Historic Rackham Golf Course will remain a publicly owned track, according the the unanimous decision of an appeals court panel.
The city of Detroit had threatened to sell the Donald Ross design to developers, while rejecting a purchase by the adjacent city of Huntington Woods.
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.
Developers Premium Golf, LLC had offered $6 million for the course in 2006. Huntington Woods had at one time tendered an offer of $5 million, with the intent of keeping Rackham as a publicly owned course.
The course was donated to the city of Detroit in 1926 by Horace and Mary Rackham, who had made a fortune in the early days of the auto industry. Their intent was to offer average citizens facilities similar to those of area private clubs. In addition to the Donald Ross design, the course also features an architecturally significant clubhouse.
Rackham also has historical significance to the African American community, which makes the city’s decision to sell even more mysterious. It was one of the few courses in the area that allowed African Americans to play. Joe Louis was a regular. And the course’s PGA pro, Ben Davis—now 96—was probably the first African American pro in the country.
The course was meant to be a public course in perpetuity. It’s sad that it took an appeals court to make Detroit’s leaders do the right thing.
But then, as we all know, Detroit’s Mayor and City Council have a hard time doing the right thing about anything.