Michigan's golf courses will make their own decisions; GAM, PGA tournaments still scheduled, for now

Tony Paul
The Detroit News

If there's any good news these days, it's the weather — expected to reach the 60s this weekend in Michigan.

That would typically be the green light to dust off the golf clubs and hit the links, but it's not yet clear how the state's golf industry plans to immediately react to the coronavirus outbreak.

Shepherd's Hollow in Clarkston is a popular public course in the Detroit area.

Chris Whitten, executive director of the Golf Association of Michigan, of which most of Michigan's courses are members, said it's up to the individual properties to decide how to proceed.

"It's really up to them how they want to handle their day-to-day operations," said Whitten, who has heard from some courses — but knows of none at this point that plan to close.

"The next two weeks is probably decision-making time."

The state's golf industry is a big one, with approximately 650 courses — fourth-most in the nation. The state's industry is valued at $4 billion or more, and estimates there are a half-million regular players, not to mention tens of thousands of employees.

The state also hosts four major professional golf tournaments, including a PGA Tour tournament in Detroit, a Champions Tour tournament in Grand Blanc, and LPGA Tour events in Grand Rapids and Midland. The three tours have suspended operations, but haven't affected the state's tournaments as of yet.

The first tournament scheduled is the PGA Tour's Rocket Mortgage Classic at Detroit Golf Club in late May, followed by the LPGA's Meijer Classic in Grand Rapids in June. The LPGA Tour returns to Michigan in mid-July for the Dow Great Lakes Bay Invitational in Midland, and the Champions Tour's Ally Challenge is scheduled for late July in Grand Blanc.

The Rocket Mortgage Classic said it is monitoring the coronavirus situation, but plans on the event happening as scheduled.

The three tours' stoppages, plus the suspension of the Korn Ferry Tour, the PGA Tour's feeder tour, affects such local golfers as Brian Stuard (Jackson) and Ryan Brehm (Traverse City) on the the PGA Tour; Liz Nagel and Sarah Burnham (both Michigan State alums) on the LPGA Tour; Tom Gillis (Lake Orion) on the Champions Tour; and Joey Garber (Petoskey) on the Korn Ferry.

Nate Lashley won the first Rocket Mortgage Classic in 2019.

As for the GAM, it hosts 31 championships from late April through early October. Combined with its own tournament qualifiers, plus USGA qualifiers, it oversees 110 days of competition.

The first event is in late April, Junior Kickoff Days, at Washtenaw Country Club in Ypsilanti. No events have been postponed or canceled as of yet.

"We've got a little bit of time," said Whitten, while also acknowledging the GAM has countless volunteers to consider, as well, many of them in their 60s, 70s and 80s, the most vulnerable to serious coronavirus complications.

"We're in a position where we can just wait a little bit and see what's gonna happen."

The GAM's other primary responsibility is overseeing the state's handicapping system.

Kevin Helm, executive director of the PGA of Michigan, said his organization is still planning on events taking place as scheduled. The section tournaments don't begin until the last Monday in April. 

"Things certainly can change between now, and then," Helm said.

The PGA of Michigan oversees 31 championship events, including qualifiers for the Rocket Mortgage Classic and the Ally Challenge as well as the Michigan Open, which will have a record purse of $115,000 when it's played June 8-11 on The Bear course at Grand Traverse Resort and Spa.

The PGA of Michigan has canceled its spring membership meeting that was scheduled for March 23, and two chapters spring meetings set for mid-April also have been postponed.

One other impact on state golf: Augusta National postponed all its upcoming events, the Masters chief among them, of course. But it also postponed the second annual Women's Amateur tournament at Augusta. Former Michigan State golfer Allyson Geer-Park of Brighton was scheduled to play in the tournament for a second consecutive year. The Drive, Chip & Putt nationals also is postponed, and was set for Augusta. Grand Blanc's Kate Brody had qualified for the showcase, winning the 14-15 division at Oakland Hills Country Club back in October. College golf seasons also have been canceled by the NCAA.

All this didn't stop Oakland men's basketball coach Greg Kampe, an Oakland Hills member, from hitting the range Saturday. Also on the range when he showed up: Red Wings general manager Steve Yzerman.


Twitter: @tonypaul1984