Marygrove College hosted the grand opening in early October for its new golf practice facility — a rare find in any urban environment across the country — on the east side of the campus along on McNichols (Six Mile Road) in Detroit.
The facility represents — and will cater to — so many facets of need: access to the game of golf for kids who can’t afford it otherwise, a home practice area for the newly-created men’s and women’s golf teams at the college, and foremost to the original impetus — a real grass site for the Midnight Golf Program.
Midnight Golf is a youth development organization supported in part by Marygrove College, the PGA of America, and numerous local teaching pros and mentors. The Midnight Golf program has grown to serve 140 high school students in metro Detroit this year. The empowerment and mentoring experience includes meetings each Monday and Wednesday for 30 weeks (starting in late September), teaching golf, life skills, and college preparedness via adult mentors from many walks of life. The program had to turn away an additional 200 students this year due to lack of space.
Over 350 past participants — mostly African-American kids — now attend 60 different colleges and universities at a rate of 97 percent.
So often inner-city programs like these sound cute and nice, but this one really works.
So when Midnight Golf reached a cross-road and needed to address the problem of transporting kids to outlying areas to get on real grass, world-renowned golf course designer Tom Doak of Traverse City was asked to donate his design services for the multi-use short game practice area situated on a 10-acre site that also integrates a new soccer field.
Detroit Mayor Dave Bing noted at the ceremonies that a golf facility in the heart of the city is a testament to the hope of the people of Detroit and what he envisions is an example of more things to come.
“It was an interesting design problem,” Doak said Monday, as part of the reason for helping. “How do you get the most golf out of what’s little more than five acres at a major urban intersection in Detroit? This is one of the most flexible projects we’ve ever tried to build, and it’s going to evolve over time.”
He added the amount of different overlapping practice areas made the challenge unique from massive designs he’s created like Bandon Dunes in Oregon, set along the Pacific Ocean. “To have a range, then you’re hitting over greens. You can also play holes through the range so at different times of day you can use it for different things,” he notes.
The new facility has four short holes, two practice tee areas with 26 hitting bays, and a large sand bunker and putting green. Other key components included sustainability — the limited use of fertilization (100 percent organic) and irrigation. Leading turf grass expert Tom Mead developed the grass plans to launch the new facility. Mead is widely known in the golf industry for his sustainable turf grass practices with work at such top courses as Sand Hills, Whistling Straits, and Pacific Dunes.
Two of Doak’s associates, Bruce Hepner and Brian Slawnik, grew up within 20 minutes of Marygrove College. While he was overseeing the work at the Country Club of Detroit in Grosse Pointe Farms, Slawnik used his spare time to pull together plans for the Marygrove facility.
A main message from Doak was his frustration that golf today doesn’t support youth enough in a bid to develop the next generation of golfers.
“The worst part of the golf business the last 20 years is everybody’s trying to make money off it now, and they don’t have time for junior golf programs,” he says. “There aren’t enough opportunities for kids to play — it costs too much for kids to play.”
The grand opening wouldn’t have been the same without Mayor Bing joking that if Doak needed it, he knew there was plenty of land available in the City of Detroit. Doak was next up to the podium, and in a less-joking reply, said he would love to talk about property in Detroit.
Hmmm — Detroit Dunes?