One of a trio of courses on an island approximately 15 miles south of Detroit’s Hart Plaza, Grosse Ile Golf & Country Club is a 1920 Donald Ross design born from the Grosse Ile Casino Association. The principle founder of the club was John Kelsey, a summer resident of the island and founder of the Kelsey Wheel Company in nearby Windsor, Canada, just south of Detroit. The original Ross routing remains intact, but the hole numbers have changed to accommodate the rebuilding of the clubhouse after a fire in 1947. The fire also necessitated selling off land to the immediate west side of Meridian. Ross had planned nine additional holes for this section of the property which were never built. The new course sequence left five holes and the house on the north side of Bellevue Rd and thirteen holes on the south side.
Requiring two years to construct, much of the course essentially required capping with a mix of loam, cinders and sand. The property features mainly plateau greens with two valleys running north south through the course. Ross is most famous as a master of using the best elements of the given terrain to their full potential and creating challenging greens. In these regards, Grosse Ile is no exception. The valleys are expertly used to create much of the interest for tee to green play. Additionally, the greens are nothing short of outstanding. Some feature sobering internal contours with ridges and pimples and some emphasize severe back to front slopes leading to fall-away fronts which feed back down to valley floors. Indeed, given modern green speeds, the 9th and 10th were deemed a bit unruly and their fronts were raised. Without exception, all of Grosse Ile’s greens are full of interest and intrigue.
While Grosse Ile is overwhelmingly about serving its members first and foremost, the club has hosted a few prestigious events. Among these were the 66th Western Amateur Golf Championship played during a torrid August heat wave in 1968. That tournament attracted 180 of the nation's finest amateur players and was won by Rik Massengale of Texas, who soon after joined the PGA tour. The club also hosted the Michigan Amateur in 2004. Given his experience with the greens, it was not a great surprise that Grosse Ile member Jeff Cuzzort took home the trophy. Shortly thereafter, Mr Cuzzort turned professional. However, the club can be proudest for hosting Michigan's oldest Invitational. Originated in 1937, The Grosse Ile Invitational can number several famous golfers among its competitors; these include Arnold Palmer, Chuck Kocsis (first winner), Chick Harbert, Walter Burkemo and Frank Stranahan. No mention of the Invitational or the club can be made without discussing Glenn Johnson. Johnson partnered four separate golfers in winning the Invitational five times during three decades. This, however, is only a mere sampling of his exploits. Fifteen-time club champion, Johnson also won the Michigan Amateur on five occasions. In later years he went to have a successful senior career including the low amateur honours at the 1981 US Senior Open held as Oakland Hills.
There are several holes of note with the 5th to the 7th being the cream of the front nine. The medium length two-shot 5th turns slightly left and plays over two valleys. The green is one of the more outlandish on the course as a hump back splits the green in two. Though not as daring as the 5th, the short 6th also features a hump back green. The longish par four 7th doglegs left between sentinel trees. The green is at grade level, but quite undulating.
The 10th is perhaps Grosse Ile’s finest hole. The drive looks innocent enough until one reaches the 150-yard marker. From here the fairway dives through a valley then climbs to meet a plateau green stepped into a gently rising hill. The green is diabolically sloped back to the fairway and contains many undulations which play an essential role when putting. The 14th is another cracking hole. Playing through a valley, a lone oak guards the left flank of the fairway on this medium length par four. Once again, the green rests on a plateau and when putting it is essential to take note of the land movement. Somewhat unusually, the course finishes with a stern, rollercoaster 235-yarder, capping off an excellent set of short holes.
Notwithstanding the need to remove some trees, relocate cart paths and most importantly, develop an entirely new bunker scheme, the club has successfully retained the bones of an outstanding original Ross design. Due to a wonderful set of greens the club rightly enjoys a substantial reputation in Michigan; however, the routing too is of high quality. Grosse Ile is comfortably one of the better courses in the Detroit area and if one finds oneself in the area, you should strongly consider a sending a letter of introduction in the hope of obtaining permission to play this gem. Article kindly supplied and written by Sean Arble.