For purists who hate seeing golf courses plowed under to make way for multimillion-dollar housing developments, a demolition in Royal Oak offers at least a modicum of good news. Although the city’s longtime Normandy Oaks Golf Club was sold for $3.9 million two years ago to Robertson Brothers Homes, the greens on the nine-hole course are still alive and living well at four area golf clubs.
Instead of allowing the Normandy Oaks greens to be run over by bulldozers, Joe Spatafore, who managed the course for Royal Oak, and Doug Melton, the veteran golf course superintendent whose tender care gave the municipal greens private-club quality, offered the putting surfaces for sale.
“We put out feelers in the industry, mostly through the superintendent’s network, and we had a great response,” Spatafore says. The takers: Detroit Golf Club in Detroit, Wabeek Country Club in Bloomfield Township, Shenandoah Country Club in West Bloomfield Township, and Pine Trace Golf Club in Troy.
The sale of the greens, which collectively measured 35,000 square feet of manicured grass, along with the sprinklers, brought in close to $13,000 for the city. That the greens were so highly coveted is a tribute to Melton, who Spatafore hired four years ago to maintain not only Normandy Oaks, but the nearby Royal Oak Golf Club, as well.
With 48 years of tending to golf courses, Melton, 63, says he was ready for the less-demanding job of handling two nine-hole municipal courses. “I spent 32 years at Shenandoah and I was just tired and burned out,” he says.
With a fraction of the big maintenance budget he was used to, Melton has to be creative. When rain is imminent, he quickly gets on the course and applies fertilizers where needed so that rain water, not city water, soaks in the product. He also waters the greens by hand. “I look after them every day like you do your kids, figuring out what they need today,” he says.
Mike Bylen, managing partner at Pine Trace, says it was an unusual set of circumstances that resulted in his buying four of the Normandy Oak greens. “The winter of 2013-14 was very harsh and caused a lot of damage to our greens,” he says. “They hadn’t recovered by 2015, and we were in need of quality greens — so to find it right down the road was very fortuitous.”
Melton’s greens seemingly never missed a putt. When the time came for the move, the transfer of sod from one green to another was a delicate operation of speed and timing.
Early in the morning, Pine Trace superintendent Matthew Kraemer and his staff would cut out one section of a damaged green, remove it, and then race over to Normandy Oaks with their sod cutter and precisely cut an identical section of the green. Then, they quickly returned to Troy for the replanting process.
“Some people like to save trees, (but) not many think of grass that way. We were happy to have (it),” Bylen says.