North of Eight Mile Road, the unofficial Detroit city limits indicator made famous by Eminem, past the assembly plants, strip malls and potholed streets common of suburban Detroit, prepare to “Lose Yourself” amongst a series of Detroit golf courses offering their own M&M: majesty and memories.
The Rocket Mortgage Classic marks the PGA Tour’s return to the state of Michigan for the first time in a decade at the venerable Detroit Golf Club from June 25-30. This will be the first PGA event held in Motown proper, where The Four Tops are more than just your first few tee shots and The Jackson 5 is not the outing two holes ahead holding up the pace of play. Visitors attending the tournament looking to get in a few rounds will be, as Martha and the Vandellas sang, dancing in the street with excitement over the golf options in Metro Detroit.
Most of the critically-acclaimed Michigan courses — Arcadia Bluffs, Forest Dunes, Bay Harbor — are in northern Michigan and travelling there from Detroit requires a Cameron Champ drive and Phil Mickelson “escapability” through highways and rural roads. Make no mistake, those venues are all worth the trip but if you’re in town for the tournament and want to stay local you’ll find a number of challenging, scenic courses in the area.
Start with Cherry Creek, a Lanny Wadkins/Mike Bylen design 15 miles north of Detroit in Shelby Township. Stretching nearly 6,800 yards from the tips, the course reminds you immediately you’re in the Great Lakes state on the 422-yard par 4 first hole with water on the left and woods on the right. The course’s length won’t intimidate you but the trees demand accurate shots, especially on the 491-yard par 5 fifth where a straight tee shot will give you a nice look at the green in two. The par 5 ninth plays 581 from the tips but is a much more generous driving hole and the split fairway gives you options into the small green.
But the back nine is where you can start cruisin’ like Smokey Robinson with a few straightforward par 4s before a fun 5-3-5-3-5 finish. Number 15 plays only 140 yards and 16 plays 511 yards with a creek sneaking in front of the green to keep you honest. More water returns along the left side of the 175-yard par 3 17th before the signature 561-yard par 5 18th combines water, trees, creeks, fairway bunkers and a likely audience from the banquet patio overlooking the green. Cue the Stevie Wonder Spotify if you’re feeling uptight over your final putt for the match.
Ten minutes north of Cherry Creek in neighboring Washington Township is The Orchards Golf Club, a 7,000-yard Robert Trent Jones II-designed peach consistently ranked as one of the best public courses in Michigan. Ryan Moore won the 2002 U.S Amateur Pub-Links here and Mike Weir holds the course record. You may catch a glimpse of the Detroit skyline on a clear day from course’s high points but if don’t fret the missed view if you’re focused on the course’s own beauty.
An old silo on the left side of the par-4 first hole harkens back to the area’s farming days as the first four holes play open before turning into the woods. The par-5 538-yard sixth hole plays as one of the toughest holes — it’s the number one-handicapped hole from the front tees — not because of its length but because of its elevated, guarded green that requires an accurate approach shot with jail on either side of the fairway. If you pull or block your approach, start the three-minute search clock and hope for some skinny trees and no leaves.
Jones brings you out of the woods with the 441-yard uphill par-4 ninth that plays as the number one-handicapped hole from the tips and turns you onto the back-nine with another uphill, 412-yard par 4. The 607-yard par 5 eleventh begins the open, links-like feel of the back nine that RTJ Jr. enthusiasts will appreciate. The 522-yard par 5 15th runs parallel to the 11th and brings heather and bunkers into play while the 374-yard par 4 16th is one of the rare holes on the course with a water hazard that forces a fairway wood or long-iron tee shot. The 17th is a 452-yard par 4 with more elevation and bunkers, and then you reach the fun, 413-yard downhill 18th. Long hitters need to be careful as a corked drive could roll into a devious little pond guarding the green, one of only two greens with water near it. The Orchards calls itself “Your Club For The Day” and the elegant, inspiring course will be one you’ll remember every day.
Another course within a Sergio Garcia lipped putt of The Orchards is Greystone, which provides more than The Same Old Song when it comes to layout and playability. Greystone is built along an old gravel quarry and while holes 1-15 are solid, if unspectacular, holes, it’s the three-hole finish that consistently ranks as one of the best finishing stretches in the state. Number 16 measures as a 209-yard par-3 from the tips with an elevated tee shot to a green almost entirely surrounded by water; 17 is a 412-yard par-4 with a hard-sloping fairway and an all-carry approach shot, and 18 is a 451-yard boulder of a hole where bombers may only need a wedge from the elevated fairway into another water-protected green.
After playing a course built around the rocks, you’ll be ready for a drink on the rocks. The Brown Iron Brewhouse combines the best of Michigan’s bursting craft beer scene with a hearty Texas-influenced barbecue menu. Try the smoked brisket with tater tots and a Detroit Helles on Wheels lager and the sleeve you went through on the finishing stretch will be temporarily numbed by the smoky meat and smooth lager. If you happened to go through a sleeve of Pro V1’s, the Dark Nemesis imperial stout with a 12 percent APV might be a more appropriate drink.
Yet the true platinum record of Metro Detroit golf is Shepherd’s Hollow, located in Clarkston just off I-75 near the DTE Energy Music Theater, which will host legendary Michigan rocker Bob Seger’s final Detroit-area shows the weekend prior to the Rocket Mortgage Classic. Designed in 2000 by famed Michigan-based architect Arthur Hills and a sister course to Cherry Creek, Shepherd’s Hollow is carved through thick woods alongside a Society of Jesus colombiere center that gives new meaning the phrase “golf gods.” Shepherd’s Hollow is home to 27 holes with the traditional 1-18 layout surpassing 7,100 yards and its Pinehurst-like clubhouse has an Old Time Rock n’ Roll feel with wicker rockers and wait staff clad in white shirts and black pants.
National and local golf pundits often say Shepherd’s Hollow is the best Up North golf course in Southeastern Michigan, and the roaming 482-yard opening hole instantly brings to mind the pine tree-lined epic tracks of Traverse City, Boyne Highlands, Gaylord and other northern Michigan golf destinations. The fairways are deceptively wide as Arthur Hills lives up to his name with undulations, slopes, and elevations that ensure the trees are always just within reach. Take advantage of the 498-yard par 5 seventh but beware its small, tiered green surrounded by thick rough, deep bunkers and trees. Aside from that, it’s easy to hit in two.
The back nine opens with 456-yard and 483-yard par 4s and a 226-yard par 3, so the big sticks will get a work out early before the pine trees stand tall on the 354 and 449-yard 15th and 16th holes. Your driver can rest up during this stretch before facing the magnificent par 5 18th. Playing 564 yards from the tips, the hole opens with another deceptively-wide uphill fairway shot that will queue The Temptations for long hitters who will have to Get Ready for a 220-yard all-carry second shot over water to the green. Other hitters who Ain’t Too Proud to Beg can lay up along a narrow fairway strip weaving down the left side of the water and set up a third shot into the big, multi-tiered green. Some players will end with circles on the card, some will end with squares, but all players will walk away putting a star around Shepherd’s Hollow.
And like the music that took its name from the city, Metro Detroit golf will be stuck in your head and have you wanting to replay it over and over again. Florida and California and the Carolinas may be at the top of your golf travel lists but hopefully after the Rocket Mortgage Classic this summer, the Detroit area golf scene will earn, as the late Aretha Franklin sang, your R-E-S-P-E-C-T.
Kyle Gillis is a Detroit native whose work has been featured in The Expeditioner, Wall Street Journal, the Las Vegas Review-Journal and other publications.