Rocket Mortgage Classic organizers have ambitious plans for 2020

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News

Detroit — More than $1.2 million was generated for local nonprofits by the inaugural Rocket Mortgage Classic, but during that announcement Wednesday at Detroit Golf Club, a clear theme emerged.

Bigger and better.

That’s the goal of the PGA Tour event that created more for primarily local community groups than organizers expected for the first-year tournament.

Rickie Fowler hits his approach on the sixth hole during the first round of the 2019 Rocket Mortgage Classic.

“I think we had set our goal of could we get over a million, which would be a great number for the first year,” Quicken Loans CEO Jay Farner said. “So to go over by, depending how you look at it, 20, 30 40 percent is very exciting. And now I know when I go back to the board and we're talking about what we can accomplish next year, we'll be we'll be setting our sights on a ‘2’ number. That would be incredible to get up to $2 million next year.”

Hence, the plan for things in Year Two of the event to be bigger and better.

And while the thrust of Wednesday’s announcement had to do with how much was generated last year, the focus has clearly already turned to this year’s tournament, which has been moved up in the PGA Tour schedule because of the Olympic year and will be played May 28-31, roughly a month earlier than last year.

From corporate sponsors to the fan experience to the players in the field, tournament officials are expecting to build off the momentum built in 2019.

“The culture that we have at our organization for 35 years under Dan (Gilbert’s) leadership is that it's all growth,” Farner said. “It's all how do you go bigger? How do you do things better? How do you have a bigger impact? So that's the foundation that drives us every day, and we incorporate that into everything that we're doing, from fan experience, to player experience, to improvements on the golf course, to impact on the community. Every time we talked, we talked about how can we do more? So you have our 100% commitment that we will work on that and hope for the best outcome.”

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Plans are already in the works for kicking things up a notch.

According to Jason Langwell, the tournament’s executive director, feedback has been drawn from numerous groups, including the PGA Tour, its players, members of the Detroit Golf Club and sponsors.

That feedback has led to all sorts of changes and upgrades that will be seen in the second year of the event, most of it focusing on the fan experience.

“We're going to have a lot more interactives in the fan zone area, so that will be bigger and better,” Langwell said. “We're going to have more public grandstands, more viewing decks that will be bigger and better. We have a lot of crowds out there, so we're thinking viewing decks can kind of get people up in the air, not just within Area 313, but beyond. Our Tito's deck behind No. 9 is going to be bigger and is going to wrap all the way around and actually blend into our grandstand structure. So, it’s about the fan experience.”

Langwell said a “great lineup” will be back for the Area 313 Celebrity Challenge, which pitted three teams of local celebrities like Kid Rock, Jerome Bettis and Tom Izzo with Tour stars Rickie Fowler, Dustin Johnson and Bubba Watson in a three-hole exhibition. There will also be a new ticket package, highlighted by a $15 deal he called the “best value in Detroit sports entertainment,” as it gives access to the course on Monday and Tuesday and included clinics, a Monday cookout and Tuesday practice rounds.

Of course, the biggest draw in the field and announcements on some early commitments will be coming soon. Langwell has already been working hard to reach out to Tour players who are interested in coming to Detroit as he hopes to build on last year’s field that was highlighted by Fowler, Johnson, Watson, Gary Woodland, Patrick Reed and Hideki Matsuyama.

From corporate sponsors to the fan experience to the players in the field, tournament officials are expecting to build off the momentum built in 2019.

“We're an optimistic bunch,” Langwell said. “We thought we had a great field last year, frankly. For a summer event, first year, no one's really been to the city outside of maybe a couple of players in our field, I thought was an amazing field. And I think it promises to be even bigger, better this year. We're optimistic. Early conversations have been good.”

Feedback from the players who were in the tournament last year has been outstanding, Langwell said, and the move in the schedule could help, too.

Because it is an Olympic year, the PGA Tour schedule had to be shuffled, which meant moving up the Rocket Mortgage Classic a month. It’s still positioned between two majors — the PGA Championship May 14-17 and the U.S. Open June 18-21 — and that it comes the week before The Memorial in Dublin, Ohio, could lead to more players opting to play in Detroit.

“We think both dates work well for us,” Langwell said. “But I would say it certainly doesn't hurt us with The Memorial the week after us and (Jack) Nicklaus’ event just down the way. We’d like to think players are going to play the PGA Championship, maybe take a week off, come to Detroit and then head down to Memorial. That's our idea. But we think the schedule fits well.”

It’s all an effort to make the event bigger and better, which benefits the local groups like Midnight Golf, Detroit Children’s Fund, the Greater Palmer Park Community, First Tee of Greater Detroit, Detroit Police Athletic League and the Detroit Golf Club Caddie Scholarship Foundation.

“It means something to everybody,” Farner said. “When you look at our volunteers, in particular, and you talk to them about why they care so much about the event, they understand this money matters to our community. It matters to the children in our community, and that's what keeps you going. It's fun to pull something off like this, but it's even more rewarding to know that it's going to really help, so we feel great about it and we’re more excited about what we'll do next year.”

Twitter: @mattcharboneau