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Historical Architecture of Grosse Pointe – 18 Holes of History – the Golf Course at the Country Club of Detroit

One of the most popular venues in the Grosse Pointe communities is arguably the golf course at the Country Club of Detroit. Set on 212 acres the club is steeped in history, as are the lush greens and fairways of this prominent course.

Over the years it has been home to a number of prestigious national amateur championships, including the U.S Amateur championship, last played at the course in 1954, won by Arnold Palmer.

The original course first opened in 1927, having been designed by British golf architects Harry Colt and Charles Hugh Alison. Together, during the 1920’s, they designed a number of famous courses throughout the United States. One of their most respected designs is the Milwaukee Country Club in 1929, a course ranked by Golf Digest, in 2007, as one of the Top 50 golf courses in America. They were also responsible for the design of the course located at the Century Club (1927) in Purchase, New York, the course at Plum Hollow Country Club in Southfield, Michigan (1921), and, in conjunction with George Crump, the prestigious Pine Valley Golf Club, (1918), which was ranked the #1 Golf Course in the United States in April 2017. Source: Wikipedia.

Harry Colt was born in 1869. According to research on Wikipedia, during his career he designed over 300 courses (115 on his own) in North America, South America, Europe, Australia, Asia and Africa.

Harry Colt – Courtesy of bathgolfclub.org.uk

Based on research from bathgolfclub.org.uk – at the beginning of the 20th century golf courses had traditionally featured straight lines and sharp angles. Colt softened these lines, introduced curves and created visual challenges to tease and intrigue the golfer. You can read the full story of Harry Colt by clicking here.

Charles Hugh Alison was born in 1883. A renowned British golf course architect, Alison spent a large part of his career working with Harry Colt. Prior to World War 1 Alison had created a couple of courses in the US, but was required to return to England to serve in the army. After the war had ended he left England and returned to America where he would become a respected course designer. During his nine years in the US he designed more than 20 new courses, and redesigning several others, before heading to Japan (in 1930) to continue his work, where he became extremely influential in course design. You can read the full story of Charles Hugh Allison by clicking here.

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Historical Architecture of Grosse Pointe –The Grosse Pointe Club, also known as The “Little Club”.

Historical Architecture of Grosse Pointe –The Grosse Pointe Club, also known as The “Little Club”.

Lets take a look at one of Grosse Pointes most recognizable buildings – The “Little Club”.

Grosse Pointe has always had a diversity of clubs. One of the earliest was the Country Club of Detroit, originally designed by Albert Kahn in 1907, it served as a hub for social life of early Grosse Pointe. In the early 1920’s The Country Club of Detroit announced it was to relocate inland to be next to their newly purchased golf course. Kahn once again designed the clubhouse for the “big” club at a cost of $497,000, opening in 1923. However the new inland location was not suitable for its sailing members (for obvious reasons) and all water activities were subsequently removed from the club’s program.

Several of the club’s sailing enthusiasts decided to build their own clubhouse on the lake and maintain a club with access to the water. On land adjacent to the Country Club, and on a site that housed several summer cottages, plans to open the Grosse Pointe Club (the “Little Club”) were formed.

The new club opened in 1923 with temporary headquarters in “Dayton Cottage” – one of several cottages on the property. Unlike the huge costs to build the Country Club of Detroit, the “Little Club” board requested construction costs not exceed $225,000.

derrickProminent residential architect and designer of the Henry Ford Museum, Robert O. Derrick, was selected to design the new Clubhouse. Derrick was already gaining a name for himself thought-out Grosse Pointe and the Columbia educated architect planned an informal American Colonial design for the building.

Opened in 1927 his new construction was white painted brick, featuring numerous gables and broad terraces that overlooked Lake St. Clair. Derrick’s design created picturesque effects, imparting an eighteenth century New England colonial character, which was also present in some of his earlier Grosse Pointe homes, such as the house, built for Sidney T. Miller Jr on Provencal Road.

 

littleclubFrom the outset the club was designed to provide boating, athletic and social activities for its members. Music was a common theme in the Club’s early days and by 1929 the pool, squash and tennis courts were heavily used and a “games room” was furnished. The wife of a founding member Mrs. Edwin H. Brown took charge of the design and furnishings. Most of the existing furniture along with the French wallpaper in the Governor’s Room date from this era. The wallpaper was made by Jean Zuber in 1834 and was identical to the wallpaper hung in the diplomatic Reception Room of the White house during the Kennedy Administration.300px-DiplomaticWest

In 1946 extensive work was needed on the dock, kitchen, terrace, clubhouse and the pool, while new changing rooms and a pool house were constructed in 1954. By 1961 air conditioning was introduced to the Clubhouse, a terrazzo top was added to the dance floor, and in 1966 a new swimming pool was built which lasted through the 1989 season.

The club and the members are proud of its heritage and they believe if a member from the 1930’s came back to the club today they would instantly recognize the lake view, along with the upstairs dining room with its magnificent furnishings, formality and brushed wooden floor that were present back then.

Still affectionately know as the “Little Club” the club offers the same activities as it did when it opened in 1927 – on a site where local residents have enjoyed recreational activities since 1885.

We will be profiling another piece of Grosse Pointe architectural history next week.

If you have a home or building you would like us to profile please contact Darby Moran – Darby@higbiemaxon.com – we will try and feature the property.

(For more historical information on Grosse Pointe, visit Grosse Pointe Historical Society).