BLOOMFIELD TOWNSHIP, Mich. – Priceless items of golf history were saved from inside the Oakland Hills Country Club as it burned in February.
The fire caused $80 million in damage. Most of the building and priceless pieces of memorabilia and art were destroyed -- but some items were saved. Local 4 is sharing never-before-seen footage from inside the clubhouse during the massive fire.
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Approximately 17 fire departments were called in to assist Bloomfield Township on the morning of Feb. 17, including the Southfield Fire Department. On that day, Lt. Zac McKee and his teams suited up and headed out knowing there was a ton of history inside the clubhouse.
“When we left our station and we got to 12 and Telegraph, you could see the smoke blowing across telegraph,” Lt. McKee said.
The century-old wooden structure was in flames when Lt. McKee, firefighter Michael Petry, firefighter and medic Nate Herr and firefighter Patrick Kerr arrived. There was discussion en route of what might be inside.
“One of our young guys is a really big golfer, and he was telling us about it,” he said.
Lt. McKee said he went to the Bloomfield Township Chief in charge with an idea.
“I told Chief LeRoy, ‘I have a crew of four. I know they have valuables in there and memorabilia, do you want us to go get them in case things go south?’ He said, ‘Great idea,’” Lt. McKee said.
Crew saved what they could
That’s when this four-man crew coordinated with Oakland Hills Country Club staff to try to save what they could.
“They told us what they needed out of there,” McKee said.
The crew went inside the clubhouse front door and into the lobby, broke the trophy case and started pulling out priceless, historic items.
“We started carrying out trophies,” he said. “We got the big bust of someone, I don’t know who it was, but it looked really important and when we were done with that, we went down the wings and started grabbing all the photos we could off the walls and smaller trophy cases.”
Staff waits on front steps to help firefighters
Outside staff lined the front steps to retrieve the items from the firefighters.
“They were all at front door,” McKee said. “Every time we came out with a handful of trophies or pictures, they were there, and they took them.”
Lt. McKee said after they made multiple trips, the ceiling in the lobby fell onto the chandelier and the railing of the stairs. It was time to evacuate, but their recovery mission was not over.
“As soon as we came out of there, the gentleman said, ‘Can you still go to the basement?’ And we said, ‘Yeah, let’s go,’” McKee said. “So we went to the pro shop side, to outside stairs, to a basement storage room. In the basement, there was a ton of memorabilia such as photos, paintings, wooden golf clubs.”
Soon, fire caught up to the basement area as well. Lt. McKee and his team then went to the men’s locker room to try to fight the fire there.
The final request
Afterward, they were warming up outside when the team got one final request from golf professional Steve Brady.
“He said, ‘I know everyone has lost so much, I don’t want to get anyone in trouble, but I have some stuff in my office,’” Lt. McKee said. “He started with picture of his wife and then went to a letter addressed to him from Arnold Palmer.”
Lt. Mckee and his team went in and got the letter and anything they could grab from Brady’s office.
On the club’s worst day, there were small victories. Little pieces of history were preserved for future generations.
We reached out to Oakland Hills for specifics on what was saved, and Club President Rick Palmer gave us a statement:
“Oakland Hills CC salutes the Southfield Fire Department for its timely work in helping save some of our invaluable artifacts. The quick thinking of Lt. McKee and others is genuinely and warmly appreciated by our club and staff. Unfortunately, we cannot provide more information about what was saved because of the ongoing insurance process.”
Chief John LeRoy of the Bloomfield Township Fire Department tells Local 4 their department was able to access an archive room about a week after the fire that had minimal water damage. He said they were able to pull out “truckloads” of items including a signed golf bag of Payne Stewart.