The Michigan Supreme Court has declined to review a lower court’s decision to block the sale of the historical Rackham Golf Course to developers. This ends a protracted legal and public relations battle dating back to June of 2006
Rackham is a classic golf course in Huntington Woods, Michigan, just outside the city of Detroit. The land for the course was donated to the City in 1924 by Horace and Mary Rackham with the understanding that it always remain a golf course. The legendary Donald Ross was hired to lay out the track, and it was completed in 1924. The course also features a gorgeous tiled clubhouse designed by N. Chester Sorensen.
A little African American history month lesson: Rackham is a course with historic significance. It’s one of the few places where African Americans could enjoy the game. Joe Louis was a frequent visitor. And Rackham Pro Ben Davis was one of the first—if not THE first—African American course instructors in the country (Davis, who was still with us at this writing, still plays there frequently at the age of 97.
In 2006, the now-disgraced Mayor of Detroit Kwame Kilpatrick announced that the cash strapped city would sell the course to developers. The developers, known as Premium Golf, offered $6 million for the property. The name Premium Golf, however, was a misnomer, since their stated intention was to turn the property into premium housing. Premium Golf, it turns out, is owned by a larger Detroit developer called The Diversified Group.
At the same time, the City of Huntington Woods offered Detroit $5.5 million to purchase the land. Although owned by Detroit, the land actually lies within Huntington Woods boundaries, comprising 17% of all the land in the city.
When Huntington Woods was rebuffed, the city sued. In October 2006, an Oakland County Circuit Court judge ruled that Detroit’s historic Rackham course must remain a golf course—unless permission to do otherwise is granted by the heirs of the original donors.
The City of Detroit proceed with their plans, however, authorizing sale of the property in November 2006.
In December 2006, a group called the Rackham Conservancy was formed and began raising money to purchase the course. The group raised a reported $6 million in very short order.
Huntington Woods made a second offer of $6 million in June 2007, matching the money that Detroit would receive from Premium Golf.
That wasn’t enough for the City of Detroit, which seemed to be more concerned about to whom it sold the course, rather than for how much. Knowing what we do about the incredible corruption in the City under the Kilpatrick administration, I don’t think it’s a stretch to think there was a payback involved there.
In July of 2008, a Michigan Appeals court ruled that Rackham must remain a public course. In that ruling, a three judge panel said that “Unambiguous language and the clearly stated intent” in the Rackham family deed said that the land could only be used as a public golf course. They also said that Detroit may only sell the property “to another public entity and not to a private entity,” even if the private buyer promises to keep it as a public golf course.
This latest—and probably last—court ruling seems to make permanent the status of Rackham as a public course.
I suspect, however, that the fight is not really over. I predict that the City of Detroit will deal with its defeat by either closing the course—claiming that they can’t maintain it—or allow it to fall into disrepair.