Michigan can handle big-time golf as PGA Tour makes grand comeback

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News

It was only a matter of time, really. Professional golf was never going to completely disappear from the state of Michigan. Even as it wandered off for the better part of five years, there always seemed like a plan to bring it back to a state that at times has hosted regular events on all the major U.S. tours — the PGA, LPGA and PGA Tour Champions.

That drought did seem to drag on, though. From the time the Buick Open ended its run on the PGA Tour in 2009 at Warwick Hills in Grand Blanc, there was a void.

The Rocket Mortgage Classic begins Thursday at Detroit Golf Club.

To say it felt strange is an understatement. After all, Michigan’s history with all three tours dates back decades, not to mention a rich tradition in hosting major tournaments.

Slowly, however, things started to come back.

The Meijer LPGA Classic debuted in 2014 at Blythefield Country Club near Grand Rapids and has been going strong since. The LPGA added the Volvik Championship in 2016 at Travis Pointe Country Club in Ann Arbor and while that tournament ended after a three-year run, the Tour is starting another new team event this season — the Dow Great Lakes Bay Invitational July 17-20 at Midland Country Club.

Meanwhile, the PGA Tour Champions played the first Ally Challenge last fall at Warwick Hills.

But the PGA Tour was the golden ticket, and thanks to a commitment from Dan Gilbert and the folks at Quicken Loans along with a willing Jay Monahan, the Tour commissioner, it’s finally back as the Rocket Mortgage Classic begins this week at Detroit Golf Club.

“Time has a way of getting you back, getting you to the right places,” Monahan said. “I think the way this happened with Ally and Rocket Mortgage coming up an wanting so badly to do this for their communities … it just takes time. Probably longer than people would have thought, but to me the important thing is to come back here with two great partners and come back with two great golf courses.”

It made sense that the major tours and their sponsors would want to play in Michigan. Golf is as popular here as any state in the country and it’s always supported its professional golf.

The Buick Open was the longest running event, beginning in 1958. However, both the Champions and LPGA tours have their share of history, as well.

The then Senior PGA Tour began playing near Grand Rapids in mid-1980s while the LPGA has played all over the state, it’s longest running event the Oldsmobile Classic near East Lansing from 1992-2000.

Add in the multiple major tournaments like the U.S. Open, PGA Championship and Ryder Cup that have been played at Oakland Hills as well as multitude of other majors at places like Indianwood in Lake Orion and The Golf Club at Harbor Shores, and there’s a big market for the game.

Many attribute that to the amount of people playing the game.

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Jack Nicklaus, arguably the greatest golfer ever, has seen it for decades. He did as a player and certainly has as a course developer.

“When you look at Michigan, a lot of (the interest in golf) is because you have very long days,” said Nicklaus, who is currently working on the redesign of American Dunes in Grand Haven. “You can play golf here until 10 o’clock and can start playing at probably 5.

“You get that and then you have some wonderful golf courses in the state, all through the state you’ve got good golf courses.

“It gives you the ability to learn and play and have fun and do it.”

Now that the three major tours are back in Michigan, the next push is to get major tournaments to return. The Senior PGA Championship has played at Harbor Shores every other year since 2012 and will be back in 2020 while the 2012 U.S. Senior Open was at Indianwood.

But like the regular tours, the goal is for the big names. The last major in the state for the PGA Tour players was the 2008 PGA Championship at Oakland Hills. The storied course in Bloomfield Hills is the most likely to land another, and the membership approved restorations to the South Course beginning in 2021 in an effort to add to a resume that includes six U.S. Opens, three PGA Championships, the 2004 Ryder Cup, two U.S. Amateurs, a U.S. Women’s Amateur and two U.S. Senior Opens.

Nicklaus said last week he fully expects majors to return to Oakland Hills and judging by the momentum building — weekend grounds tickets for the Rocket Mortgage Classic are sold out — he could be right.

“I would never put a restriction on this marketplace,” Monahan said. “The way our sport is structured we don’t operate the major championships, but you’ve got a lot of great, smart leaders and organizations that have a deep commitment to the game and given the strength of this marketplace, to me, it’s just a matter of time.”

Michigan pro tour stops in 2019


June 27-30: Rocket Mortgage Classic, Detroit Golf Club


Sept. 13-15: Ally Challenge, Warwick Hills Golf & Country Club, Grand Blanc


June 13-16: Meijer LPGA Classic, Blythefield Country Club, Belmont (Brooke Henderson)

July 17-20: Great Lakes Bay Invitational, Midland Country Club (team event)