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Familiar faces will be back at Warwick Hills for senior event

Matt Charboneau

Grand Blanc — It’s been nearly nine years since professional golf was played at Warwick Hills Golf and Country Club, but by the time the pros return in September for the Ally Challenge it will seem like the blink of an eye for those tasked with preparing for the event.

The inaugural Ally Challenge is a Champions Tour stop that will take place Sept. 10-16, the first time Warwick Hills has hosted a pro event since the PGA Tour’s Buick Open ended its run in 2009.

And those around the club roughly 60 miles north of Detroit are already buzzing.

“We have a countdown clock out front and we’re inside of 150 days,” head professional Doug Brody said. “I’d say the energy is building. It’s definitely one of the top topics in the golf shop and throughout the club and the people are excited to see professional golf coming back to Warwick Hills.

“They’re excited about the players that are coming because these are the guys that played here for many years. So we’ve got a lot of fan favorites here coming back to Warwick Hills.”

No, the ultimate fan favorite won’t be there — Tiger Woods, a three-time Buick Open winner, is still quite a few years shy of qualifying for the Champions Tour — but former Buick champions like Vijay Singh, Kenny Perry, Fred Couples, Rocco Mediate and Woody Austin play regularly on the senior circuit. Add in other big names like Steve Stricker, David Toms, Colin Montgomerie, Tom Lehman, Mark O’Meara and John Daly, and the Tour is full of watchable characters.

Players like that will draw fans back to a course that hosted the Buick Open for the majority of its 45 years, and the excitement of professional golf coming back to Michigan could draw some new ones.

As for what it will be like at Warwick Hills, it will seem a lot like past events for the spectators. There will be plenty of hospitality suites around the iconic 17th hole along with interactive fan exhibits and plenty of bleachers and concessions.

It was always a gathering point for fans at the Buick Open and Brody believes it will be again for the Ally Challenge.

“I think you’re gonna see a ton of energy out at 17 tournament week,” Brody said. “That’s gonna be the hub of the fan experience and I think there will be new and old fans and it will be something special. I’m predicting it will be as good as any fan experience on the Champions Tour.”

What won’t be as noticeable to the fans are the changes the course has undergone since it last hosted the Buick Open.

Brody said about 40 trees have already been removed from the course in an effort to improve course conditions as well as the viewing experience for the fans. The changes, Brody said, were not only necessary for the event but will help the overall condition of the course and make it better for the spectators.

“It was a collaboration of our golf course architect, the PGA Tour and club officials,” Brody said. “We collaborated on the trees that were gonna come down to provide the best experience for both the players and for the fans. It’s been since 2009, so it had been nine years since the PGA Tour was here, so the trees have kind of been coming into play more and some of the sight lines on several holes where they were growing into the fairways.

“Seventeen is our famous hole, but it will improve course conditions quite a bit on 17. It’s gonna have double benefits where it should improve the viewing experience for the spectators but also improve playing conditions, specifically on 17. We had a hard time growing grass left of the green.”

Several of those trees, Brody said, were already on the club’s master plan to be removed so the return of the Tour simply accelerated that process.

Needless to say, Brody and the rest of the staff at Warwick Hills will be busy this summer. They’ll have the benefit of working with HMS Sports — which runs other events around the country including The Memorial near Columbus, Ohio — and Brody said many of the volunteers have returned from their days volunteering at the Buick Open.

However, Brody added when it comes to Warwick Hills staff, only about 10 percent remain from 2009.

“I think there’s less than five employees in the clubhouse operation that were here for the Buick Open and about the same out in the maintenance facility. So about 90 percent of the staff has never been through a professional event., but we do have 10 percent that can help guide the 90 percent.”

Brody is part of the 10 percent, having begun at Warwick Hills in 2005. So he’s seen all the big names come through town.

Now that they’re coming back, he’s got plenty of work to do. But it’s work he’s happy to do.

“My check list is pretty big,” Brody said. “I’m in charge of merchandising here for the event. We’ll have responsibilities with running the driving range and also involved with the bag room and the caddy programs and the standard bearers. There’s lots to do but it’s all gonna be worth it to have the big boys that week.”

Ally Challenge

When: Sept. 14-16

Where: Warwick Hills Golf and CC

Purse: $2 million

TV: Golf Channel

Notable: First PGA-sponsored event at Warwick since 2009 Buick Open.