Construction of a new eighteen-hole golf course is nearing completion at the recently rebranded Saint John’s Resort in the Plymouth suburb of Detroit, Michigan. The layout, to be named The Cardinal, has been designed by Raymond Hearn and is being built on the site of the resort’s previous 27 holes.
The main resort property at Saint John’s was built in the late 1940s as a Catholic seminary and has been repurposed multiple times since the 1980s. Golf has been played on the site for over 50 years, beginning with a nine-hole layout, then expanded to eighteen holes in the late 1970s and 27 in the 1990s. The resort was acquired by Pulte Family Foundation in 2021.
“The 27 holes were, at best, mediocre,” said Hearn. “Our project has kept nothing of what was originally there, maybe half a dozen corridors, but that’s it. There was a lot of tree planting here in the 1980s and 90s. We have taken a tremendous number of trees out for breadth. This has been crucial in providing more angles and options throughout the course.”
Hearn’s new eighteen-hole layout has five sets of tees and can be played from around 4,750 to 7,000 yards. His plan also includes a seven-hole par-three course with variations of famous template greens, a new short-game area and a putting course with lighting for evening play. The renowned Carl’s Golfland driving range and retail remains as is.
“This is one of the biggest golf projects in the last 25 years in southeast Michigan and probably in the Midwest,” said Hearn. “The land in this is area of the state is typically flat. The land for this golf course, however, is not! It is so rare to have a diversity of landscapes like we have here, on this site the ecosystem is so varied, there are flatlands, valley drop-offs, stands of hardwood trees, wetlands, prairie and so much more.
“The new course is architecturally strong and beautiful. Golf course architecture in its simplest form is about meaningful angles and options. And that’s what we have aimed to do at Saint John’s; provoke thought-out shots with players considering alternatives depending on the conditions and match. Visually, every hole is so different.”
Golf architecture fans may particularly appreciate the location of a church pew bunker complex that Hearn has included on the ninth hole, which is overlooked by the property’s award-winning hotel.
Water features throughout the round, a meandering stream bisecting the front nine and lakes in play on holes three, five, fourteen, fifteen and eighteen.
Hearn’s design provides a strong finish: the long par-four fifteenth and study par-three sixteenth are followed by the short but heavily bunkered par-four seventeenth, the hazards flanking the fairway landing area and snaking around the putting surface. A new irrigation lake will play a strategic role while also adding drama and beauty on the closing hole, a 427-yard par four, as it is in play along the left side of the fairway approach area and green.
“The Pulte family spared no expense, so we definitely have the ‘wow factor’ at The Cardinal,” said Hearn. “The construction methodology that has been used is similar to the project on the South course at Oakland Hills, minus the SubAir systems.”
The construction firm is the same too. Hearn says LaBar Golf Renovations’ workmanship was “off the charts good” and also highlights the excellent working relationships with the Pulte Family, superintendent Kevin Peck, former assistant at the CC of Detroit, the Saint John’s director of operations Paul Wegert, and Landscape Unlimited, which handled the new golf course irrigation installation. He also points out the fine work undertaken by Resendes Design Group in relation to the buildings at the resort.
“The Cardinal is a bona fide championship course,” said Hearn. “The resort aims to host Michigan golf tournaments, US Open qualifiers, Midwest tournaments as well as catering for resort guests, those attending wedding parties or corporate outings, and those learning the game.”
Construction will be completed in the late spring early summer, followed by a year-long grow-in, at the request of the Pulte family, before opening for play in spring 2024.
Hearn has also designed a seven-hole, walking only, short layout for the resort, with holes from 44 to 112 yards inspired by past golf course architects Braid, Old Tom, Park, Ross, MacKenzie, Raynor and, closing with a Biarritz green, Macdonald. “The short course, especially the greens, will provide a lot of fun for the resort golfers,” said Hearn.
“We have also designed a 1.6-acre putting course with undulations taken to the limit,” he adds. “And the short-game area is incredible, too.”
The owners are investing a reported $40 million in Saint John’s, which includes the golf course, irrigation and multiple additions to the resort, including a new 17,000-square-foot grand ballroom, new 5,000-square-foot garden events pavilion, a restaurant renovation, upgrades to the pro shop and the planning of a second five-star hotel tower.