GROSSE POINTE FARMS – Hosting the 66th U.S. Senior Amateur Championship was on, then off, then back on with weather and other challenges in the way, but the Country Club of Detroit didn’t waver in enthusiasm and effort to help make it happen.
The club, the course and the championship are drawing rave reviews this week as the championship unfolds leading to the final match Thursday.
“The club has been terrific to work with,” said Reese Moseley, championship manager for the USGA. “There were a lot of moving parts obviously with 2020 and the COVID-19 wrench thrown in, but we were delighted that it worked out to be able to reschedule the 2020 championship to 2021.”
The global pandemic and a Tennessee tornado in April 2020 resulted in the Senior Amateur being played at the Country Club of Detroit a year later than originally planned. The Grosse Pointe Farms classic golf course and original Golf Association of Michigan member was slated to host the Senior Amateur a year ago, but the 2020 championship was canceled in March of 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Disappointment in Detroit was quelled, however, when the previously announced 2021 site for the championship – The Honors Course in Ooltewah, Tenn. – suffered significant tornado damage in April 2020 and later notified the USGA that it would not be fully recovered in time to host the national championship.
The USGA made changes: The 2021 championship is at Country Club of Detroit, and The Honors Course will host the 2024 championship.
“All the plans were already there for 2020 so we put new dates on everything and the club has been fantastic,” Moseley said. “The Arnold Palmer connection is certainly terrific, too, and we've been delighted to be able to kind of throw that into everything as well.”
The legendary Palmer launched his historic career by winning the 1954 U.S. Amateur at the Country Club of Detroit giving it a unique place in golf history. The competitors this week were given a special replica pin given to Palmer the year he won, and they received a letter from Palmer’s granddaughter.
Kevin VandenBerg, the 2000 Michigan Amateur Champion, and former Mattawan resident who now lives in New York, made it to match play and said the club and the USGA treated everyone first class.
“It was nice to come back to Michigan,” he said. “I have a lot of friends here. The course, the facilities, the food, the people, the volunteers were super, so it was a great week.”
Jerry Gunthorpe of Ovid, with his son Nate as caddie, was making a run in match play, too.
“It’s really cool to have this in the state and show off the golf courses here,” he said. “A lot of these guys haven’t come here to play in Michigan before, but now they’re here and seeing a great course. Everything about the tournament has been just top-notch, too, the course, the club, everything.”
Tom Gieselman of Commerce Township was in match play, too. He said it was really special to play close to home with family and friends from his club (Oakland Hills Country Club) able to come over and cheer him on.
“It’s been really great, and I get to go home and cook a steak and then come back tomorrow,” he said. “Country Club of Detroit has been great, too. The number of volunteers is amazing. They have made this a great experience.”
George Forster, Jr., the director of golf at CC of Detroit, said players from across the country are excited to be in Detroit.
“And we were excited to show them our property and give them a look at what CCD has to offer,” he said. “We’ve had great feedback in terms of the clubhouse. I think they knew a great golf course was coming. I don’t think they understood what our facilities were going to be, and I think the USGA is pleased as well.”
Forster said the club took on all challenges, including almost 20 inches of rain since the end of June.
“Our superintendent (Ross Miller) has worked overtime – he usually works overtime in the summer – but this has been like four or five times more,” he said. “We had some areas were really hit hard with standing water. We had to do some reseeding. We had some bunkers washed out multiple times. The work they (grounds staff) have done over the last month has been tremendous.”
Forster said hosting started with the membership wanting to be part of it.
“We would never be able to do this if they weren’t willing to do so,” he said. “We’ve got a lot of great volunteer chairs that have stepped up to the plate. Our members are also being scorers and fore caddies during the week, so its nice to see familiar faces out there interacting with players and fans about the facilities. The players have been great, too, thanking the volunteers for their time. I think they understand what it takes to do this and doing this is something we can take pride in as a club.”
Mosley said Miller has been an unsung hero.
“The course has been in fantastic shape, phenomenal considering the amount of ran that has come own around here,” he said. “The USGA has been in communication with him and the club for a couple of months. We’ve had great communication, a great club and course with volunteers proud to be part of it. It’s worked out great.”
Photo Courtesy of USGA/Jeff Haynes