Tournament Time: Michigan Prepares for Busy Summer
DETROIT -- By all definitions, this is the summer of the golf tournament in Michigan.
The state generally hosts its share of good tournaments annually - from the Golf Association of Michigan events that attract the state's best amateur players and head pros to the PGA Tour's Buick Open to the Senior PGA Tour's Farmers Charity Classic to the Ford Senior Players Championship. But this year, the weekends are packed with new and prestigious events.
Two new events - The Canadian Tour's Bay Mills Open at the Wild Bluff Golf Course and The Ann Arbor Futures Tour at Lake Forest Golf Course - hope to find a permanent home in the state, while two of the heavyweights on the United States Golf Association calendar - the Amateur Public Links Championship and the U.S. Amateur - are looking forward to a rare visit.
Cleary, the two USGA amateurs, which attract the nation's best men's amateur players, are the headliners because neither has been to Michigan in more than forty years.
The 77th U.S. Public Links Championship visits The Orchards Golf Club in Washington Township on July 15-20. A month later, on August 19-25, Oakland Hills Country Club in Bloomfield Hills hosts the U.S. Amateur, the oldest major championship in golf and second only to the U.S. Open in terms of prestige.
"It is nice to have two major events in the same state. That says a lot about Michigan golf," said Jeff Stalcup, the director of golf at The Orchards. "It will be interesting to see the difference in scores and the competition."
Although the two will attract some of the same players, the U.S. Amateur will clearly draw the better field, as more than 7,000 players with handicaps at 2.4 or less try to qualify from preliminary sites around the country. The Public Links includes players with handicaps at 8.4 or better. The Public Links doesn't allow players who are affiliated with private country clubs to participate, while the Amateur does.
Both tournaments have visited Michigan twice in years past. The Country Club of Detroit in Grosse Pointe Farms hosted the Amateur, which was founded in 1895, in 1915 and 1954. Rackham Golf Club in Huntington Woods hosted the Publinx (the tournament's nickname) in 1940 and 1961.
Interestingly, despite its infrequent visits, the Publinx has ties to metro Detroit. James D. Standish Jr., a Detroit resident, convinced his colleagues on the USGA Executive Committee to create the event in 1922. His son and grandson, who still live in metro Detroit, will be honorary chairmen this year.
Craig Smith, director of media relations for the USGA, said the fact that the two tournaments haven't been played in Michigan for more than four decades, and that both are back in the same summer, is just a fluke.
"It's just an abnormality in the schedule," he said.
Oakland Hills has a long history of hosting major championships -- six U.S. Opens, most recently in 1996; two PGA Championships in 1972 and 1979; a Women's Amateur in 1929 and two U.S. Senior Opens (1981, '91).
Donald McBride, a member at Oakland Hills and the General Chairman of the club's Amateur committee, said the Amateur, along with the Ryder Cup in 2004, will help complete the club's history as a major championship venue.
"We are excited," McBride said. "It certainly is not a money making venture like the U.S. Open. We hope the budget is a break-even situation. We look at it as giving something back to the game. Those big (PGA events) are profit-makers. We've been taking our share, so now we know we must be willing to give something back." Ron Dalby, the president of The Orchards and the host Chairman for the Publinx, said his course doesn't stand to make any money, either, but the exposure proves the course is good enough to host a grand event. The two tournaments will attract more than 1,300 volunteers to help run them.
"Robert Trent Jones Jr. designed our course with the idea in mind that we might host something like this," Dalby said. "Of the seven championships the USGA holds for men, we thought the two that might fit us were the U.S. Senior Amateur or the Amateur Public Links. Those are probably more representative of our customers."
Officials for both tournaments hope golf fans come watch some great players and enjoy the chance to be in the middle of the action.
At PGA tour events, galleries must stay out of the fairways behind ropes and sit in bleachers near greens, but spectators at the Amateurs are free to closely follow a player who someday might turn pro. Plus, match play, where the players go head-to-head every hole, is always more dramatic than stroke play.
"The people who attend really like the game of golf," McBride said. "They want to see how well these golfers play. There is a lot of history to (these tournaments)."
The Canadian Tour event will be hard-pressed to attract fans with its location in the Upper Peninsula, but whoever does attend is sure to discover why the Wild Bluffs course and the resort are considered the best in the U.P. The $150,000 pursue should bring the best that tour has to offer.
The Futures Tour is considered the Buy.com tour for LPGA players. Women who have the potential to become professionals will flock to the tournament, hoping to impress people with their play and win a little money along the way.
Ann Arbor, home to the University of Michigan women's golf program and nearby Eastern Michigan University just down the road, should be an ideal spot to make it work.
Even the PGA Tour and Senior Tour events are stepping up to the tee with changes to try and increase spectator appeal. The Buick Open, held at Warwick Hills Country Club (pictured) in Grand Blanc, has increased its purse to a tournament-record $3.3 million, an increase of $200,000 over 2001, to try and convince more big-time names to attend.
"We are very pleased to be able to announce a record purse for the Buick Open," Roger Adams, general manager for Buick Motor Division, said in a statement. "We hope this will help us attract a few more of the Tour's top players and enhance what is already a great tournament."
The Buick has reportedly been considering a move to another southeast Michigan venue, including Ann Arbor, but officials in Genesee County near Flint are working hard to keep it there.
The Farmers Charity Classic and the Ford Senior Players Championship are following the Senior Tour's changes to make it more fan-friendly, including allowing fans to walk inside the ropes and talk to the players and putting microphones on players during telecasts.
Here are some of Michigan's biggest tournaments this summer:
May 24-26, The Senior PGA Tour's Farmers Charity Classic at the Egypt Valley Country Club in Ada
May 29-30, The Canadian Tour's Bay Mills Open at Wild Bluff Golf Course in Brimley
June 18-23, The Golf Association of Michigan's Michigan Amateur at the Country Club of Jackson
June 24-30, The Ann Arbor Futures Tour at Lake Forest Golf Course in Ann Arbor
June 24-30, The Detroit Newspapers Michigan Open Championship at the Grand Traverse Resort & Spa in Acme
July 2-3, The Par 3 Shootout, featuring PGA Tour and Senior PGA Tour players, at Treetops Resort in Gaylord
July 11-14, The Senior PGA Tour's Ford Senior Players Championship at the Tournament Players Club of Michigan in Dearborn
July 15-20, The USGA's United States Amateur Public Links at The Orchards Golf Club in Washington Township
July 15-20, The Detroit Newspapers Michigan Women's Open at the Polo Fields Golf and Country Club in Ann Arbor
August 5-11, The PGA Tour's Buick Open at Warwick Hills Country Club in Grand Blanc
August 5-11, The GAM Championship at Oakhurst Golf and Country Club in Clarkston
August 19-25, The USGA's United States Amateur at Oakland Hills Country Club in Bloomfield Hills
August 19-25, The GAM Women's Championship at Chemung Hills Country Club in Howell
April 15, 2002