By Greg Johnson
Throughout its history, the Country Club of Detroit in Grosse Pointe Farms, Michigan has been considered one of the nation’s top golf courses and a perfect place to determine champion golfers.
“Amateur golf has always been part of our mission as a club,” said Craig Cutler, the general manager at the Country Club of Detroit. “Our members have recommitted themselves to the care of the course, the clubhouse and grounds, and there has been a reconnection with our mission; a decision to get back out there, because the club has always believed in amateur athletics and hosting amateur golf championships is part of that.”
Consider the club back out there in a big way as the 107th Michigan Amateur Championship unfolds this week, Tuesday, June 19 through Saturday, June 23 at the historic club. The club has also been selected to host the 2020 U.S. Senior Amateur Championship.
“It’s a great club with great people, and the improvements to the course are outstanding,” said Tom Sullivan, a member and part of the field with his son Patrick this week in the Michigan Amateur. Tom and two of his sons played in the championship last year.
Country Club of Detroit has hosted the Michigan Amateur event five times, but four of those were between 1908 and 1914, and the last time was in 1929. The club also hosted the first Michigan Women’s Amateur in 1914 and has been the site of that particular championship five times as well with the last of those being in 1949.
Ken Hartmann, senior director of rules and competition for the Golf Association of Michigan, said he is elated the Michigan Amateur will be decided there once again. Several GAM and USGA qualifiers have been presented there in recent years.
“It’s one of my favorites to set up to be honest,” Hartmann said. “It’s a great old-style, classic course—one of the best in Michigan, easily. It is an awesome golf course; another one where you have to hit the ball to the right part of the greens, and the back nine there has four par-4s that are so tough. It’s a classic, like Oakland Hills. It’s that kind of golf course.”
While the 2020 U.S. Senior Amateur is not the first USGA national championship at Country Club of Detroit, it will be the first one held in nearly 64 years. The 1954 U.S. Amateur Championship was hosted by the club, and it holds a special place in golf history.
The late Arnold Palmer, at the time living in Cleveland and working as a paint salesman after three years in the U.S. Coast Guard, grabbed the notice of the golf world for the first time by winning that summer at Country Club of Detroit. Later that same summer he turned professional and forged his incredible golf legacy.
“That victory was the turning point in my life,” Palmer said, in reflection years later. “It gave me confidence I could compete at the highest level of the game.”
George Forster Jr., the head golf professional at Country Club of Detroit, indicated he felt Palmer’s win in 1954 at Country Club of Detroit should be included among the top moments in golf history.
“Arnold Palmer opened up the game to others who had never experienced it before. I believe him winning the Amateur in 1954 should be talked about with Bobby Jones winning the Grand Slam, Ben Hogan coming back from his car crash—those kind of top five moments,” Forster Jr. said.
“I think [Palmer’s] win belongs in there, not because it happened at Country Club of Detroit. It was the tournament that [Palmer] felt changed him forever, and then he changed golf forever,” Forster Jr. added.
Foster Jr. also noted the Country Club of Detroit at one time it its history was considered a platinum top-50 course in the United States, and the restoration work of the original Harry Shapland Colt, or H.S. Colt, design by award-winning, Michigan-based architect Tom Doak in recent years has returned the course to an elite level. It now plays to a maximum of 7,100 yards, and Superintendent Ross Miller and his staff maintain elite playing conditions.
“Over the last 20 years the club got away from that part of its mission, and we never let raters in and didn’t have the right people seeing the golf course,” Foster Jr. said. “We believe this course should be spoken about with Oakland Hills, Merion, Shinnecock; the great facilities in golf.”
As with all GAM championships, spectators are welcome this week and admission is free for the 107th Michigan Amateur Championship. Its format calls for 18 holds of stroke play by the entire field on June 19 and June 20 to determine a match play field of 64 players. Then, six rounds of match play will take place throughout the next three days culminating into a final champion on Saturday afternoon.