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Lean and Green

From his perch in Traverse City, Tom Doak has designed some of the most famous golf courses in the world. But his latest project is, in Detroit and , could serve as a model for renewing interest in a game that’s struggling to attract younger players.

Lean and Green
Tom Doak of Traverse City is among the leading golf course designers in the world.

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It’s a long way from West McNichols on Detroit’s west side to Oregon’s Pacific Coast, and even farther to the soaring cliffs of Hawke’s Bay in New Zealand, but thanks to Traverse City resident Tom Doak, these three disparate areas are linked through the game of golf.

Although he is little-known in Michigan, Doak is a superstar among golf course designers in this country and around the world. In a recent listing by Golf magazine of the 50 greatest golf courses built since 1960, three of Doak’s designs — Pacific Dunes at Bandon Dunes Resort in Oregon, Cape Kidnappers in New Zealand, and Barnbougle Dunes in Australia — were listed among the top five courses. Two other Doak designs made the top 25.

The growing list of accolades includes praise from Michigan, most recently for his work on a unique golf practice facility at Marygrove College on West McNichols. Last summer, while rebuilding the tee boxes and greens at the famed Country Club of Detroit in Grosse Pointe Farms, Doak and two members of his Renaissance Golf Design firm donated their services and created the practice facility, now the permanent home of the Midnight Golf program and the Marygrove golf team. In addition to four holes, there are two practice tee areas with 26 hitting bays, a large sand bunker, and a putting green.

Detroiter Reneé Faulker, a single mother concerned about the dangers of youth violence, founded Midnight Golf 10 years ago. The after-school motivational and mentoring program uses the game of golf to inspire inner-city kids to strive for academic and personal achievement.

Youngsters sign up for 30-week sessions during which volunteers conduct workshops that focus on topics such as college prep and scholarship counseling, life skills, financial responsibility, and the ins and outs of corporate culture. Local PGA professionals donate their time teaching the game, while the PGA of America, the United States Golf Association, and local corporations provide financial support.

Of 425 students who have completed the Midnight Golf program since 2001, 83 percent went on to college. Although Marygrove officials like program director David Gamlin admittedly didn’t know Doak when he stepped forward to design the practice facility, the architect has since made a lasting impression. “The kids now have their own place, and no longer have to struggle to get out to the suburbs for practice,” Gamlin says.

For Doak and his team, the effort was merely a neat way to give back to the game they revere — a game they fear is becoming prohibitive for less-affluent kids.

“All of my associates and I grew up playing public golf courses in towns where junior golf was affordable and close at hand,” Doak says. “If it wasn’t for that, we might never have found this work we love to do. Being involved with Midnight Golf was just the icing on the cake for us.”

The program has since been replicated in south Florida, and other regions of the country are looking to develop their own Midnight Golf curriculum.

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