Looking forward to the 2024 Rocket Mortgage Classic a year after vandals destroyed Detroit GC’s greens

By |  June 26, 2024 0 Comments

When golf fans first visit Detroit Golf Club, they often discuss its charm, as it offers a step back in time. Although that tends to increase the club’s appeal, leading to numerous patrons for the PGA Tour’s annual Rocket Mortgage Classic — along with a wait list for membership — it does provide some challenges too.

First off, the North Course is very flat with an old drainage system dating back to the 1920s. Consequently, whenever the Detroit area experiences heavy rains, the course has significant water overflow on its fairways and rough. Water has to be pumped from different areas of the course to others that drain more efficiently.

In addition, Sam Moynihan, Detroit Golf Club superintendent, and his team had to clean up the North Course after a microburst thunderstorm destroyed 15 trees in a matter of 20 minutes. Unfortunately, the damage occurred on a Sunday evening, just prior to the Monday practice round for the 2023 Rocket Mortgage Classic.

As a result of Moynihan’s and his team’s efficiency though, nine holes of the North Course were open for a practice round that Monday afternoon. By Tuesday, all 18 holes were open again, just in time for that day’s practice round.

But that wasn’t the worst challenge Moynihan has ever faced when leading into the Rocket Mortgage Classic. In May of last year, just one month into Moynihan’s tenure as superintendent of the course, two of the course’s greens were vandalized. Images of the damaged greens made the news, and on X (previously known as Twitter), the entire turf industry expressed its frustration with the vandals and its support of Moynihan and his team.

In 2023, vandals destroyed two Detroit GC greens a month before the Rocket Mortgage Classic. Days later, crews had the greens resodded in time for the tournament. (Photo: Sam Moynihan)

In 2023, vandals destroyed two Detroit GC greens a month before the Rocket Mortgage Classic. Days later, crews had the greens resodded in time for the tournament. (Photo: Sam Moynihan)

“(The vandalism) is the largest challenge I have faced while hosting the Rocket Mortgage Classic,” Moynihan emphasizes. “Shortly after (the damage) we decided to strip the turf off of the green surfaces and sod them in order to provide the best possible playing surfaces.”

Within two days, Moynihan and his team stripped, floated and sodded the greens. The damage occurred six weeks prior to the tournament, which provided them just enough time to grow the sod.

“The greens performed well during the Rocket Mortgage Classic and through the rest of the year — a testament to my team members’ work ethics and talents,” he says.

(Photo: Sam Moynihan)

(Photo: Sam Moynihan)

Preparing for the Rocket Mortgage Classic

Prior to his current role, Moynihan acquired extensive experience in hosting professional golf tournaments as he worked at Muirfield Village Golf Club, the home of the annual Memorial Tournament and Caves Valley Golf Club, host of the 2021 BMW Championship. He has also volunteered at many professional golf tournaments, including USGA championships and PGA of America events.

During those tournaments he witnessed volunteers’ positive impacts firsthand, preparing him to know what to look for when seeking volunteers for the Rocket Mortgage Classic. Moynihan noticed the influence of volunteers even more so in 2023, as his volunteers assisted him and his team members with tree removal after the microburst thunderstorm hit the North Course.

“We divided everyone into different groups. Some were bucking limbs and logs while others were hauling limbs and brush to strategically placed chippers,” he says. “Others moved limbs and brush to log trucks in order to be hauled away while the rest of the volunteers piled up leaves and hauled them away.”

A majority of the volunteers were superintendents from the Detroit area. That year, Moynihan had roughly 40 volunteers assist him, a goal he strives to maintain for future Rocket Mortgage Classics.

“I reach out to my professional network of superintendents and ask if they know anyone who would be interested in volunteering,” he says. “We also use the reach of the Michigan Golf Course Superintendents Association (MiGCSA) and various social media outlets to help spread the word. We always make it a point to send out volunteers from our own staff to other professional events in order to return the favor.”

Planning ahead

Some minor course renovation work has been completed in recent years, such as bunker enhancements, drainage improvements and tee box repairs. Detroit Golf Club is now working with golf architect Tyler Rae on developing a master plan that’s focused on the North Course’s restoration.

Aside from this restoration, Moynihan is focused on enhancing his team’s plans for future Rocket Mortgage Classics even further. While doing so, he advises other superintendents to do the same as they implement other key goals.

“Careful planning and coordination are key, as they’ll reduce superintendents’ stress whenever they host events,” he says. “Not to mention, by having the backing of membership while hosting events, superintendents’ lives will be much easier whenever they have to put their courses back together after events have been completed.”

This article is tagged with , and posted in From the Magazine, Tour Guide

About the Author: Chris Lewis

Michigan-based writer Chris Lewis specializes in reporting on golf in the U.S. He wrote about White Pine National Golf Resort for Golfdom in 2013, and part two of the magazine’s annual Plant Health Series in 2014.

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