While “classic” may be in this tournament’s name, there certainly is not much history and lore to be had for this week’s event. What once was a tournament hosted by the Tiger Woods Foundation in the Washington D.C. area has moved west to the Detroit Golf Club for the inaugural Rocket Mortgage Classic.
Anytime a golf course hosts its first PGA Tournament, handicapping how the event will go is quite a challenge. Here’s everything there is to know about the Detroit Golf Club before placing any wagers on this week’s event.
There’s a few big names at Detroit Golf Club this week that’ll certainly draw big galleries. Highlighting the field is Quicken Loans poster boy Rickie Fowler, who stars in many Rocket Mortgage commercials and has been a mainstay at this tournament going back to when it was played in Washington, D.C. Joining him is Dustin Johnson, Bubba Watson, Hideki Matsuyama, Patrick Reed and 2019 U.S. Open champion Gary Woodland.
Unfortunately, the star power after these guys drops off considerably. It’s primarily because the European Tour is starting to enter its meatier portion of their schedule, and many bigger named Europeans are now shifting their priorities back across the Atlantic to play in the events leading up to the Open Championship.
The silver lining to a top heavy field is that it provides an opportunity for players trying to make a name for themselves on the PGA Tour to card a solid finish and gather as many FedEx Points as they can. Many players in the field this week are outside the Top 125 in the FedEx Cup Standings, and with the end of the regular season quickly approaching time is running out for those on the fringe to secure their PGA Tour card for next year.
Given the tournament is at a new golf course and many of the bigger names have their sights on bigger fish, we may very well see a surprise winner whose career will change in an instant.
The Golf Course
The Detroit Golf Club is a private club that was originally built in 1899 by William Farrand. The golf course was originally a 6 hole design, expanding to 9 holes a year later after additional property was acquired.
In 1913, the legendary Donald Ross was brought in to survey the land and determine what else could be done to expand the golf course. He determined that with an additional land purchase there was enough room to design and build a full 36 hole layout. From there, the North Course and the South Course was born from his creation.
Many golf courses around the country claim to be a Donald Ross design, however his signature style is often lost after either from years of neglect or significant alterations from modern architects. The Detroit Golf Club, however, is as close to a traditional classic Donald Ross design as they come:
When you think of the prototypical Ross design, the first thoughts should be narrow, tree-lined fairways flanked by lush rough and small, circular back-to-front sloping greens fortified by bunkers on either side. It’s a very popular template for most parkland golf courses in the Untied States, and Detroit Golf Club is a textbook example of this classic Donald Ross design.
If anything, it’s almost too classic. There’s not a lot of variation in tee-to-green direction over the golf course, it’s a very flat piece of property and many holes are of the same cookie cutter template. Most holes either run north to south or south to north with only very slight doglegs. From a viewer standpoint, the coverage might be a little bland because it will feel like the players are playing the same hole over, and over, and over.
For this tournament, the North Course is primarily used with a few slight alterations to the routing. The course recently underwent a renovation to lengthen the yardage on the scorecard in order to accommodate the best players in the world. The North Course had run under 7,000 yards, however for the Rocket Mortgage Classic the yardage will be just over 7,300. In addition, the opening hole will be played down the North Course 8th, with the 2nd played on the 9th and the 3rd hole played on the South Course 1st hole.
From there, the traditional 2nd hole on the North Course has been lengthened to a 675 yard Par 5 4th hole, with trees cut down and a south course tee box used for tournament play. The rest of the front nine will then be played on the traditional 3rd-7th holes of the North Course.
The back nine plays to the traditional North Course routing, and the prime area for spectators will be the around the 14th and 15th holes. From this area, spectators can watch players play almost all the holes from 14-18, and the tournament directors are looking to treat this area of the golf course as their very own “Amen Corner.”
When I say this is a brand new golf course for the professional circuit, I’m not just talking about recent history. The only prominent tournament that has ever been played at Detroit Golf Club is the 1992 USGA Mid-Am. I’m not totally sure, but I’m going to venture to guess that they weren’t keeping track of any Strokes Gained statistics from that event that bettors can mine and use to determine who the contenders will be.
There are a few clues to the layout of the golf course that bettors can utilize. Almost all fairways are between 30-35 yards wide, which won’t entirely make the golf course claustrophobic but accuracy off the tee will still be important. There’s almost no way to take aggressive lines off the tee to carry over the tall trees that flank each fairway, and anyone who leaves their tee shot into the woods will have to hit a low punch into the green for their second. That’s not exactly a winning strategy this week.
Is a guy like Dustin Johnson capable of hitting towering drives dead straight over and over and run away with the title – of course! We’ve seen him win twice at Club Chapultepec, which is another golf course with very tight corridors to navigate around. However, DJ won’t have the benefit of playing at 6,000 feet above sea level to hit 370 yard drives all week regardless of where it goes. There he didn’t care if he had to chip out to the green because he was right next to it anyways. For the most part, this will be a less-than-driver week for most players, meaning a lot of fairway metals, hybrids and driving irons off the tee. The field overall will be hitting a lot of fairways, meaning that the approach game will be the most vital statistic to take a look at this week.
As far as what types of distances into greens the players will have, most approach shots this week should come between 125-175 yards. With players likely laying back a bit off the tee, most players should be hitting mid irons into the small greens all week. Approach shots 200+ yards will also be required of the players, however two of the Par 5’s are likely three shot holes due to length and the positioning of water hazards on them.
Lastly, the classic course design means relatively narrow targets into small greens that the players will hit into. There aren’t any closely mown areas behind the green that players will have to contend with, therefore scrambling out of bunkers and the rough will be important this week. The field Greens in Regulation % will likely be below average for the typical PGA Tour stop, meaning everyone should have their short game tested at various points in each round.