'No tricks about it': Detroit Golf Club a hit once again with PGA Tour pros

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News

If the 18th green at Detroit Golf Club was surrounded by bleachers and skyboxes earlier this month — as it was during last year’s inaugural Rocket Mortgage Classic — you can bet Bryson DeChambeau’s final putt would have been met with plenty of cheers.

Sure, it would have been in appreciation for the fact DeChambeau had just finished off the field and was getting ready to hoist the trophy as the tournament’s champion. But it also likely would have been because of the way the big hitter had closed the tournament, ringing up birdies on each of the final three holes to squash any potential late heroics from runner-up Matthew Wolff.

At that moment, any talk of the 7,300-yard layout at the Donald Ross designed course being too easy for the game’s best players would have been nonsense. Instead, the focus more likely would have been on DeChambeau’s huge drives and short irons firing at the sticks, fending off the hard-charging Wolff, who had his share of opportunities over the final few holes to make it exciting and keep the pressure on DeChambeau.

There could be no letting off the gas down the stretch. Birdies were at a premium and at Detroit Golf Club, they were there for the taking with DeChambeau’s run starting by pouring in a 30-foot putt at 16.

More: Paul: Aces and duffs from the 2020 Rocket Mortgage Classic

“I knew if I was to make that putt and go birdie-birdie-birdie coming in, it'd be really difficult to beat me,” DeChambeau said. “That's just what I tried to do and I made a 30-footer and that just spurred me on for the rest of the day.”

DeChambeau finished at 23-under par to win by three, a number the detractors will point to as an indication the course is too easy, as if each week needs to play like the U.S. Open. It was talked about a year ago when Nate Lashley won the first tournament at 25-under, shooting 63 twice during the week, and no doubt was being bandied about the past few days.

Kevin Kisner finished in third place at 18-under par at the Rocket Mortgage Classic earlier this month.

But that would be ignoring reality on the PGA Tour, especially since the restart in play a month ago. Webb Simpson won the RBC Heritage at 22-under and Dustin Johnson captured the Travelers title by shooting 61 in the third round.

It lined up with what we saw in Detroit as there were four rounds of 64 while another seven golfers shot 65, including DeChambeau in the final round.

In other words, that’s how it is on Tour when it’s not a major or a World Golf Championship event. Birdies are fun, for the players and the fans — if they were there — and that’s what has taken place at the Detroit Golf Club on a course the players have raved about.

“I love it,” said Kevin Kisner, who finished five back of DeChambeau at 18-under. “I wish we played courses like this all the time. Big rough and you've got to work it around the doglegs. You can play conservative or you can go for it. They give you birdie opportunities. We don't get to play par 72s much, it's fun to play four par 5s.”

Detroit Golf Club was the first course to play at par 72 since the Tour restart and the four par 5s were just what Kisner said — fun. All four averaged under par with the 17th at 4.496 strokes over four rounds with 13 eagles and 215 birdies.

It was at No. 17 where things almost got really interesting in the final round as Wolff left an eagle putt that would have pulled him within one shot of DeChambeau just inches short. The late-round drama was there because low scores were available.

“I really like the style of the course,” Wolff said. “There's no holes that you can really just be like, ‘Oh, this is an easy birdie,’ but there's a lot of chances if you're hitting the ball well.”

It’s why there likely won’t be a ton of changes to the course as the tournament moves forward.

According to tournament executive director Jason Langwell, there could be some minor tweaks before next year but any changes would have to be approved by the club’s membership.

“There are a couple fairways maybe we bring in a little bit on a couple par 5s,” Langwell said.

That might be it for Year 3, though in Year 2, the rough was noticeably longer, especially around the greens.


“It is very thick and it's very lush,” Jackson native Brian Stuard said. “So I think you want to be in the fairway to be able to control your ball coming into the greens and hopefully hit a bunch of greens.”

Even with the longer rough, the course played essentially the same from the first year to the second. The average score in 2019 was 70.113 while it was 70.051 two weeks ago, and there were 196 sub-70 rounds this year as opposed to 186 last year. However, on 12 of the 18 holes, scores were higher in Year 2 than they were in Year 1 and, of course, the winning score was two shots better when Lashley won the inaugural event.

So, while it was a great week for DeChambeau and the other 10 players who finished 15-under or better, it wasn’t easy, either. Ask the likes of Jason Day, Bubba Watson, Patrick Reed, Jason Dufner and Brandt Snedeker, who failed to make the cut. And ask Simpson, who shared the lead after the second round only to close 71-70 on the weekend.

Still, Simpson appreciated the way the course was set up.

“I think (it) just puts the challenge to us, gives the challenge to us in a very kind of right in front of you type of way,” he said. “There's no tricks about it.”

And there won’t be anytime soon.

Don’t expect any drastic changes going into next season, even after tournament officials have two years of shot data to digest. Instead, expect more of the same — plenty of low scores and players putting the pedal down.

“I like the style of golf courses, it just seems to fit me,” DeChambeau said. “They're like country club style. I grew up on Belmont Country Club, which is very similar to that style of course, so I'm comfortable with it. I really enjoy those types of courses and I feel like I thrive on them.”

Going low

Year; Average; Double eagles; eagles; birdies; pars bogeys; double bogeys; triple bogeys

2020 — 70.051; 0; 42; 1,887; 5,147; 956; 66; 2

2019 — 70.113; 0; 40; 1,895; 5,152; 980; 65; 4


Twitter: @mattcharboneau