Some residents in the upscale Detroit Golf Club community say they annual preparations for the Rocket Mortgage Classic has grown too intrusive for the neighborhood known for privacy, peace and quiet. (BridgeDetroit photo by Malachi Barrett)

By Malachi Barrett

LaDonna Reynolds feels like her dream home on the edge of an idyllic Detroit golf course has been turned into a dumping ground. 

Reynolds restored a historic home in the southeast corner of the Detroit Golf Club, where peace and quiet are regarded as good etiquette. For months, nearly every morning – at 7 a.m. sharp – Reynolds said she starts her day to the sound of heavy machines clapping outside her bedroom window. Piles of wood, metal frames, plastic chairs, shipping containers and other materials have been stacked high behind her backyard fence. 

It’s all in preparation for the Rocket Mortgage Classic, Detroit’s first and only stop on the Professional Golfers’ Association tour. The Detroit tournament is considered unique among the PGA Tour for being in an urban setting within a predominantly Black city. Last year, the PGA created an invitational for Black golfers – who traditionally have faced barriers to entering exclusive spaces in country clubs and golf courses – named after America’s first Black golf professional John Shippen Jr.

This year’s competition starts July 28, with a full week of scheduled events leading up to the first tee off. Homeowners say, for them, inconveniences associated with the three-day tournament began months ago.

Reynolds’ house is adjacent to the golf course, separated by 30 feet and a wrought iron fence. Shipping containers started to arrive last winter and crews then began setting up an equipment staging area directly behind her home. In the spring, she was awakened in the middle of the night by a large semi-trailer truck that she said made a cross-country trip to drop off materials. The job site has been active since early May. 

LaDonna Reynolds restored a historic home in the southeast corner of the Detroit Golf Club, where peace and quiet are regarded as good etiquette. Reynolds said a staging area behind her home for the Rocket Mortgage Classic is noisy and loaded with piles of wood, metal frames, plastic chairs and shipping containers. (BridgeDetroit photo by Malachi Barrett)

“I wouldn’t mind if it was like a week, but not several months,” Reynolds said. “It’s absolutely insane. I look like I live in a train yard.”

Michael Craighead, a member of the Detroit Golf Club Homeowners Association, has lived along the fairway since 1990 and said the neighborhood is one of Detroit’s “hidden gems.” Craighead said some of the stately homes date back 100 years and are highly sought after. Many of his neighbors are seniors, but Craighead noted a recent influx of younger working families also are settling down in the quiet area. 

“It’s a premier neighborhood that, in my estimation, rivals good neighborhoods across southeast Michigan,” said Craighead, noting residents enjoy privacy, security and serenity in the community, but many also look forward to the tournament held in the city since 2019. 

Some neighbors get free tickets to attend or they host gatherings and watch parties. On Wednesday, homeowners there could be seen primping well-manicured lawns and flower gardens, and some were setting up seating in their backyards overlooking the golf course. 

The association says event organizers and the private golf community have tried to minimize disruptions from the event that is spurring positive attention for the city and millions in funding for local nonprofit organizations. Still, homeowners on the edge of the green, like Reynolds, argue the tournament is a recurring headache and Rocket Mortgage Classic officials have been slow to respond to complaints.

“They’re blowing me off,” Reynolds said. “They don’t care. It’s like ‘shut up, sit back, be quiet. The PGA is here,’ and that’s really all it’s all about.”

BridgeDetroit’s attempts to reach Detroit Golf Club Chief Operating Officer Derek Jacques and PGA Tour representatives were unsuccessful. 

Craighead said he hopes organizers and homeowners can find some balance. Moving the tournament, he said, would be a loss for all involved. 

“We’re seen on national television; Detroit has gotten its share of negative press – some of it deserved, a lot of it not – and this is the kind of event that helps show the world and certainly the community that there are positive things happening in the city,” Craighead said.

A homeowner on Parkside Street on the west side of the neighborhood displays a sign showing their membership in the University District Community Association on Wednesday, July 13, 2022. (BridgeDetroit photo by Malachi Barrett)

“It’s not just the golf club community, we have basically five surrounding communities which all contribute and participate in this event,” Craighead added. “It’s also Palmer Woods, it’s Sherwood Forest, it’s Green Acres and the University District. Everybody is a good neighbor in this event.”

Dan Austin, a city spokesman, said meetings held between the Department of Neighborhoods and Detroit Golf Club resulted in an agreement from the privately-run club to make landscaping changes that should resolve the resident concerns. 

Dr. Jimmy Womack, president of the Detroit Golf Club Homeowners Association and a former state representative, said in a statement that representatives of the PGA have done “what has been logistically feasible” to address concerns of residents bordering the golf course. Womack said year-by-year, the PGA and golf club have made changes to accommodate homeowners, including pushing back fences built along the course boundary, providing more access to the tournament for residents and committing to plant privacy bushes after this year’s event.

“Each year of the tournament brings new challenges and I am very comfortable in saying I believe the good relationship that has been developed between the PGA and this community will continue,” Womack said. “I am very confident that moving forward issues that may arise will be addressed expeditiously in a reasonable and genuine manner.”

Three residents living on Pontchartrain Boulevard, including Reynolds, Ken Marrin and Deone Larkins, filed nuisance complaints Wednesday with the Detroit Police Department. A copy of the complaint shared with BridgeDetroit, and filed by Marrin, states the DGC and PGA Tour “have been engaging in construction activity that creates a public nuisance.” 

Detroit property records show Jacques, the club’s COO, is the registered agent of an LLC that owns a parcel of land on the block. The property is zoned residential and formerly had a single-family home, but the structure was demolished after a fire. The property is now a paved driveway leading through a gate at the southeast corner of the golf course. Trucks use the driveway to move materials from Pontchartrain Avenue to a staging area behind the disgruntled homeowners’ property line.

Marrin said when he first heard that Rocket Mortgage would be bringing a PGA event to the Detroit Golf Club he was excited. But the effect of these activities, he said, has destroyed “the historic allure of these homes and undermines the neighborhood generally.”

A berm built around the staging area and along the golf club’s property line next to Marrin’s house is another source of frustration. Marrin said the berm was built before the first tournament but it has continued to grow larger each year, causing water to run into his backyard every time it rains. Marrin said his yard is turned into a swamp for weeks at a time as water trapped by the berm keeps the job site dry. Photos from a recent summer storm shared with BridgeDetroit show a pool of standing rainwater large enough to cannonball into. 

“It’s really not even enjoyable for me to go in the backyard,” Marrin said. “It’s basically taking the house away from me.”

Austin said the golf club and Rocket Mortgage agreed to remove the berm after this month’s tournament. But Marrin worries that the commitment won’t be followed through and said he believes residents are being placated with false promises. 

The Rocket Mortgage Classic became the first PGA Tour event held in Detroit when it moved to the city four years ago. A sponsorship deal was extended last year to continue through 2027.

Womack said the PGA tournament enhances life along the course. The event has invested more than $5 million into nonprofit organizations, including about $110,000 for the greater Palmer Park community. The Rocket Giving Fund, a nonprofit which manages the Rocket Mortgage Classic, announced $1.35 million was raised in 2021 to support local nonprofits; $805,000 of these funds were directed to community partners working on digital equity initiatives.

A lawn statue stands outside a home on Parkside Street, located on the west side of the Detroit Golf Club, on Wednesday, July 13, 2022. (BridgeDetroit Photo By Malachi Barrett)

While some homeowner association members have voiced displeasure with Detroit Golf Club  hosting the professional tournament, Womack said he’s heard from “multiples more who recognize the incredible benefits that the Rocket Mortgage Classic brings – not only to our immediate neighborhood, but to the entire City of Detroit.”

“While any big event like this will have temporary inconveniences, our neighborhood is overwhelmingly supportive of the Rocket Mortgage Classic and the long-lasting positive impact it is making in our communities,” he said.

Some other homeowners who spoke with BridgeDetroit said they don’t want the tournament to leave, but agree that the setup has become more intrusive each year. 

Marrin and Reynolds want the staging area moved somewhere else. They’ve both invested large sums of money into rehabilitating older homes in a historic part of the city. Reynolds said she’s poured about $800,000 into her home and feels disrespected by the whole affair.

“It’s just getting worse and worse,” said Reynolds as the sound of a truck’s back-up beeper pierced through the phone line. “This is an eyesore. This is a nuisance. I shouldn’t have to live like this.”

Reynolds said she’d prefer not to get lawyers involved, but short of calling every city official in the phonebook, she’s not sure what else to do.

In recent days, a truck and construction materials were parked along the Detroit Golf Club property line of Larkins’ home. He summed up his feelings about the situation in a few words. 

“I’m f***ing pissed,” he said. 

Preparations for the Rocket Mortgage Classic can be seen from LaDonna Reynolds’ backyard on Pontchartrain Boulevard near the Detroit Golf Club on June 1, 2022. (BridgeDetroit Photo by Malachi Barrett)

Craighead said he sees both sides of the issue. On one hand, the annual PGA tournament is a “showcase” for the city and his neighborhood, but on the other, he understands the complaints of residents who are feeling left in the lurch. Craighead said his home isn’t impacted by the staging area.

“Things have gotten better each year, as far as the setup goes,” he said. “They’ve got more work to do. The folks that have issues on the southeast side, those are very legitimate concerns. Hopefully they can and will get addressed. They deserve to have the same kind of enjoyment that I do.”

Mark Douglas, a homeowner along the north side of the course, said the tournament benefits the city through its philanthropy and by bringing more visibility to Detroit, and he feels there’s been a positive impact on property values, too. Douglas said some discomfort from landscaping crews is just part of living on a golf course.

“I could totally understand why they wouldn’t like the visual, but at the same time, we don’t really get to pick our visual,” Douglas said. “That staging area has been going on for upwards of four years now. It’s not like it’s brand new. It’s grown over time as the tournament has grown, but it’s private property.

“I know it would be great if everyone had a fabulous view of the golf course, but unfortunately everybody doesn’t,” he added. “I’m not saying that people should just shut up and deal with it, that’s by no means what I’m trying to imply, but it’s a temporary situation.” 

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3 Comments

  1. Sounds like the Grand Prix on Belle Isle story. This time it’s millionaire Dan Gilbert getting his way, and not millionaire Roger Penske. Same story.

    1. I call it “lipstick on a pig season”. Gilbert pretties up certain outward-facing areas near the club for a couple of weeks. Thank God, gasp, there is no longer a municipal course to dirty the optics.

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