Historic Country Club of Detroit hosting 107th Michigan Amateur Championship

Tom Sullivan is excited for the 107th Michigan Amateur Championship next Tuesday
through Saturday at his club – the Country Club of Detroit.

  “It will be great to
get a chance to play in it, and to see what happens when all the great golfers
from Michigan are here will be special,” he said.

  Tom and two of his
sons, Patrick and Tommy, played in last year’s Michigan Amateur at Egypt Valley
Country Club in Ada. All three made it through sectional qualifying to be in
the starting field, which was a rarity in Michigan golf.

  Patrick made it
through stroke play to match play as the No. 4 seed of 64. Ryan Johnson, the
2015 champion, ended his run, and eventually Tom Werkmeister of Grandville won
his second Michigan Amateur title.

  Tom and Patrick were
both exempt players for this year’s championship and will be part of this year’s
starting field of 156 golfers, determined mostly through 15 sectional
qualifiers held across the state this spring.

  “I think the club
will do a great job of hosting,” Tom said. “We have a great course a lot of
people haven’t played before.”

   Jake Kneen of White
Lake, the winner Thursday of the Michigan Open Championship at Grand Traverse
Resort, has played the Country Club of Detroit course once – in May of 2017 in
U.S. Open Sectional qualifying.

  “I have good
memories there because I played well,” he said. “I really like the golf course.
It’s great. Hopefully I can go back there and use those good vibes and play
well all week.”

  Kneen is a former Michigan
Junior Amateur champion, and won that title in match play, but he hasn’t fared
so well in that format the last few years in the Michigan Amateur.

   “Hopefully I can
change that,” he said. “I feel really confident in my game right now. It is a
totally different format from the Michigan Open, and the golf course is totally
different. I look forward to it. It’s one of the tournaments I wanted to play
again as an amateur before I turn pro.”

  Werkmeister, the
defending champion is not in the field. He turned professional this spring at
age 50 and has status on the PGA Tour Champions. He announced those plans well
before last year’s amateur.

  Six other former
champions are in this year’s field, including Ryan Johnson of New Boston
(2015), Henry Do of Canton (2014), Andrew Chapman of Traverse City (2013),
Jimmy Chestnut of Royal Oak (2008), Greg Davies of West Bloomfield (2006) and
two-time champion Randy Lewis of Alma (1992 and ’99).

   In its history the Country Club of Detroit has
been considered one of the nation’s top golf courses and a perfect place to
determine champion golfers.

  “Amateur golf has
always been part of our mission as a club,” Craig Cutler, the club’s general
manager said. “Our members have recommitted themselves to the care of the
course, the clubhouse and grounds, and there has been a reconnecting with our
mission, a decision to get back out there because the club has always believed
in amateur athletics and hosting amateur golf championships is part of that.”

   In 2016 the United
States Golf Association announced the club had been selected to host the 2020
U.S. Senior Amateur Championship. It will not be the first USGA national
championship at Country Club of Detroit, though it will be the first in 64
years. The 1954 U.S. Amateur Championship was hosted by the club, and it holds
a special place in golf history.

  The late Arnold
Palmer, at the time living in Cleveland and working as a paint salesman after
three years in the U.S. Coast Guard, grabbed the notice of the golf world for
the first time by winning that summer at Country Club of Detroit. Later that
same summer he turned professional and forged his incredible golf legacy.

  “That victory was
the turning point in my life,” Palmer said in reflection years later. “It gave
me confidence I could compete at the highest level of the game.”

   George Forster,
Jr., the head golf professional at Country Club of Detroit, feels Palmer’s win
in 1954 at Country Club of Detroit should be included among the top moments in
golf history.

   “Arnold Palmer
opened up the game to others who had never experienced it before,” he said. “I
believe him winning the Amateur in ’54 
should be talked about with Bobby Jones winning the “Grand Slam,” Ben
Hogan coming back from his car crash, those kind of top five moments. I think
Arnold’s win belongs in there, not because it happened at Country Club of
Detroit. It was the tournament that Arnold felt changed him forever, and then
he changed golf forever.”

  Forster is a golf
historian, and the son of long-time Philadelphia area golf professional George
Forster. Before coming to Country Club of Detroit two years ago worked he
worked for eight years at the prestigious Merion Golf Club in Ardmore, Pa.,
not-so-ironically the site of Jones winning the 1930 U.S. Amateur and wrapping
up his coveted “grand slam,” and Hogan winning the 1950 U.S. Open just 16
months after being injured in a horrific car accident.

 He said Country Club
of Detroit at one time it its history was considered a platinum top-50 course
in the United States, and that restoration work of the original H.S. Colt
design by award-winning Michigan-based architect Tom Doak in recent years has
returned the course to an elite level. It now plays to a maximum of 7,100 yards,
and Ross Miller, the superintendent, and his staff maintain elite playing conditions.

 “Over the last 20
years the club got away from that part of its mission, and we never let raters
in and didn’t have the right people seeing the golf course,” Foster said. “We
believe this course should be spoken about with Oakland Hills, Merion,
Shinnecock, the great facilities in golf.”

   Ken Hartmann,
senior director of rules and competition for the Golf Association of Michigan,

  “It’s one of my
favorites to set up to be honest,” he said. “It’s a great old style classic
course, one of the best in Michigan easily. It is an awesome golf course –
another one where you have to hit the ball to the right part of the greens, and
the back nine there has four par 4s that are so tough. It’s a classic. Like
Oakland Hills. It’s that kind of golf course.”

  Country Club of
Detroit has hosted the Michigan Amateur five times, but four of those were
between 1908 and 1914 and the last was in 1929. The club also hosted the first
Michigan Women’s Amateur in 1914 and has been the site of that championship
five times as well with the last of those being in 1949.

  In more recent
years, GAM and USGA qualifiers administered by the GAM, have been held at the
club. Also, John D. Standish of the historic Standish golf family, a president
emeritus of the GAM, has been a long-time member, and he annually presents the
John D. Standish Award to standout Evans Scholars in Michigan.

   “It’s a great club
with great people, and the improvements to the course are outstanding,”
Sullivan said. “It’s going to be an exciting week.”

  As with all GAM championships spectators are
welcome and admission is free.

  The format calls for
18 holes of stroke play by the entire field on Tuesday and Wednesday to
determine the match play field of 64. Six rounds of match play, two each day
through Saturday afternoon, will determine a champion.


-Greg Johnson, [email protected],