Tyler Rae to begin Ross-inspired renovation of Detroit’s North course in 2025

  • Detroit Golf Tyler Rae Renovation
    Tyler Rae

    A visualisation of the thirteenth hole on Detroit’s North course, once renovated by Tyler Rae as part of a $16 million project

  • Detroit Golf Tyler Rae Renovation
    Detroit Golf Club

    The current layout of the courses at Detroit Golf Club (left) alongside a comparison of the 1914 Donald Ross plan (outlined in black) and the courses as built by constructer Ernie Way (outlined in red)

  • Detroit Golf Tyler Rae Renovation
    Tyler Rae

    Rae plans to rebuild bunkers and greens with the aim of restoring their original Ross character and strategy (visualisation of hole ten)

Richard Humphreys
By Richard Humphreys

Detroit Golf Club in Michigan has approved a renovation masterplan from Tyler Rae and will begin work in summer 2025.

The club has two 18-hole layouts, the North and South, both designed by Donald Ross. Various architects, including Robert Trent Jones, Ellis, Arndt & Truesdell, Arthur Hills, Bruce Hepner and Renaissance Golf Design, have worked on the two courses since they opened in the early 20th century.

In March 2024, members voted to go ahead with Rae’s proposals. “As the current stewards of one of the country’s most renowned golf clubs, we would like to thank our members and lending partners for understanding the importance of these golf course renovations,” said club president Michael Pricer. “At a time when our club has more members and golfers than ever before, we look forward to restoring our golf courses to their original glory.”

Once the North has hosted the PGA Tour’s Rocket Mortgage Classic in June 2025, a $16 million first phase will begin, covering every feature on the golf course, as well as its drainage and irrigation. A renovation of the South will follow.

“Detroit Golf Club is a special place with a celebrated history and we are honoured to be spearheading its golf course restoration, which will incorporate many facets of Donald Ross’s bold original design including hummocks and mounds, angled drainage ditches and perched greens,” said Rae.

Greens on the North were rebuilt in 1988 to USGA specifications and renovated again in 1993 due to performance issues. “USGA greens have a lifespan just like any other infrastructure item on a golf course and we are noticing that the green profile is no longer draining as it once was,” said Rae. Rae’s proposal is to personally reshape and rebuild all greens to their originally intended scale and height and install subsurface drainage, a four-inch pea gravel layer and 12 inches of USGA-approved rootzone material.

Greens have also shrunk over time, with the fifth, ninth and fourteenth redesigned or repositioned in past renovations. Rae is planning to use the detailed 1914 Donald Ross plan, early aerials and historical ground level photography to determine how to rebuild greens so that lost pin positions are recaptured, and the original Ross character, scale and grandeur is restored.

Before Detroit Golf Club hosted the PGA Tour’s Rocket Mortgage Classic, the North’s current bunkers were renovated many years ago without any liners and to a smaller scale and size for cost efficiency. Given their smaller scale, golfers would often find themselves with difficult lies, with many balls coming to rest close to the faces. Also, the sand over the years has become contaminated with silt, clay, gravel and other debris, leading to poor drainage.

“The bunkers that Ross built at Detroit Golf Club were atypical for him in the northern part of the United States,” said Rae. “Historic ground level photographs from the 1920s feature a higher sand flash than normal and beautifully concaved bottoms which released balls away from the bunker edge and face. We will endeavour to reshape the bunkers in this historic style”.

The North’s existing bunker sand will be stockpiled and used as fill for fairway drainage or for topdressing.

The club has added tees at various points between 2006 and 2021, with the most recent project completed ahead of the 2021 Rocket Mortgage Classic. “The existing tees feature a variety of different construction methods, including some with two-inch slit drainage, and others with no drainage and native soil rootzones,” said Rae. “This causes inconsistencies in water infiltration and agronomic conditions from tee to tee and varying degrees of wear tolerance and divot recovery.”

Rae’s plan is to rebuild tees with more useable square footage and add more tees with the aim to spread the wear and tear more evenly, giving the club’s grounds team more flexibility in daily setup. The mix of grass varieties will also be addressed, with all tees regrassed with 007 bentgrass.

The irrigation consultant has also proposed replacing the existing pump station, which is located underground and has flooding and power supply issues, with a new irrigation system, designed by Michael Kuhn & Associates, that has a feed pipe connected to the city’s water supply.

The drainage system dates back to 1926 and is a combination of man-made ditches and clay tile pipe, designed to move water off the property and connect with the city’s storm system. “The clay tile pipe has outlived its lifespan and is failing in many locations,” said Rae. “Additional drainage has been added sporadically and tied into the original pipes with many of the ditches softened or removed due to erosion or maintenance practices. With the addition of drainage throughout the course over the last 100 years, the original clay tile no longer has the flow capacity to handle large scale rain events, leading to a backup of water on fairways and other areas of the course.”

The solution put forward by Rae is to install 24-inch and 36-inch pipes underneath the main drainage ditches to replace the outdated system. The original ditches designed by Ross will be greatly deepened and widened and restored to help facilitate water movement throughout the property. Two-inch slit drainage will also be installed throughout fairway and approach areas to improve playing conditions without the need for significant regrading.

Work on both courses form part of the club’s 125-year anniversary. Rae aims to set Detroit Golf Club up for the next few decades.