We also share a summary of the state’s five public courses that turn 100 years old in 2023. We invite you to give them a try, as we also plan to do and report on later this year.
RACKHAM GOLF COURSE, Detroit Technically in Huntington Woods but owned by the City of Detroit, Rackham claims to be the first 18-hole public course to open in Michigan, 100 years ago. (Other public courses are older but opened as 9 holes.) The Donald Ross original design had some alterations in the late 1980s due to the construction of I-696 that travels along the course’s edges and the bordering Detroit Zoo.
ROUGE PARK, Detroit The 18-hole track is considered a wildlife oasis among the concrete and development of the city, often with deer, turkeys, pheasant, hawks, heron, and many other birds found on the property. The Rouge River runs through the course – not far from the intersection of I-96 and Telegraph Road – and influences shots on at least seven holes. Many fairways are tree lined yet the greens have some subtle but not aggressive undulations.
Thank you for joining us on these adventures and more.
Around this time last year, City Council had just scrambled to keep the courses from closing amid talks to cut losses and potentially sell them. A bitter split with previous operators, coupled with years of underinvestment, left the golf courses in less-than-stellar condition.
As spring commences, and the city finalizes $2.5 million worth of much-needed improvements at its three courses, officials are promising a new chapter. First, they need to remind people the courses are open for business.
“The resounding message that we’ve heard was, ‘Oh, you guys are still open?'” said Karen Peek, director of operations for North Carolina-based Signet Golf Associates, which was contracted by the city last year to run its courses. “I said, you know, we are very much open. We look forward to outstanding course conditions this season.”
Chandler Park, on the city’s east side, has opened on warm weather days for the past couple of weeks, while Rouge Park, on the west side, opened Sunday. Rackham, spread across land in Huntington Woods, is open year-round during fair weather. Palmer Park, a former course on the north end of the city that had been in decline for many years, was converted to a public park last year.
Management is trying to bring back the courses to adequate repair and at least break even from a financial standpoint, said Brad Dick, general services director for the city. Revenue last season was just shy of $2 million, with around $2.8 million of operating expenses. Projected revenue this season is $3.2 million. That would be a comfortable margin for the city, allowing it to pay the bills and maintain the assets, Dick said.
“We’re trying to get the word out that we’re open again,” Dick said. “We had to start from scratch.”
Compared to last year, they are off to a running start. League player registration — a key source of stable revenue — is up from last year at all three courses, Peek said. Chandler added 60 golfers to reach 280 total; Rouge added 70 and is just less than 300; and Rackham is at 550, up 50 from last year. Peek expects those numbers to keep ticking up as the city promotes its courses via e-blasts, social media and other advertising.
In total, Rackham recorded 34,000 rounds played last year, while Rouge and Chandler had around 21,000 each. Expectations this season are to hit 45,000 at Rackham, and 30,000-35,000 at the other two.
“Our projections are very aggressive,” Peek said. “I think we will see double-digit growth from a percentage standpoint.”
The city expects the capital improvements to drive that growth and improve the image of the courses.
The largest investment has been made at Chandler Park, which had been troubled by burned-out greens and tattered fencing along I-94 for years. A new $800,000, digital irrigation system is almost completely installed and expected to keep the course green this summer, while another few hundred thousand dollars went toward new fencing.
Most of the rest of the investment was poured into Rouge Park with several new bridges throughout the course and a $190,000 pavilion in the works. An additional $250,000 will be invested to replace fencing around the course, as well, Dick said.
Chandler and Rouge are still undergoing vegetation removal and turf improvement, as well as drainage enhancements and tee renovations. Rackham received some minimal clubhouse repairs, but as the biggest moneymaker of the trio, the course had not been neglected in years past like the other two.
Rackham Golf Course is proudly managed for the Detroit Parks and Recreation Department by Golf Detroit. We will strive to offer the best in customer service to our guests and place a high priority on golf course conditions at our facilities. Watch our short video as we make Golf Detroit a source of pride for the Greater Detroit golfing community.
The municipal course has been managed by Golf Detroit since late March.
Article by Kat Stafford, Detroit Free Press FREEP.COM (April 2, 2018)
A new two-year operating contract approved by City Council last month may have staved off the closure of Detroit’s golf courses, but one lingering question remains: Is there a long-term future for golf in the city?
All four courses are in need of significant repairs — with estimates of between $5.9 million and $8.6 million for basic repairs at just Chandler Park, Rackham and Rouge Park. The fourth course, Palmer Park, is in much steeper decline and could be turned into a driving range.
On the high end, up to $18 million is needed to do comprehensive upgrades, according to a 152-page report completed late last year for the city by the National Golf Foundation. The suggested upgrades included a complete renovation of Rackham’s clubhouse, demolishing Rouge’s existing clubhouse to build a new one overlooking the river, a basic fix-up at Chandler and building a new golf learning support building at Palmer Park. The city for now is focused on only bringing the courses up to industry standards with basic repairs.
A chief concern also is whether the city might sell some of the courses, specifically Rackham, which is located in Huntington Woods and is one of the most popular courses in metro Detroit. The lingering concern stems from a previous attempt by the city to sell the course in 2006 to a private developer.
The city says it remains committed.
“Does golf have a future past this contract? I would say yes,” said Brad Dick, Detroit’s General Services Department director. “The future is good. People are there and want to play.”
Rackham Golf Course accounts for a little more than $1 million, or about 49%, of total revenue for all four courses and essentially supports the other three, according to the National Golf Foundation report.
Designed by famed golf architect Donald Ross, the course includes a historic clubhouse building that is currently in disrepair and mostly unused. Despite its condition, the course, according to the report, is among metro Detroit’s market leaders in terms of rounds, ranking slightly behind Troy’s Sylvan Glen golf course, with a reported 42,000 rounds in 2016. Sylvan had 44,000 rounds in 2016.
At its March 20 meeting, the Detroit City Council held another vote on a contract with Signet Golf Associates II Inc. to manage, operate and maintain the services of the Rackham, Chandler Park and Rouge Park golf courses, and this time passed with on a 5-4 vote.
Detroit City Council President Pro Tem Mary Sheffield said she submitted the reconsideration for the vote, as they had one member absent at the last meeting, Scott Benson, and she felt that the whole body should have the opportunity to vote. Benson voted to approve the contract, along with Sheffield, James Tate, Andre Spivey and Raquel Castañeda-López.
“I do support a long-term contract and I believe … before us is a bridge contract, and the city is investing capital dollars into the courses as well,” she said. “It’s not the best contract. I also have to echo the sentiments of my colleagues about the (selection) process, but at the end of the day, we do have a situation right now where we can see golfers not being able to golf this season. And so for me, it’s important to get the golf courses open to continue to work with the administration to figure out how, moving forward, we can have that 10- to 12- to 15-year contract.”
The contract’s terms are a two-year deal for $180,000 total. There was concern that if a contract wasn’t approved before the deal with previous site manager Vargo Golf Co. expired on March 22, the golf courses would have to be closed.
Detroit Chief Procurement Officer Boysie Jackson said in an email that Signet was chosen based on several criteria that were evaluated by a large evaluation committee, and the city doesn’t have any concerns with Signet’s qualifications to manage the courses.
“The process of selection was criticized by City Council from bad and erroneous information (fed) to them from outsiders who did not have all the facts,” he said. “The Office of Contracting & Procurement and Law Department reviewed all protest questions and found absolutely no issues with the selection process.”
Huntington Woods City Manager Amy Sullivan said the city is pleased that the Detroit City Council was able to come to an agreement on a contractor to open Rackham on time.
“We look forward to the investment into the golf course that the bid company has promised,” she said.