Last week Monday, 17-year-old Leticia Gittens was among 130 or so high-school seniors who helped Tom Doak usher in his latest design, a four-hole short course on the leafy campus of Marygrove College.
With her peers watching her, photographers shooting her, and traffic rumbling by on McNichols Road behind her, Gittens stepped between two tee markers to strike a ceremonial first shot.
In a sporty white zip-up and capri pants, she eyed her target, a flagstick about 75 yards away, then looked down at her ball and swung.
On her fourth attempt, Gittens finally connected, first with the sod, then with the top of the ball. As the orb skittered off the tee box, she smiled. The gallery hollered.
Doak tamped down the displaced earth. "I have a thing about replacing divots," he said, smiling.
This wasn't your standard ribbon cutting. Then again, the Marygrove layout isn't your standard Doak design. Two years ago, at the request of the SI Golf Group, Doak agreed to donate the services of his Michigan-based Renaissance Golf Design to build a practice site at Marygrove not only for the student body, but also for participants of Midnight Golf, a 10-year-old mentoring program that combines life lessons with golf lessons to help inner-city high-school students find their way to college.
The finished product - four short par 3s, a spacious bentgrass practice green, and a double-sided practice range that can accommodate as many as 26 golfers hitting limited-flight balls - won't appear on any Top 100 lists, but that was never the goal. In a city still reeling from the effects of the recession and the decimation of the auto industry, the little course is the result of big thinking, community activism, and dozens of tireless volunteers.
It's also an inspired use of urban land. "To some, it is unbelievable that in the heart of the city, at Six Mile and Wyoming, there is a golf facility designed and donated by celebrated golf course architect Tom Doak," said Detroit Mayor Dave Bing.
The mayor joked that if Doak is seeking more work in downtown Detroit, where empty lots and abandoned buildings populate the landscape, the city would be happy to accommodate him. "If you need some property," Bing said, drawing laughter, "I've got a little bit that's going to be available."
With the ceremonial tee shots struck - even Marygrove President David Fike, who admitted he has never played golf, jumped in and took a swipe - Doak led a tour of the property. His team, headed by Detroit native Brian Slawnik, felled some of the trees that dotted the site, but many were kept in place to help shape the holes.