Detroit’s Three Golf Courses May Close At The End of March

Detroit's Three Golf Courses May Close At The End of March
The eleventh at Chandler Park is a 493 yard par 5.

Detroit’s Three Golf Courses May Close At The End of March

A deadlocked city council vote has left three Detroit golf courses in danger of closing for the 2018 season — and perhaps beyond. At risk are the Chandler Park, Rackham and Rouge Park courses. The fourth course, Palmer Park, is not involved. Palmer Park — which ranks up there with the worst courses I have played — is slated to become a driving range.

The vote to approve a management contract with North Carolina-based Signet Golf Associates tied 4-4, with one member not present. Absent the new contract, the office of Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan says the courses will close after the current deal with Vargo Golf expires.

Signet was selected on a competitive basis, and apparently had big plans. The company wanted to hire Detroit residents, partner with the public schools, and do more to encourage minorities, women and children to take up the game. The city also planned to spend $2.7 million to upgrade the Chandler Park and Rouge Park courses.

It sounded hopeful. I have not been impressed with the courses under Vargo management.

Published reports don’t say why four members voted no on the contract. In the past, however, council members have expressed concern about the vendor selection process. I wonder if the fact that the contract was awarded to an out-of-state company had anything to do with that.

The possibility of selling the courses to developers also has been raised, and may be in the council members’ minds. Frankly, anyone who has been to Detroit knows that there is plenty of unoccupied real estate, and that selling off green space is not necessary. Further, selling Rackham would be problematic: there is a deed restriction that requires that the property remain a golf course.

The clubhouse at Rackham has some beautiful architecture by Albert Kahn, the “Architect of Detroit,” responsible for the Fisher Building, Ford’s River Rouge Complex, the Hill Auditorium, the William Clements Library and many others in the city..

Profits — or a lack thereof — might also be a factor. The city reportedly had golf revenues of just $42,000 in 2016. I actually find that a bit difficult to believe. Every time I’ve visited a Detroit city course, it has been busy. Perhaps there are a significant number of non-payers out there.

One report said that at least one no-vote was unaware that a no vote would result in closure. Council member Roy McCalister said he was misinformed about the potential for extending the Vargo contract while bidding was restarted. If misinformation leads to the closure of the city’s courses, that would be tragic indeed.

At this point, the fate of the Detroit city courses is up in the air. Council has seven days to change its mind. Perhaps the absent member would have voted to approve.

As for the eventual fate of Palmer Park: A course employee told me last summer that the Detroit Golf Club — which is across the street from Palmer Park — had been trying to buy Palmer Park’s back nine. The goal apparently is to secure the additional space needed to attract a PGA TOUR event for the city. Such events need lots of space for a driving range, tv trucks, tour vans, staff parking and the like.  That might fit in nicely with the overall plan. Convert the front nine to a driving range, and use the back nine for facilities.

I encourage the Detroit city council to fix the problem. I have the sense that shutting downfor even one season would result in permanent closure. I think a golf course is like a house: unlived in, it quickly falls apart, and the repair bills become insurmountable.


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