Detroit GC (North)

While Oakland Hills (South), Franklin Hills and Barton Hills rank amongst Donald Ross most renowned works in the state of Michigan, none of those courses may have seen the light of day had it not been for the exceptional work the legendary golden age architect performed creating the North and South courses at Detroit Golf Club. What began as a 9-hole track on 45 acres of farmland at Woodward and Six Mile Rd. in 1900, grew into the two course, 36-hole layout we’ve come to know today after Horace Rackham commissioned Ross to design a course for the club on its newly acquired 219-acre parcel of land on Six Mile and Hamilton in 2013. Rackham didn’t stop there. In 1916 he recruited Donald Ross’ younger brother, Alec, a highly accomplished golfer and U.S, Open champion in 1907, to become the clubs first head professional - a position he would hold until retiring in 1947. Thus, the Ross family’s connection to the state of Michigan and their impact on Michigan golf can trace its roots to the Detroit Golf Club. While both courses are equally challenging and demanding, it’s the North course that’s had the richer history. Recently the PGA Tour’s Rocket Mortgage Classic - the North Course by its sheer length and par of 72 makes it the more attractive of the two for championship golf. Save for the various tree-lined fairways, the layout of the North course isn’t visually intimidating or distinctive. The course was built on a flat parcel of farmland, with little to no elevation save for the number of push-up and elevated greens. The routing and hole designs are straight-forward, as is typical with many Ross courses in the state - with short traverses from green to tee and everything laid out in front of the golfer. However, it’s the subtle dangers and green complexes where the challenge lays. The cross bunkers that pinch certain sections of the fairways, reducing the landing areas and tempting the golfer to take unforeseen risks is where the beauty of Ross’ design exists. Even though the majority of fairways are straight or slightly dogleg, positioning your tee shot on the proper side of the fairway in relation to the pin location is of utmost importance given the severity of the contours of the putting surfaces. The most distinctive architectural feature of the course is the drainage ditch that parallels and bisects the 18th fairway - a great finishing hole made even more daunting by the tiered, elevated green. The set of par 3’s at DGC North rank up there with any of Ross’ work in the state. Each varies in length and challenge with my favorite being the 15th, as there is no safe miss. The par 5’s are solid, but nothing spectacular - save for the potential forced carry over the pond on your third or second shot on the reachable-in-two, 14th. The par 4’s is where the course struggles and loses some of its teeth. Aside from the 18th and the short dogleg right 6th, the rest of the par 4’s are featureless and indistinguishable from each other. Ross did the best he could to break up the monotony of otherwise straight, flat fairways by inserting random cross bunkers, but that’s about all he could do to make the holes mildly interesting and thought provoking from a strategic standpoint. Where the brilliance of Ross’ design really shines at Detroit Golf Club (North) are the green complexes. Having caddied at Oakland Hills, been a member at Western Golf and Country Club and either caddied, walked or played the majority of Ross’ other courses in the state, I can unequivocally say DGC - North’s greens as a whole are arguably his best in Michigan. The undulations, tiers and plateaus found on the majority combined with the severity of the slope make them nothing short of intimidating. Being above the hole is not to be on most if hoping to get down in two. If your ball happens to be on the wrong tier a three-putt is imminent. Like most green complexes on Ross’ Michigan courses, the majority on DGC North are of the push-up variety, sloped steeply from back to front. Miss long and you\\\'re about assured a bogey. Miss short and you have the chance to run the ball up on the green on most holes. However, getting the ball on the green is where the fun begins, as getting down in two is far from a sure thing. This is how the master architect, Donald Ross, knew it had to be or else the course would be virtually defenseless. While Detroit Golf Club (North) will never be confused with Ross\\\' more acclaimed courses in the metro Detroit area, it’s a beautiful, fun and challenging course to play in its own right and one I could easily enjoy playing every day and walking every day.