Detroit – In early 2018, the Detroit Golf Club officially received its Holy Grail: a place on the PGA Tour’s summer program.
Just over three years later, the impact of the Rocket Mortgage Classic across Metro Detroit has been considerable, from the fans to the fundraising it raised that stayed in the community.
The association also experienced the positive effects firsthand. Membership stands. Ascent.
“It was huge,” said Mark Douglas, president of the Detroit Golf Club.
“We got the missile and everything started from there.”
Prior to the Rocket Mortgage Classic, which was first played in 2019, the Detroit Golf Club had around 650 members. Today there are almost 800. At 900, the club is considered full.
Recruiting efforts actually declined before the Rocket, when discussions between the club and the PGA Tour were still in the early stages. It was then that the membership committee began to focus on junior memberships and middle memberships, knowing that the majority of those members would eventually become adult members. Recruiting younger members is the lifeblood of country clubs, which typically have older cadres.
It is difficult to attract members outside of other clubs, but it was surprisingly easier to find members during the COVID-19 pandemic. Golf was one of the few recreational activities allowed during the state’s half-closure, which resulted in blockages on the tees of public courses, leading to more interest from private clubs.
There’s no shortage of private clubs to visit in Metro Detroit, from affordable to luxurious. Detroit Golf Club is in between and has one thing no one else does: the Rocket.
“The Rocket was huge for that,” said Douglas. “If anything, it made the club a little mystical. You see it on TV and things seem familiar … it tends to show itself off well.
“It makes people realize or ask, ‘What am I missing?'”
The partnership with the PGA Tour has brought the club additional benefits, including a better golf course, improved maintenance and a $ 4.5 million clubhouse renovation.
The PGA Tour and Rocket Mortgage contract ran for four years, with next year being the fourth year. An extension is expected to be signed and official before the tournament begins in 2022.
The organizers of the first John Shippen National Invitational were pleased with the two-day event that granted 48-year-old Timothy O’Neal a sponsorship waiver for the Rocket Mortgage Classic and exemptions for two LPGA Tour events, including Flint’s Shasta at this week’s Great Lakes Bay Invitational in Midland.
The fields were small, with 20 men and 12 women, but that’s fine, said Jason Langwell, tournament director of the Rocket Mortgage Classic. Langwell’s parent company, Intersport, co-founded the Shippen, along with the Woods & Watts Effect, which was co-founded by Detroit’s Summer Woods, a former college golfer.
“The way it has to grow is only with more awareness,” Langwell said. “It’s really not even about making it bigger. One of the things we wanted to do with it is to put the spotlight on these black men and women who play the game at a high level.
“The growth is only in storytelling and awareness. That is the focus.”
The Shippen, named after the nation’s first black professional golfer, included top black men and women, amateurs and professionals. The tournament paid for all expenses including travel, room and board for the participants to remove all obstacles.
Other PGA Tour tournaments have diversity initiatives, including the Genesis Invitational in Los Angeles, which awards the Charlie Sifford Memorial Exemption (this year to Flint’s Willie Mack III). But this tournament is the first of its kind and the PGA Tour is considering adding more across the country.
Where Langwell wants to grow in numbers is the Shippen Business Summit, for new high school and college graduates interested in getting into the golf business. The summit this year was virtual due to COVID-19 concerns and drew about 1,000 attendees. But it will go on personally.
Chips & Divots
►At the Rocket 2021 it was different from the last visit of the fans in 2019. Autographs and selfies were forbidden (easy; many players did not stick to it); parking was farther away at Wayne State as opposed to the nearby fairgrounds, though surprisingly few complaints given the regular schedule of the shuttles; and hospitality structures were outdoors for health and safety reasons.
The latter could just stay. The tournament organizers found that fans were happy with the setup as it offered a better view of the golf course as there were no walls.
“As it turned out,” said Langwell, “everyone was delighted with the experience.”
The most important hospitality structures were in AREA 3-1-3, at holes 14-16 and along the 18th fairway. Most needed a VIP ticket, but it went out the window during the playoff, “which was fine,” Langwell said with a laugh.
►The two previous champions of the Rocket Mortgage Classic, Nate Lashley in 2019 and Bryson DeChambeau in 2020, signed sponsorship deals with the title sponsor shortly after their victory. It’s not clear if Cam Davis, who won the tournament in a five-hole playoff in 2021, will get the same chance.
Davis is from Australia and Rocket Mortgage doesn’t sell mortgages Down Under.
DeChambeau, Lexi Thompson and Rickie Fowler remain the headliners in Rocket’s golf portfolio.
►The first two Rockets played hard and fast and therefore short. This year’s one was different because of the heavy rain that softened the course and made it much longer, as well as the wind that followed.
Douglas loved it.
“What it really did made it a lot more similar when we play it,” he said.
►For those who thought the missile field was weak, think again. Got off the field for the John Deere Classic the following week, at the “featured” pairings Zach Johnson, Daniel Berger, Kevin Na, Steve Stricker, Dylan Frittelli, Brian Harman, Sungjae Im, Anirban Lahri, Cam Davis, Si Woo . included? Kim, CT Pan and Sebastian Munoz? Shot.
►More marquee events in the area, with the LPGA Tour in Midland this week, the Ally Challenge of the Champions Tour in Grand Blanc from August 27-29, the US Senior Amateur at the Country Club of Detroit from August 28th to September. 2, and the Solheim Cup in Toledo from August 31 to September. 6th
►Rocket Mortgage Classic next year is expected to be played from June 30th to July 3rd. The PGA Tour is expected to release the 2021-22 schedule soon.
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