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PGA Tour poised to play in city of Detroit for first time

Tony Paul
The Detroit News

Detroit — The PGA Tour and Quicken Loans are teaming up to host a professional golf tournament inside the city limits of Detroit for the first time.

The PGA Tour is planning to announce this week a four-year deal for a tournament to be played at storied Detroit Golf Club, starting in 2019, Quicken Loans officials confirmed to The Detroit News’ Bob Wojnowski in an exclusive interview Monday.

Carter Carpenter hits on the No. 7 green Monday at Detroit Golf Club in Detroit.

The News reported last month that an agreement between the two sides was nearing the finish line. DGC must give final approval to the tournament via a vote by members.

The Detroit tournament will be held the last week of June — June 27-30 in 2019 — a prime spot on the PGA Tour’s calendar, which could lead to the participation of marquee names. Rickie Fowler, one of the most popular golfers, is a pitchman for Rocket Mortgage, a subsidiary of Quicken Loans, and thus would figure to headline the field.

The tournament will take the place of The National on the PGA Tour’s schedule. The National has been held in suburban Washington, D.C., from 2007-09 and 2012-18, with a two-year run in suburban Philadelphia in 2010-11. Quicken Loans sponsored The National from 2014-17, before ending its sponsorship. The tournament is being played next month without a presenting sponsor, at TPC Potomac at Avenel Farm in Maryland.

“Sometimes, life is just about timing,” Quicken Loans CEO Jay Farner said Monday. “Based on all the momentum (in Detroit) the last for years, it’s just the perfect time to start having an event here.

“Right things happening at the right time.”

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The Tiger Woods Foundation has been the primary charity benefiting from The National. The Quicken Loans Foundation will be the primary charity in 2019 and beyond, though Quicken officials do plan to meet with Woods next month to gauge his interest in being involved in the efforts in Detroit. Woods was a regular at the Buick Open at Warwick Hills Golf & Country Club in Grand Blanc, because of this then-sponsorship deal with the presenting sponsor.

This will mark the PGA Tour’s first tournament in Michigan since 2009, when the long-running and popular Buick Open held its final tournament in Grand Blanc. The tournament’s demise was a direct result of the automobile industry’s financial woes.

It will be the fifth PGA Tour event in Michigan’s history, after the Buick Open, the Michigan Golf Classic (1969 in Walled Lake) the Motor City Open (sporadically from 1948-62, at various sites) and the Western Open (eight times from 1904-61, at various sites).

No professional tour event — not the PGA Tour, not the Champions Tour (50-and-older) and not the LPGA Tour — has ever been held in the city limits of Detroit, nor have any of the 38 Michigan-hosted professional major championships. In 2016, Quicken planned to host a prime-time, under-the-lights exhibition at Detroit Golf Club featuring Fowler, Rory McIlroy, Mark Wahlberg and Justin Timberlake, but it fell through.

But this move has been years in the making. Back when he signed on to sponsor The National for four years, Dan Gilbert, Detroit’s billionaire booster and founder of Quicken Loans, made it clear to PGA Tour officials that he eventually wanted to bring the tournament to the City of Detroit — even though there are several courses throughout the Metro Detroit area that are considered more PGA Tour-caliber than Detroit Golf Club.

Detroit Golf Club, located between Woodward and Livernois avenues, just south of Seven Mile Road, features a massive, swanky clubhouse, ample practice facilities and 36 holes, with the North Course likely to be used for the tournament. The North Course is considered short by PGA Tour standards, at around 7,000 yards.

But PGA Tour officials, who’ve made several trips to the Donald Ross-designed, 119-year-old private club in recent months, haven’t expressed concerns beyond some modest modifications and a little bit of sprucing up of the course and the neighborhood, according to Quicken officials. That’s standard procedure for any new tournament host site. Fan parking is planned for the State Fairgrounds and Palmer Park, making for one of the shortest shuttle rides on the PGA Tour’s schedule, Quicken officials said.

“The PGA looked at the facility. They’re very excited and pleased,” said Jason Langwell, executive vice president of Intersport, a Chicago-based marketing firm hired by Quicken to help put on the tournament. “They want to make some modifications and tweaks like for any course, but the PGA and DGC walked away from our last meeting thinking there’s something to be done here, but not a lot to be done.”

There’s no word yet on the expected size of the purse, or prize money, which has a direct effect on the quality of the field — and, thus, ticket sales. The National’s purse this year will be $7.1 million, about middle-of-the-road. The tournament will be two weeks after the U.S. Open and three weeks before the British Open, which is ideal for drawing big names, many of whom don’t prefer to play in tournaments the week immediately before or after a major championship. That said, The National’s field has been considered mediocre in recent years, especially when Woods was laid up by a bad back. It’s unclear how that would translate to the move to Detroit. Jason Day, one of the top golfers in the world who won this past weekend’s marquee tournament in Charlotte, N.C., could be a name to watch, as he’s a season-ticket holder for Gilbert’s Cleveland Cavaliers.

More: Detroit Golf Club tells members to expect PGA Tour vote in ‘near future’

This tournament is the latest and biggest addition to golf’s blossoming Michigan footprint. As recently as 2013, Michigan had no annual professional tour events. By 2019, it will have at least four. The LPGA brought the Meijer LPGA Classic to Grand Rapids in 2014 and the LPGA Volvik Championship to Ann Arbor in 2016, and this September, the Champions Tour will play the inaugural Ally Challenge at Warwick Hills.

The Champions Tour’s Senior PGA Championship is on an every-other-year deal with The Golf Club at Harbor Shores in Benton Harbor, which is hosting later this month.

Michigan’s golf history

(Not including major championships)

PGA Tour

■ Buick Open — 1958-2009 (Flint, Grand Blanc)

■ Michigan Golf Classic — 1969 (Walled Lake)

■ Motor City Open — 1948-50, 1952, 1954, 1956, 1959, 1962 (Northville, Royal Oak, Redford, West Bloomfield)

■ Western Open — 1904, 1911, 1922, 1930, 1957-58, 1960-61 (Grand Rapids, Bloomfield Township, Lake Orion, Southfield, Royal Oak, Redford, Belmont)

Champions Tour

■ The Ally Challenge — 2018 (Grand Blanc)

■ Farmers Charity Classic — 1986-2004 (Grand Rapids, Ada)


■ LPGA Volvik Championship — 2016-present (Ann Arbor)

■ Meijer LPGA Classic — 2014-present (Grand Rapids)

■ Oldsmobile Classic — 1992-2000 (East Lansing)

■ Lady Stroh’s Open — 1978-79 (Dearborn)

■ Yankee Women’s Open — 1964-67 (Grand Blanc)

■ Wolverine Open — 1955, 1957, 1960, 1963 (Bloomfield Hills, Grosse Pointe Woods, Mount Clemens)

■ Battle Creek Open — 1955 (Battle Creek)