PGA Tour event until it disappeared in 2009, erased mostly by bad economics.

Oakland Hills Country Club in Bloomfield Hills has been a periodic host of major championships, including the U.S. Open, as well as the Ryder Cup, but it has not been site of a major since the 2008 PGA Championship.

The U.S. Amateur will, however, be played at Oakland Hills in August.

Detroit Golf Club has not hosted an event featuring Tour pros in more than 70 years. During World War II, when the Ryder Cup was canceled, 10-man teams of professionals from the United States and Great Britain played in unofficial Saturday-Sunday events that were spread during those years among three area courses: Oakland Hills, Detroit Golf Club, and Plum Hollow.

Horton Smith, the first winner of the Masters tournament, played in the 1941 event at DGC before he was drafted into wartime service. He later returned to DGC as club professional from 1946 until his death in 1963. @Lynn_Henning