Like the Island Itself, Belle Isle Golf Range is Making a Comeback.

Short Game Savvy

  •                 *Like the island itself, Belle Isle Golf Range is making a comeback.

       Michigan Women’s Golf Association president Francine Pegues is nothing if not thorough. The proposal she submitted to the State of Michigan last winter to oversee and manage the Belle Isle Golf Range was 40 pages long – which was about 35 pages longer than any of the other proposals the state received.

“I was very detailed,” says Pegues. “I outlined all of the programs I wanted to have here in addition to everything having to do with operation and maintenance of the facility.”


       Pegues has never managed a driving range or golf course before. But she has been around golf for most of her life and is a huge promoter of the City of Detroit. Being part of the Belle Isle refurbish and offering programs Pegues felt were much-needed in Metro Detroit was very appealing.

The Belle Isle Golf Range has a driving range, of course. There is also a large chip and putt area overlooking the Detroit River and a 5-hole mini course (the longest hole is 50 yards) where folks can perfect their short game.  Pegues has a mission to make golf less intimidating for beginning golfers and golfers who have been away from the game for a long time and also to remind more experienced golfers that practicing the short game is the best way to shave strokes of your total score.


       “I am hoping that when golfers come here and go through one of our instruction programs they will feel comfortable going out on a golf course,” says Pegues.


       The programs for beginning golfers at Belle Isle Golf Range often encompass more than golf instruction from PGA Professional Terry Anthony-Ryan. Golfers learn how to choose the right equipment and clothing; how to make a tee time; how to join GAM; what slope and rating really means.  

“We have a program for people who are learning to use golf for business,” says Pegues. “We talk about how to join GAM and explain to them why they want to join and why it is important to have a handicap. We also talk about how to look at the slope and rating for a golf course to figure out where you want to take your client golfing.”

       There are programs for disabled veterans, high school players, people who want to get in a lesson at lunch time, and her “5 for 5” program where five people can get five golf lessons as a group for $50 per person. If a new golfer does not own a set of golf clubs, Pegues has several new7-irons available for men and women.

       “I had a couple of ladies call me who had not played in quite a while,” says Pegues. “I told them if they could get five people together, I would set them up for a learn-to-golf program. One of the ladies called me on Monday and said ‘We’ve got six!’ So I think the learn-to-golf programs here have been the most successful.”

       The Hot Shot Tuesdays program gave golfers a lesson, a hot dog and a pop and was popular with folks working in the area.  Sip & Chip is a series of six different lessons for which golfers can sign up individually or for all six. Each lesson is focused on a different part of the game – putting, chipping, long irons, course management, etc. Afterwards golfers can relax with beer, wine and snacks.

       “We had a great response to that!” says Pegues. “I think that our programs are non-intimidating because we are in a group setting and in a relaxed atmosphere. The golfers see it in a nice, controlled venue. The driving range, the chipping and putting – folks can put it all together and when they leave here I’m hoping they will feel very comfortable going to a golf course.”

       There has never been a shortage of golfers who like to “grip it and rip it” and the driving range part of the Belle Isle Golf Range allows for all of the long-ball hitters to practice their drives.  But Pegues will gently try to steer those golfers to the chipping and putting area. Practicing the short game may not be as sexy, but that is where most of us can shave strokes from our score.

       “The golfers who use the chip and putt area tend to be more mature golfers who understand that is where you score.” says Pegues. “I will see the guys on the range who are hitting two or three buckets of balls and I will say to them ‘How was your game last weekend?’ and they will tell me they hit it really long. Then I will ask them how their overall score was and they acknowledge that they need some work there. It is the short game that is killing everybody’s score!”

Pegues really did not know what to expect when she started into this endeavor. She says that business has steadily increased since the beginning of the season and she is willing to try new programs that need the needs of her clientele.

       And as with any business there have been challenges. She has been getting some help from Associate Director of MSU’s Institute of Agricultural Technology Tom Smith who has offered some advice on maintaining the mini course. Although the Belle Isle Golf Range’s mini course has a working irrigation system, the water pressure is extremely low. The classic sand greens are dry and Smith is helping Pegues come up with solutions to keep those greens in good shape.

       “There is a water main break somewhere that is causing the water pressure to be low like this,” says Pegues. “It could be anywhere and so far I have not been able to find anyone at the city to really troubleshoot this for us. So we are using alternative methods to try and water these greens.”

Pegues stands inside her office at the Belle Isle Golf Range and points to a freighter passing slowly on the Detroit River. The BIGR is nestled at the north end of the island and is quite picturesque.

       “Look out there,” she says pointing at the river. “This is the greatest view. How can you not feel good when you come here and see that? “