Historic Washtenaw Golf Club Calls on Award-Winning Architect and Friend
YPSILANTI – Dave Kendall, operating partner of Washtenaw Golf Club and Michigan Golf Hall of Fame instructor, and Raymond Hearn, award-winning Michigan-based golf course architect, are working together once again.
Raymond Hearn Golf Course Designs, Inc., of Holland, Mich., has completed a long-range Master Plan and is moving ahead on renovation and restoration at Washtenaw, one of the oldest courses in Michigan.
It’s the second time the duo has corroborated on a renovation.
In the late 1990s, Hearn was well-established in his multi-faceted career as a golf course architect and American Society of Golf Course Architects (ASGCA) member, and like many golfers the Detroit native desired some renovation of his golf swing. Hearn’s firm was then based in Plymouth and he knew Dave Kendall had set up his popular golf academy at Miles of Golf in nearby Ypsilanti.
“He had a reputation as one of the best teachers in Michigan so I booked a lesson,” Hearn said. “That led to more lessons because he helped my golf game greatly and we became friends. I think at the root of our friendship we share a great passion for the game.”
The friendship and passion continued as Hearn went on to move his offices across the state to Holland and win more design awards, including five American Society of Golf Course Architects Design Excellence Recognition Awards in the last seven years for remodeling and renovation projects. Meanwhile, Kendall went on to win multiple PGA teaching awards for teaching countless golfers, play well enough as a senior golfer to win several tournaments including two Michigan Senior Open Championships, and be inducted into the Michigan Golf Hall of Fame in 2015.
Kendall, with his partners Steve Davis, a Ford Motor Company executive and accomplished golfer, and Nick Ma, a restauranteur and former golf professional and instructor, became the owners of Washtenaw in January of 2020, and Kendall called on Hearn to help with improvements he and his partners felt the course needed.
Kendall describes the working agreement with Hearn as a gradual renovation project that will involve some restoration and some remodeling of a classic course that started out as a 3-hole course in 1899, was expanded to 6 holes and then 9 holes in the early 1900s and finally to 18 in 1922.
During Hearn’s research phase for the early Master Planning, golf historian Anthony Gholz of Port Huron, found that the original 9-hole course was designed by William Herbert “Bert” Way, an accomplished golf professional and golf course designer from England who did extensive design work in the Detroit area. The nine-hole course design came after members created the original 3-hole and 6-hole layouts.
John H. Sweeney, who is listed as a designer at Lochmoor Club with Walter Travis where Hearn found Sweeney was also president and advised other Detroit clubs during design and construction, is credited for designing the final group of nine holes at Washtenaw that opened in 1922. Hearn also found in his research of the course a 1937 aerial photo of Washtenaw that he is using to help restore some of the original design concepts.
“I’m not a historian or an architect like Ray, but I had a friend I had stayed in touch with over the years in him,” Kendall said. “I’ve always judged courses by whether or not I looked forward to playing it again and it turned out those were always highly regarded places. When I talked to Ray after we took over at Washtenaw one of the first things he said was Washtenaw is one of the most underrated courses in the state.”
Kendall and Hearn agree Washtenaw has classic course features and deserves highly regarded status. Kendall and his partners plan to operate as a daily-fee public course with limited memberships and a soon-to-be-developed open-to-the-public restaurant facility.
“I didn’t trust myself to do the right things on the golf course, but I can trust Ray to choose and implement the right things,” Kendall said. “We go around the course and I find I’m in agreement with what he is saying and proposing, and he’s not offended if I have a different idea. He wants the same thing I want – to make a great place to golf even better and bring back some of the things that made it great in the first place. And this is what we like best about Ray, he wants to make it playable, restore lost historical features and make the course enjoyable for all golfers.”
Hearn, who has done some initial work at Washtenaw when it was a private club, said finding the 1937 aerial photograph was a great help in guiding the new Master Plan.
“This will be a combination of restoration and renovation course improvements that make sense in terms of improved strategy, shot value and playability,” he said. “Restoring old edges to certain historic greens, removing a few trees, repositioning certain bunkers, renovating certain tees, and tweaking fairway limit lines will all add to increased strategy, shot value and playability. My goal is to achieve more angles and play options for all golfers.”
Hearn is thrilled to work with Kendall again. He said many architects consider it great fortune to work with one pre-1900 club or course in their career. Washtenaw is his third to go with work he has done at two Chicago area turn-of-the-century classics – Midlothian Country Club and Flossmoor Golf Club.
“Restoring some of the original course features lost over time has been a true treasure hunt utilizing old aerials, photos and sketches along with a handy soil probe,” Hearn said of his initial work at Washtenaw.
Kendall is impressed with Hearn’s approach.
“I have a tremendous interest in the history of this course, and there are some places on the course where I could tell it was designed differently than the rest of the course,” Kendall said. “I couldn’t tell you why, but Ray looks and knows what is different, why it is different and in a few cases he could even tell what architect did it. His knowledge is impressive. He has a proven track record on a world-wide level and a passion for a project like ours.”
via Greg Johnson