New Rogell Golf Course
It feels strange to do a review of a course just a few weeks before it closes forever, but I feel compelled to record my thoughts for posterity. As of May 31, New Rogell is slated to be sold as a cemetery. Perhaps this is less review than Requiem.
New Rogell née Rogell née Redford Golf and Country Club née Phoenix Country Club is a Donald Ross design from Detroit’s glory days. It opened in 1914 as a nine hole course designed by Tom Bendelow. The course’s original intent was as a Jewish golf club, under the leadership of Max Fisher. Phoenix Golf Club was sold to the city of Redford in 1921, which hired Donald Ross to redo the original nine and finish the layout.
The Redford Golf and Country Club lasted until 1945, when it was sold to the City of Detroit. In 1979, the course was renamed the Rogell, after former Tigers ballplayer and city councilor Bill Rogell. Rogell, a shortstop, had led the Tigers to a 1935 World Series victory over the Chicago Cubs. It was by all accounts not a happy period for the course, as it suffered greatly from neglect. In 2007, it was purchased by Greater Grace Temple, which renamed the course New Rogell. The church has now given up on the property and apparently sold it to be used as a cemetery.
It’s a shame to see such an historic property go under.
An observant and knowledgeable player at New Rogell should have no problem imagining the course as it was in its heyday. Rogell is compact, with many parallel fairways, and tees that closely follow greens. It is mostly open, with the exception of those holes on the perimeter and along the creek, which winds through a part of the property. The creeks are tributaries of the Rouge River, which passes through the back nine.
Greens at New Rogell are small—as you might expect—but there is a curious absence of bunkering. By my count, there are just eight. My suspicion is that over the years most of the bunkers were grassed over rather than maintained.
In laying out the course, Ross took advantage of elevation changes created by the creeks as much as possible. It is actually pretty impressive for what might otherwise be a “flat” city course. By my count, seventeen of the eighteen holes involved an elevation change. Most of those were at least a club difference.
As you might expect from a course that literally has one foot in the grave, conditions were not great. Still, New Rogell was in better shape than I feared, and far better than a few I’ve played that are pressing forward among the living. The grass was neatly mown; fairways mostly filled in; greens and tee boxes were in good shape.
New Rogell is not particularly short, measuring 6,075 from the back tees and playing to a 70.1/127. From the middle tees, it measures 5,838 yards and plays to a 68.7/123.
As I was walking the course, I couldn’t help but think that it would not take a huge investment to restore the course. The jewel is there, if only someone would see fit to restore its luster.
The biggest problem to overcome, though, is the one that can’t be solved: location. New Rogell is in what some might call a “seedy” neighborhood. That is a characterization that is somewhat unfair, however. There are some very nice homes surrounding the course, and it did not feel at all unsafe. Signs in the parking lot warning of break-ins, however, tell the tale of a community in decline.
The course has been a part of the community for a very long time. A retired friend of mine tells stories of how he used to play the Rogell for fifty cents—or even sneak onto the property at the far end to play for free.
If you’re in the Detroit area take time before May 31, 2013 to play New Rogell. There aren’t that many Donald Ross courses open to the public, and certainly not many at this price.
More photos below: