Fore Play

A bright spot in the region’s economy has been the outdoor recreational sector, especially among private clubs, as the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic that began in March encouraged more people to golf, swim, sail, boat, play tennis, race cars, and dine on patios and in courtyards.
M1 Concourse rendering
Vroom Room: M1 Concourse in Pontiac offers private garages to car owners and businesses, a 1.5-mile track, and next year, a motor-sports-themed restaurant and event center. // Photo courtesy of M1 Concourse

While private clubs were closed for three months and construction upgrades were delayed six weeks or longer following the breakout of the coronavirus in March, member patronage and facility upgrades have come roaring back since June.

As the winter sets in, though, country clubs and other member-based facilities will be hard-pressed to meet or exceed the summer and fall rush. At the same time, renovation and expansion projects at private clubs have been widespread over the past several years due to the booming economy, especially since the start of 2019.

The result is that some of metro Detroit’s most recognized and prestigious institutions aren’t letting a pandemic slow them down.

Like a drive off the first tee, the start of the comeback started with golf courses. Peter Swick, general manager of Orchard Lake Country Club in Orchard Lake Village, says golf, which saw rounds played grow by 22 percent in 2020, is just one of the activities that’s up significantly this year despite the pandemic. “People are working nontraditional hours, so you can start the workday earlier and get away from home more readily by mid-afternoon,” Swick says. “I attribute most of it to these nontraditional hours people are working.”

Although golf was initially restricted when the COVID-19 lockdowns started, it quickly became a go-to activity for many looking to be outdoors — especially those with club memberships. “Golf is a fairly safe sport for social distancing,” Swick says. “People are cooped up at home, not going on vacation. So they play golf.”

But not just golf. Swick says activities such as sailing, tennis, and swimming also were on the upswing over the summer and fall. The only exception has been banquet activity, since clubs haven’t been able to host indoor gatherings of more than 10 people and couldn’t host outdoor gatherings with more than 100 people.

The uptick in activity complements the recent completion of $7.1 million in upgrades to Orchard Lake Country Club’s facilities. “We did clubhouse renovations as well as the lake house, and we did all the kitchens,” Swick says. “A few years ago, we redid the golf course.”

The improvements included new furniture and carpeting throughout the clubhouse, along with a new HVAC system. Members overwhelmingly approved the improvements. “We had 90-plus percent support for the renovations,” Swick says, “and post-renovation we’ve been bringing in tons of members, and we’re at capacity for our golf memberships.”

Steve Brady, director of golf instruction at Oakland Hills Country Club in Bloomfield Township, says golf rounds on the North Course have exceeded the pace of recent years, due in part to ongoing work on the famed South Course. “We didn’t allow any play for a period of time,” Brady says. “Then, over time, we allowed walking only — no carts — and after that we allowed carts.”

The recent golf  boom couldn’t have happened without adding some extraordinary safety measures. “We sanitize the carts,” Brady says. “We don’t allow the first tee staff to handle the clubs. The members bring their clubs in, we sanitize everything, and our entire staff wears masks.”

The driving range also reopened, although hitting stations are spread farther apart. Improvements to the South Course, which is expected to be completed this fall and reopened in July 2021, involve five elements: Rebuilding and expanding all 18 greens, widening the fairways, rebuilding the bunkers and adding more sand, removing older trees that were unhealthy, and relocating the third and seventh greens. The total cost of the work is $12 million.

Detroit Athletic Club pool
Liquid Temple: The Detroit Athletic Club is renovating its fourth-floor pool and neighboring gymnasium. // Photo courtesy of Detroit Athletic Club

“It sounds like a lot of money, and it is,” Brady says, “but a lot of this work would have to have been done down the road, anyway. There’s all new drainage and irrigation, and that would have had to be replaced in five, 10, or 15 years. The bunkers would have had to be rebuilt. So the membership said, let’s go ahead and get it done.”

One element of the improved South Course is the use of the Precision Aire system, where a series of underground vaults vacuum out moisture at a higher rate than more traditional gravity drainage systems. It can also blow warm or cold air into the turf, depending on the weather.

In turn, the greens will be replanted with bentgrass, which is firmer and plays faster throughout the year. “We’ll have the best green turfgrass anywhere in the world,” Brady says. He says Oakland Hills took the unusual step of staying open on Mondays this summer to accommodate all the demand.

Of course, not every high-end recreational facility is outdoors, and some have taken more of a hit from COVID-19 than others. Yet that can also provide opportunities. The Detroit Athletic Club’s Albert Kahn-designed clubhouse, which was built in 1915 and is located at Madison Avenue and Randolph Street, undergoes regular maintenance to keep up its original appearance, as well as the strength and integrity of the facility.

Some of the work done in 2020 wasn’t particularly visible, yet the temporary slowdown in member usage while lockdown orders were in place proved to be fortuitous. The DAC upgraded its HVAC and fire suppression system on the fourth floor, where its pool and gymnasium are located. The work in the natatorium included the restoration of a barrel-vaulted ceiling.

Charles Johnson, executive manager of the club, says the shutdown made the process easier. “Because of the executive orders of the governor’s office, our indoor athletic facilities weren’t operating,” Johnson says. “If you’re looking for a silver lining, this would be a silver lining.”

The work in the natatorium is expected to be completed by the start of the holiday season. “It’s something (members) expect for us to continue to update and maintain,” Johnson says. “To keep the beauty of the facility here is what they expect. The DAC has a long history of these renovations. We maintain this 1915 building as (close) as we can to what Albert Kahn designed.”

The clubhouse at the Detroit Golf Club, also designed by Kahn, is nearing the completion of a $4.5-million renovation that began in 2018. It marked the facility’s first upgrade in 20 years.

All told, the Detroit Golf Club is renovating 10,800 square feet of interior space and 12,600 square feet of exterior space, with a new pro shop and dining room, along with improvements to the existing patio and façade.

Eventually, the Detroit Golf Club expects to complete $9 million worth of renovations to the clubhouse. The golf course also has undergone a major renovation, spurred in large part by the annual Rocket Mortgage Classic professional golf tournament. The improvements began in 2014, when all north course bunkers were restored and 18 new tees were added. In 2018, the north course renovation was complete with the addition of six tournament tees to add length for the Rocket Mortgage Classic.

Meadowbrook Country Club golf course
Paying Dividends: A $5.9-million renovation of Meadowbrook Country Club in Northville Township was honored by the American Society of Golf Course Architects. // Photo courtesy of Meadowbrook Country Club

Meanwhile, the Detroit Golf Club added 30 bunkers to its south course in 2016 to restore the original Donald Ross design.

Derek Jacques, COO at the Detroit Golf Club, says the emphasis now is on very intense course maintenance, at the direction of new course superintendent Jake Mendoza. “It’s not just poking holes in greens like some places do,” Jacques says. “This is a thorough, comprehensive process. We involve four different fertilizers, we fill all the holes with sand — a special sand we put in — we top-dress, we brush that in, and we roll and cut it in.”

A four-day process, the improvements allow for better drainage after a heavy rain. “Jake Mendoza brought a lot of knowledge with him, a lot of application processes, and we’ve employed some of these and realized what a great process it is,” Jacques says.

Like other area clubs, Jacques says the Detroit Golf Club has seen a pronounced increase in rounds played during the pandemic, but it’s very much been a matter of feast or famine. “Nothing has stayed down the middle,” he notes. “We’re significantly up in the number of rounds played, both guest rounds and member rounds, and we’ve seen people spend more time at the club, using it as their staycation area. But the banquet business has been just the opposite, with the executive orders. It’s just fallen off the map.”

The challenge in the banquet business hasn’t come without some triumphs. The Detroit Golf Club was originally supposed to host a summer wedding with 200 guests on its back lawn. With the governor’s orders restricting gatherings, it had to be reduced to 30 people and held on the front lawn. “And the people loved it,” Jacques says.

The pandemic has also introduced some best practices that Jacques expects to continue over the long term, including the requirement for members to make pool reservations.

“We never took pool reservations before, and the pool was jam-packed,” Jacques says. “It still is (popular), but when you have reservations, people show up knowing they’re going to have their favorite lounge chairs and their space. Before, people would show up and they didn’t know for sure. With reservations, it’s a little more limited, but it’s a better experience for members.”

At Meadowbrook Country Club in Northville Township, investing $11.3 million in upgrades didn’t come from a position of strength. It was a gamble designed to improve the club’s fortunes.

“The club was struggling and they rolled the dice to infuse it with capital,” says Mike Rodzen, Meadowbrook’s general manager. “It worked out well. We’ve filled our membership now, and our membership wasn’t full prior to doing that.”

The improvements at Meadowbrook, which were completed in 2017, included a $5.3 million golf course renovation, in addition to upgrades of the kitchen, youth room, pool locker rooms, tennis deck, patio work, and more.

Pine Lake Country Club
Lakefront Lounge: Pine Lake Country Club in Orchard Lake Village added a Lake Room and Rooftop Deck. // Photo courtesy of Pine Lake Country Club

Beyond golf and athletic clubs, M1 Concourse in Pontiac, an 87-acre playground for auto enthusiasts that offers 250 private garages and a 1.5-mile performance track, along with other amenities, is working through a $50-million improvement plan. “There was a need for a first-rate, world-class facility that could host the type of entertainment and marketing activities that we do,” says Jordon Zlotoff, CEO at M1 Concourse.

The facility recently broke ground on a 28,000-square-foot restaurant and event center  that will host a variety of corporate events, vehicle reveals, training, ride-and-drives, team-building activities, and hospitality events.

Prior to the improvements, M1 Concourse hosted such events in outdoor tents, but soon after operations began in 2016, new elements have been part of the plan. “We decided on this concept roughly three years ago, and started working out the interior design and the overall design of the building,” Zlotoff says. “It took close to three years to get all the administrative approvals so we could break ground on a piece of it.”

Engaging in such an ambitious buildout during a global pandemic prompted some questions, but Zlotoff says the move was based on confidence that the world will emerge from the crisis.

“We certainly considered it during the height of COVID-19,” Zlotoff says. “Everyone was questioning what the world was going to look like. Once it became clear we would come out of this eventually, that we’re going to see the other side of this at some point, there was no reason to hold up the construction.”

The next phase of development will include four garage buildings offering a total of 82 new units, as well as the event center and restaurant complex. That phase is expected to cost $35 million and be completed in September 2021.

While some members may be concerned about taking on long-term debt to finance club upgrade and expansion projects, keep in mind private clubs are run by people who have their fingers on the pulse of the area’s economy. Their members are decision-makers at some of the area’s largest companies and up-and-coming entrepreneurial firms.

Club management personnel share a common expectation that the pandemic restrictions will be a short-term experience for southeast Michigan — and, presumably, everywhere. A willingness to invest in club facilities indicates a solid expectation that the area’s economy has the necessary underpinnings to come back strong from the scourge of 2020.

In the meantime, it doesn’t hurt when golf rounds and other activities are up, if only because taking advantage of a country club membership is the closest thing people can experience to a real vacation in this strangest of years.

And when things get back to “normal,” whatever that ultimately looks like, upgraded courses, clubhouses, and other facilities will be ready and waiting — with those who made them happen expecting a solid return on their investment.

Club Life

A resource guide to the top private clubs in southeast Michigan.

Barton Hills Country Club
730 Country Club Rd.
Ann Arbor
Members: 500 (estimate)
Initiation fee: NA
Monthly fee: NA
Offerings: Signature Donald Ross golf course; tennis courts; fitness center; newly renovated dining room, wine bar, and resort-style pool complex with an outdoor pavilion

Birmingham Athletic Club
4033 W. Maple Rd.
Bloomfield Township
Members: NA
Initiation fee: NA
Monthly fee: NA
Offerings: Indoor and outdoor dining, two pools, tennis, squash, paddle tennis, pickleball, fitness center

Birmingham Country Club
1750 Saxon Dr.
Members: NA
Initiation fee: NA
Monthly fee: NA
Offerings: 18-hole golf course, pool, tennis, fitness facilities, indoor and outdoor dining

Bloomfield Hills Country Club
350 W. Long Lake Rd.
Bloomfield Hills
Members: NA
Initiation fee: NA
Monthly fee: NA
Offerings: Golf

Bloomfield Open Hunt
405 E. Long Lake Rd.
Bloomfield Hills
Members: Contact for information
Initiation fee: Contact for information
Monthly fee: Contact for information
Offerings: Dining room, swimming pool, fitness studio and yoga center, indoor and outdoor tennis, platform tennis, stables, indoor and outdoor equestrian facilities, kids activity center

Country Club of Detroit
220 Country Club Dr.
Grosse Pointe Farms
Members: NA
Initiation fee: NA
Monthly fee: NA
Offerings: 18-hole golf club, indoor and outdoor dining, tennis, paddle tennis, pool, bowling, fitness center, children’s day camp, guest rooms, dog park

Dearborn Country Club
800 N. Military
Members: NA
Initiation fee: NA
Monthly fee: NA
Offerings: Golf, swimming, fitness, dining, banquet facilities, junior golf, swim team

Detroit Athletic Club
241 Madison St.
Membership contact:
Members: NA
Initiation fee: Multiple offerings
Monthly fee: Based on age
Offerings: Albert Kahn-designed clubhouse built in 1915 and fully restored offers full-service athletic facilities, pool, restaurants, ballrooms, meeting rooms, guest rooms, bowling alley, salon, pavilion, named No. 1 Athletic Club in the country

Detroit Golf Club
17911 Hamilton Rd.
Members: NA
Initiation fee: Available upon membership inquiry
Monthly fee: Available upon membership inquiry
Offerings: Two 18-hole golf courses, clubhouse, three dining venues, swimming pool, tennis courts, fitness center

Detroit Yacht Club
One Riverbank Rd., Belle Isle
Members: More than 800; less than half are boating members
Initiation fee: $1,000 for active members, $2,000 for boating active members
Monthly fee: $380 for active members, $420 for boating active members
Offerings: Restaurant and bar, outdoor and indoor pools, swim team, adult and junior sailing, kayaking, tennis courts, social activities, more than 300 boat slips for boating members

Edgewood Country Club
8399 Commerce Rd.
Commerce Township
Members: NA
Initiation fee: NA
Monthly fee: NA
Offerings: 18-hole golf course, casual and fine dining, outdoor pool, fitness center, massage therapist

Franklin Hills Country Club
31675 Inkster Rd.
Members: NA
Initiation fee: NA
Monthly fee: NA
Offerings: Golf, tennis, swimming, banquet space, dining room

Great Oaks Country Club
777 Great Oaks Blvd.
Rochester Hills
Members: 405
Initiation fee: $10,000
Monthly fee: $626
Offerings: 18-hole golf course; driving range; clubhouse with two dining rooms, two outdoor dining patios, and full banquet facility; three tennis courts; pool with cabana bar, kitchen, and splash pad; youth programs; club events; social events

Grosse Ile Golf & Country Club
9339 Bellevue
Grosse Ile
Members: 500+
Initiation fee: Starts as low as $1,000, depending on type of membership and age
Monthly fee: Starts as low as $69, depending on type of membership and age
Offerings: Donald Ross-designed 18-hole golf course; two full-service dining rooms; swimming pool; GIGCC swim team; clay and hard surface tennis courts featuring adult and youth leagues, individual instruction, and professional tennis staff; social events year-round for all ages

Grosse Pointe Yacht Club
788 Lake Shore Rd.
Grosse Pointe Shores
Members: 770
Initiation fee: Active (boating) $12,500; social $5,000
Monthly fee: Active (boating) $683; social $554
Offerings: Named a Platinum Club of the World; three dining rooms with views of Lake St. Clair; ballroom and main dining room with Italian architecture perfect for weddings, special occasions, or corporate events; fitness center; Olympic-size pool, bowling recreation center, and a family activity center; 2,440-square-foot Marine Activity Center with sailing, watersports, and boat rentals

Indianwood Golf & Country Club
1081 Indianwood Rd.
Lake Orion
Members: 500+
Initiation fee: Class A Membership NA, Class B Membership $2,999, Family Fitness Membership $1,500, Social/Pool Family Membership $750
Monthly fee: Class A Membership NA, Class B Membership $130, Family Fitness Membership $130, Social/Pool Family Membership $130
Offerings: 18-hole New and Old golf courses, driving range, Junior Golf Program for children, clubhouse, dining areas including Pipers Pub and Men’s Grill, health club, variety of club and social events




Knollwood Country Club
5050 West Maple Rd.
West Bloomfield Township
Members: NA
Initiation fee: NA
Monthly fee: NA
Offerings: 18-hole golf course; four Har-Tru clay tennis courts; aquatics facility with locker rooms, snack bar, and outdoor dining; 55,000-square-foot clubhouse; fitness center; golf simulator studio; banquet space for 400 people; Troon Privé – Private Clubs of Distinction; member golfing privileges at Troon-managed clubs, resorts, and courses throughout the world

Lochmoor Club
1018 Sunningdale Dr.
Grosse Pointe Woods
Members: 691
Initiation fee: Interim Golf $3,000; social (21-34) $500; social (35+) $1,352
Monthly fee: Interim Golf $595; social (21-34) $200; social (35+) $295
Offerings: 18-hole golf course, men and women’s golf leagues, creative pop-up dining events and seasonal menus, summer patio bar and outdoor dining, wine club that features wine tastings/dinners, swim team for children, tennis programs, junior sports such as golf and tennis, year-round tennis facility, babysitting services, fitness center

M1 Concourse
1 Concourse Dr.
Members: 150
Initiation fee: $20,000
Monthly fee: $3,950
Offerings: Seven hours of track time per week; use of M1 Fleet Vehicles such as Dodge Hellcats and Lexus Performance Coupes; instruction provided by high-level driving instructors, including notable racers such as Johnny O’Connell; autocross competitions; guest events for friends/family of Members to Drive; exclusive social events

Meadowbrook Country Club
40941 W. Eight Mile Rd.
Northville Township
Members: NA
Initiation fee: NA
Monthly fee: NA
Offerings: 18-hole golf course; 25-meter pool, lap pool, and wading pool; fountain and wading pool for little ones; private tennis programs led by Wayne Jackson; tennis events, lessons, and tournaments; indoor and outdoor dining options

Oakhurst Golf & Country Club
7000 Oakhurst Lane
Members: NA
Initiation fee: NA
Monthly fee: NA
Offerings: 18-hole golf course, six tennis courts with USPTA pro available for clinics or private lessons, executive chef, cabana bar, junior Olympic-size resort-style pool, 1,600-square-foot fitness center, variety of social functions

Oakland Hills Country Club
3951 West Maple Rd.
Bloomfield Hills
Members: NA
Initiation fee: NA
Monthly fee: NA
Offerings: South and North 18-hole golf courses, tennis, swimming, Albert Kahn-designed clubhouse

Orchard Lake Country Club
5000 West Shore Dr.
Orchard Lake Village
Members: 650
Initiation fee: NA
Monthly fee: NA
Offerings: 18-hole golf course and driving range; six-tiered clay tennis courts and four platform tennis courts; seasonal menus prepared by award-winning chefs; lakefront dining; ballroom for wedding celebrations; racquet classes, competitions, and tournament training for all ages; personal training and group fitness programs; sailing clinics and swim lessons for children

Paint Creek Country Club
2375 Stanton Rd.
Lake Orion
Members: NA
Annual fees: $99 to $4,750
Offerings: Golf course, fitness center, pool, 20,000-square-foot clubhouse, 300-seat dining room

Pine Lake Country Club
3300 Pine Lake Rd.
Orchard Lake  Village
Members: NA
Initiation fee: NA
Monthly fee: NA
Offerings: Golf course, indoor and outdoor tennis courts, Olympic-size pool, fitness center, clubhouse, dining room, grill

Plum Hollow Country Club
21631 Lahser Rd.
Members: 400
Initiation fee: NA
Monthly fee: NA
Offerings: Golf course, caddie program, three Har-Tru clay tennis courts, Olympic-size pool

Polo Fields Golf & Country Club
5200 Polo Fields Dr.
Ann Arbor
Members: NA
Initiation fee: NA
Monthly fee: NA
Offerings: Golf course, clubhouse, dining, pool, lounge area, snack bar

Red Run Country Club
2036 Rochester Rd.
Royal Oak
Members: 635 families
Initiation fee: $3,500 (social), $15,000 (golf)
Monthly fee: $331 (social), $755 (golf)
Offerings: Golf course, Olympic-size pool, indoor and outdoor tennis courts, fitness center, indoor golf practice area, bowling  leagues

Shenandoah Country Club
5600 Walnut Lake Rd.
West Bloomfield Township
Members: NA
Initiation fee: NA
Monthly fee: NA
Offerings: Golf course (open to public), clubhouse, dining, partitionable 11,336-square-foot banquet room, two pre-function areas, 4,000-square-foot outdoor terrace

Tam-O-Shanter Country Club
5051 Orchard Lake Rd.
West Bloomfield Township
Members: NA
Initiation fee: NA
Monthly fee: NA
Offerings: Golf course, clubhouse, dining, four hydro-clay and two hard-surface tennis courts, Olympic-size pool, fitness center, banquet facilities, youth programs

Wabeek Club
4000 Clubgate Dr.
Bloomfield Township
Members: NA
Initiation fee: NA
Monthly fee: NA
Offerings: Golf course designed by Jack Nicklaus and Pete Dye, clubhouse, formal and casual dining, pool, tennis, fitness center, spa, banquet and event space

Western Golf & Country Club
14600 Kinloch
Redford Township
Members: 400
Initiation fee: NA
Monthly fee: NA
Offerings: Donald Ross-designed golf course, clubhouse rebuilt after 2018 fire, dining, pool, tennis, snack bar

Wyndgate Country Club
1975 W. Gunn Rd.
Rochester Hills
Members: NA
Initiation fee: NA
Monthly fee: NA
Offerings: Two 18-hole golf courses, clubhouse, gardens, banquet and event facilities