Rouge Park Golf Course Review

Rouge Park

Rouge Park Golf Course
Grade: C+
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.)

Rouge Park

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:

5 thoughts on “Rouge Park Golf Course Review”

  1. Last year I played my first Ross course, the 1905 course at Memphis Country Club.  What a wonderful treat.  Raised greens with collection areas as you describe, some of which were ridiculous.  One of my few pars came on a par 3, where I was left of the green perhaps 10 feet from the hole horizontally, but about 5 feet below the hole vertically.  After a few holes my partner and I figured out that the best place to land was short of the green, and if it rolled on, fine, but if it didn’t, that was fine too.  That day, they had the 125% perfect, flawless greens rolling a little fast, reportedly a 15.5 on the stimp meter.  The tournament organizer actually came around and apologized for the speed of the green, he had no idea the club would be making them that fast.  It was beyond ridiculous. 

    That course too, was obviously very mature.  The course was tight, with some of the shortest green to tee that I have ever seen- part of this was due to some lengthing that had occurred at some point in the past.  What changes could be made were limited by the fact that the entire course fit into about two or so city blocks.  This was the country 100 years ago, but since the city grew to it and then well past it.  Not the greatest part of town anymore either as the guard gate and the high fences show, but you wouldn’t know it once you were inside, it was a sanctuary.

    I am now set to play Ross course #2 for me, which will be Pinehurst #2.  My playing partner from that round a year ago and I won a tournament at our club last week which got us into the BMW Golf Cup US Finals at Pinehurst in late Sept/early Oct.  We won’t be partners in that event though – so we will be singles again, and I don’t think I will get paired with him either as we will be in different flights too.  I am probably going to have to change balls – I would rather go on playing the Nike PD Long, but I have a feeling I need a little better green grabbing control, so probably around Sept 1st I will go back to Pro V1s in preparation.

  2. We actually have quite a few publicly accessible Ross courses here in the Detroit Metro area: Rackham, Rogell, Rouge, Warren Valley and Hawthorne Valley. I’ve also got a line on playing the Ross course in Ann Arbor: Barton Hills.

  3. An article from the local NPR station (WDET) indicated there is no definite proof that the course was or was not designed by Donald Ross. The writer leaned toward “No.”

    “Additionally, the course is not on the official list of Ross-designed courses maintained by the Donald Ross Society. Nor is there any record of it in the Donald Ross collection in the Tufts Archives in North Carolina.

    A search in newspaper archives from the 1920s turned up several references to the park and the course, yet none mentioned a course designer, Ross or otherwise.”

    Current thinking is the course was possibly designed by Detroit Park Department staff. They possibly wwere inspired (copied?) Ross’s design style.


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