Detroit — Outside of a couple Buick Opens and the 2004 Ryder Cup, I haven't covered a lot of big-time golf up-close. I've only been covering golf at The News for a handful of years now, and the options locally, until recently, have been limited.
That's why spending seven days at Detroit Golf Club for the inaugural Rocket Mortgage Classic was intriguing, and in the end quite exhilarating.
Here's what stood out, from the good, the bad and the ugly.
►The fan experience, on a whole, was exceptional, on a number of fronts. For starters, being an old-style Donald Ross course, the property at Detroit Golf Club is rather condensed, so you really were able to get up close to the golfers, especially at several tee boxes. At No. 17, for instance, fans were within three or four feet of the golfers teeing off. Same at No. 18. Also, Rocket Mortgage Classic officials decided that, unlike at many PGA Tour stops, they were going to allow public standing spots between the hospitality suites and the ropes, like around the green at No. 18. (There is a downside here, too, of course, in that fans are in greater danger of being hit by wayward shots.)
►The course conditions were absolutely fantastic, and the aesthetics came through very nicely on TV. Of course, yes, that meant a whole heck of a lot of birdies (1,895 to be exact), plus 40 eagles for good measure — including one hole-in-one. And you know what, what the heck is wrong with that? There's been a whole lot of chirping from social media about how the low scoring was embarrassing. That's garbage. Yes, it's fun a couple of times a year to watch the world's best struggle to break par, but for my money, I want to see them go low. Nobody comes to PGA Tour events dying to see par saves. They want to see a shootout. And Detroit delivered.
►Dustin Johnson would've been a great champion, or Rickie Fowler, or Gary Woodland, or any of the big names in the field. But Detroit might've gotten lucky with the breakout story that was Nate Lashley, the third alternate entering the week who has an incredible back story of perseverance (personally and professionally), making him the ultimate underdog story. And as has been noted all week, yes, Detroit loves itself an underdog story. Lashley never had been to Detroit before this week, but now he'll be welcome as long as he shall live — free to host many more beer parties, like he did on the patio at Detroit Golf Club long after he had tapped in for par to claim the title Sunday evening.
►Detroit sure can clean up nicely, and it did again this week, for the most part. But unlike when it spruced up for the Super Bowl only to bail out once the national media had left town, it needs to be a continuous effort to spruce things up in the neighborhood. The Seven Mile side of things is nice, and that's why Rocket Mortgage Classic officials used that as the main entrance to the club. Now, it's time to do something down on Six Mile, too. That area is, well, not good at all. Like when the Tour Championship went to East Lake in Atlanta years ago and eventually turned around that area, that has to be the long-term goal in the Woodward-Livernois-Seven Mile-Six Mile corridor, as well.
►The father of a pro who was in the field this week emailed me early on and raved about the presentation at Detroit Golf Club, especially for a first-year event. But he had some concerns, too, and one was the main spectator entrance. It was just off the 10th fairway, in front of the tee, making for a hectic scene all four days of play, with fans streaming in while players were trying to hit. More than a few golfers had to step away from tee shots because of the commotion. Not sure what the solution is here, other than maybe re-routing the fans to behind the 10th tee. The main club entrance is not an option. That's where players park, and they're not about to concede their prime spots.
►Area 313 was supposed to be the party zone, but that never really developed at Nos. 14-16, the par 5, par 3 and par 4. Some of the lack of rowdiness was due to the runaway victory by Nate Lashley. It wasn't close. But there were other issues, too. The short par-3 15th was expected be the loudest hole on the course, but it was more sizzle than steak. The problem is that on the 15th hole, the grandstands were mostly corporate suites, and the suits, on a whole, or more likely to sip chardonnay in the shade of their private boxes than the public, which is more apt to two-fist Bud Lights. Next year, don't be shocked if tournament brass opens up more public stands in this part of the course.
►While the fan viewing was great, some of the grandstands were awfully close to the greens, making for a lot of free drops (you get them because of the man-made obstructions). There could be some alteration on this front.
►Everyone says the field was weak. Yeah, no Tiger, Phil or Brooks. Most tournaments don't have Tiger, Phil or Brooks. A national golf writer told me he was impressed with Detroit's commitments, and it'll only grow in coming years.
►The tournament's place on the schedule is perfect; so long as it continues to be two weeks after the U.S. Open and three before the British Open, it'll keep getting bigger and bigger names — especially when good word spreads on Tour.
►By early Sunday afternoon, the merchandise tent at the Fan Zone was picked almost completely clean. That's a shame, given the biggest crowd of tournament week was on Sunday. Tournament officials will order a whole lot more gear next year.
►The cell service on the golf course was awful pretty much all week, and that happens when you get a lot of people in a very small space. But if there's a fix, tourney officials will find it, because fans' social-media posts from the Detroit Golf Club is free marketing.