The Inn at St. John's in Plymouth resurrects into a hotbed of golf on sacred ground
PLYMOUTH, Mich. - It would be difficult to find two more striking contrasts of old school versus the new school in suburban Detroit golf than between Northville Hills Golf Club and The Inn at St. John's, located across the street from each other on Five Mile Rd., which separates the town of Plymouth from Northville.
Northville Hills is the new kid in town -- 18 beautifully manicured holes designed by Arnold Palmer, winding through a massive housing development featuring $500,000 homes at a championship yardage of 6,900 yards.
But just across the road, there's something charming about St. John's, a property owned by the archdiocese of Detroit and regionally renowned as a center of religious study before the holes wrapping around the complex.
The archdiocese of Detroit had plans for St. John's Provincial Seminary for a decade before ground finally broke in 1946. Classes officially began in 1949 and over the next four decades, thousands of aspiring young men of the faith came from all over the Midwest to study here.
In addition to a gymnasium, nine holes were built outside the complex to round out recreational offerings at the complex.
Forty-two years later, the seminary closed, but that was just the beginning for the property. Shortly after, nine holes were added to the original nine. In 1994, the building reopened, but this time as retreat for children and families, run once again by the archdiocese of Detroit.
The St. John's Center for Youth and Family now hosts a variety of summer camps and youth groups, as well as renewal groups for couples. Parishes from all over metro Detroit use their facilities and the wedding chapel, built in 1955, still hosts weddings to this day.
But in 1998, the golf course went into a two-year cocoon and exploded back onto the golf scene in 2000. The course was rerouted and another nine holes were added, bringing the total to 27.
Carl's Golfland, metro Detroit's biggest and baddest golf superstore north of Detroit in Bloomfield Hills, opened up a second store at St. John's in order to service the western and southern parts of the Detroit area. Five years later, the store has flourished and traffic to the golf course has increased as well.
"We've helped each other," Gatza said. "Our golf shop is in Carl's Golfland, so we send everyone over there. Carl's has helped us with name recognition. It's worked out well for both."
But improvements to its golf offerings were just the beginning. Soon, St. John's will be a full-fledged golf resort in metro Detroit.
The Inn at St. John's will be a hotel and conference center, slated to open just prior to the Super Bowl in February, which is being played at Ford Field just down the road. The Inn will have 118 guest rooms and 24 specialty suites. There will be 25 meeting rooms and a Grande Ballroom that can accommodate up to 450 guests. There will also be a martini lounge and Five, an upscale European chop house.
The Inn at St. John's: The golf course
Today, men of the cloth can still be seen walking -- or riding through St. John's new layout. But St. John's mostly sees a heavy amount of league and outing play featuring blue-collar men of the mullet and jean short instead.
"This course sets up well for leagues and outings especially," said Jim Gatza, director of golf at St. John's. "You don't beat yourself up … it's a shorter course to play and has three different nines. One nine is more open, one is open with some woods and the other goes right through the woods."
Despite three nines all built in different decades, each has an old-school charm and each plays short compared to modern standards. St. John's Luke Course plays longest at 3,229 yards from the back tees, while the Mark Course and Matthew Course play slightly less than 3,000 each.
Fairways are narrow and trees are a force on most drives. Par 5s at St. John's are salivating especially the "Luke" nine, which has three par 5s (an unusual par 37 total - Mark and Matthew are par 35) including back-to-back five-shotters. Mark, with seven wet holes has the most water, while the other nines have an occasional pond or creek. Most par 4s play less than 350 yards and no par 4 plays longer than 400, so golfers of all skills have a realistic shot at birdie on every tee box.
No combination of nines is by far and away superior and ratings are all about the same. There's a 1.1 stroke difference from the easiest (Matthew/Mark: 66.9) to most difficult (Luke/Matthew: 68.0). Luke's three par 5s make it the nine most susceptible to birdies, but shooting just three over par gives you a 40.
The Inn at St. John's: The verdict
Despite its soon-to-be golf resort offerings, the course -- with blind tee shots, holes where a creek crosses the fairway right about where your drive is expected to roll through -- is anything but modern resort-style.
Conditions are solid but not outstanding. You can't tell which greens are any older or newer than each other, which is praise for the maintenance crew. But the true flavor of St. John's is in its sacred history and knowing hundreds of young men of faith took a break from their Bible studies for a quick round just outside their dorm.
October 21, 2005