Rouge Park Golf Course
Teacher’s Comments: Unexpectedly pleasant.
I ventured into Detroit to the Rouge Park Golf Course on the promise of a Donald Ross course, but with a certain amount of trepidation, since so much of the city is in disprepair. I had also heard from friends that in years past, the course was a wreck. Rouge Park turned out to be a pleasant surprise, although its bona fides as a Ross course may be in doubt in some circles.
Rouge Park was built in 1923 or 1924 (reports vary) as a city owned course. It’s a par 72, measuring 6325 from the blues, and 6083 from the whites. From the back, it’s a 70.1/121, and the middle, 69.4/118. Not difficult by any means, and thus a place for the bogey golfer to put up a good score (provided you can chip and putt.)
The course’s layout is relatively straightforward. There are, however, three doglegs, and several other holes that require a carry over water, either on the tee shot or for the approach. None of these, however, are particularly difficult from the middle tees. What saves the course from blandness for me was a surprising number of elevation changes; Rouge Park is built along the Rouge River valley (such as it is), and on the overlooking heights. Several holes (the eighth and the fourteen come to mind) have nice vistas.
As you would expect from a course built in 1924, Rouge Park is quite mature. Especially along the river, large trees line the fairways, waiting to trap wayward tee shots. The overgrowth, however, made me wonder just how much of the original Ross design remains. My suspicion is that it originally was all very much open with the holes separated by wild grasses. Most of those areas now are mown.
That said, the greens all are stereotypically Ross. They’re small, round, and crowned. Most are elevated a few feet above the fairway, with narrow fringe that drops precipitously down to collection areas. It’s difficult to hold a shot on the green. The saving grace is that nearly all have open fronts, so my strategy was to land the shot short and let the ball expend its energy running up and on.
Conditions on the day I visited were mixed, but tolerable. The low lying areas of the course suffer from being on a flood plain. Quite a few areas were bare, or full of the dead grass that comes as a result of large puddles of standing water. The heights, however, were in very good shape, as were the greens. I have no way to compare the course to the past, but my sense is that the current management, Vargo Golf is doing a good job with this classic track.
The course is very walkable, with the exception of a couple of hill climbs out of the flood plain that required some sweat equity. That morning, most were in carts, but I did see some younger players with bags strapped to their backs.
In the end, I was glad I made the trek to Rouge Park. It’s a bit out of my way for regular return visits, but if it were my neighborhood course, I would be there often. Area golfers, I think, should try it at least once.
A gallery of photos from my trip to Rouge Park follows: