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Warren Valley Golf Course – Resurrecting a Donald Ross Classic

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I’ve always been a big fan of Donald Ross and will go out of my way to play a course that he designed.  For the most part, his courses are not long, but the subtleties of his architecture have always made them interesting…and challenging.

A few months ago, I read about a 36-hole Donald Ross-designed facility in Dearborn Heights, Michigan that had recently been transferred to a new management company with the intent of reopening to the public. I contacted the company and spoke with Jason Pearsall, who gave me some of the history of the golf courses – all of which can be found on their website – as well as his involvement in helping to reopen these legendary golf courses. But first, some history!

On June 30, 1923, the Detroit Free Press proudly announced that “18 holes of golf will be ready for play today” at the new Donald Ross-designed Hawthorne Valley Golf Club. The short article goes on to say that the “free golf offer will be extended to July 10th, and many are expected to take advantage of this generous offer.” That day, the first nine holes on the West Side of Warren Valley opened to the public; two days later the second nine holes on the West Side opened for play. At the time, the course measured over 5,000 yards. The course flourished and two years later, on April 11, 1925, the East Side at Warren Valley Golf Course opened for public play. Warren Valley was now a 36-hole facility.

Over the years Warren Valley GC has vacillated between a private country club and a daily fee golf course and has changed ownership and management companies several times. In 2018, the course was sold to the city of Dearborn Heights to keep it from becoming a development project. Then, in 2022, after severe flooding in the area, the company managing the facility walked away from its commitment, and the facility closed before the beginning of the 2022 season.

The search for a new management company began immediately and in August a contract was awarded to Issa Brothers and Revive Golf Management. Issa Brothers would run the banquet side of the business and Revive would manage golf operations. The course remained closed for the season as course renovations and grooming were necessary. The new deal called for both Issa Brothers and the City of Dearborn Heights to make substantial investments in the golf courses, clubhouse, and maintenance equipment. Issa Brothers operates the banquet center, restaurant, and lounge, while Pearsall and his company – aptly named Revive Golf Management – oversee the golf course improvements and day-to-day operation of the golf course.

It’s amazing how quickly a golf course can deteriorate in just a year but Pearsall and the maintenance staff at WVGC set to work clearing up the overgrown areas and rediscovering fairways, greens, and cart paths. One of the biggest issues they faced was flooding. Since taking over, they have installed numerous French drains and upgraded current pumping stations to help keep flooding at a minimum. Obviously, there’s not a lot you can do when the river overflows its banks other than build higher banks, which they have done.

Flash forward to April 28, 2023. Dearborn Heights Mayor Bill Bazzi and members of the golf teams of Annapolis and Divine Child High Schools teed it up and christened the first hole. The golf course and pro shop officially opened to the general public the next day. Currently only one of the 18-hole championship courses is open with plans to have at least nine more in the coming years. Short-term plans also include a driving range, something that has never been present on the property. The banquet center will most likely open in the spring of 2024. The restaurant on the first floor has already been expanded into what will become a very nice family-themed restaurant.

The West Course at Warren Valley Golf Course plays 6,126 yards from the back (Black) tees with a course rating of 68.5 and a slope of 115. Not long by today’s standards, but it is a Donald Ross design! This is Scottish-style golf at its best with moderate elevation changes and minimal bunkering, The course is just one year into a multi-year renovation project so you’re not going to find pristine, country club-like fairways and tee boxes. What you will find is a course that is fun to play and has new cart paths, bunkers, and resodded 007XL Bent grass greens. The small postage-stamp greens are incredible, roll true, and consistently register an 11 on the stimp meter. They will challenge every level of golfer.

Your round starts out with a modest par 4, slight dogleg left, followed by a legitimate par 5 that plays 503 yards. Houses line the left side of the hole off the tee and are less in play as you hit the dogleg right. The fairway narrows as you get closer to the green. Longball hitters may be able to get on in two. Three and four are parallel par 4s that are pretty straightforward. Number 5 is the first sighting of the Rouge River which helps to create a dogleg right. A good drive that is hit down the tree line with a slight draw could easily find the putting surface. Number 6 is a slightly longer mirror image of the previous hole. Seven is the layout’s first par 3 and plays 189 yards from an elevated tee box down to the putting surface. Number 8 is a short par 4, slight dogleg left that longball hitters can have a go at. The finishing hole on the front side is a 379-yard par 4 dogleg right with a wide-open fairway into a small green protected by trees on the right.

The back nine starts with a moderate dogleg left par 4 into a well-elevated green that will take at least one extra club. Push your drive right and you can easily find the retention pond! A large bunker guards the front left of the green. Eleven is a long par 4 dogleg left that plays 413 yards from the Black Tees. Your second shot plays over the river into a small round green. You’ll need to fly the ball onto the green on Number 12, a short par 3 that plays back over the river into a green protected by a large bunker directly in front and two more on either side. The par 4, 13th hole is pretty straightforward with trees coming into play on either side as you get closer to the green. Fourteen is a hole much like Number 5, a dogleg right with the river all down the right side. Fifteen is another dogleg right and the river is still on the right. It plays slightly uphill and may require an extra club. Sixteen is the course’s second and last par 5. It runs parallel to Number 2, the other par 5, and plays about the same distance. Seventeen is a challenging par 3, 141 yards from the Black Tees into what is probably the largest green on the golf course with a newly renovated bunker front left. Your round finishes with a long 405-yard par 4, treelined on both sides into a small, undulated green.

The course will undergo several “down the road” improvements, including reconditioned tee boxes, and re-constructed and reseeded fairways.

This is just a quick overview of what you can expect on the continuing-to-be-renovated West Course at Warren Valley Golf Course. For more information or to get updates on how renovations are coming along, visit them online at www.warrenvalleydh.com.

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