Stories, memories and good times: What Metro Detroit community is saying about Oakland Hills Country Club

Historic clubhouse tragically caught on fire at the end of February and is still under investigation

FILE -The clubhouse at Oakland Hills Country Club in Bloomfield Township, Mich., is seen on July 9, 2008. Firefighters battled a blaze at the more than century-old country club Thursday, Feb. 17, 2022, in suburban Detroit that's hosted several major golf tournaments and is one of Michigan's most exclusive golf clubs. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio, File) (Carlos Osorio, AP2008)

Golf is more than just a game, really.

It’s a chance to spend time with friends you haven’t seen in awhile, or make new ones for life. It’s an opportunity to have a conversation, pitch an idea or make a dream become reality. It’s not about how you play, but more so, who you play with, and the memories you make together on the course.

What happened at Oakland Hills Country Club is devastating for its members, the Metro Detroit golf community and the entire golf world. Located in the heart of Bloomfield Township, Oakland Hills Country Club has etched itself in the history books as one of golf’s most iconic courses for more than a century. The stories that those greens, fairways and locker rooms could tell are beyond imagination.

Golfers of all ages and skill levels have been tested by the famous 36 holes of the North and South course, but the experience of navigating the clubhouse and heading out to the iconic course will never be the same for a long time coming.

Rick Watnick of Birmingham has been a member at the club since 2008. With all of his memories of spending time in the clubhouse and the history that embodied the hallways, he says it’s just devastating. When he first joined the club, he opened his assigned locker to quite the surprise.

“When I first opened up the locker, there was a signature inside it from Ricky Barnes who had won the U.S. Amateur there in 2006...that’s remained inside that locker for the entire time I have been there,” Watnick said. “From the images I’ve seen, it appears parts of the locker room were definitely affected by the fire.”

The South course was undergoing renovations for the past couple of seasons, it finally opened back in July.

“One of the goals of the renovations was to scale the golf course and take down trees so there would be vistas from practically anywhere on the golf course where you could see the clubhouse from practically anywhere on the course,” Watnick said. “Now the clubhouse is lost.”

Young Lee spoke highly of his time as an Assistant Golf Professional at Oakland Hills during the 2021 golf season.

“I’m 100 percent confident that with the membership and the mentality that the spirit will always live on and that the club will only come back stronger,” Young said. “If anything this will make Oakland Hills even better in the future.”

The board made a unanimous decision to build an exact replica of the iconic clubhouse, but the timeframe as to when it will be completed is unknown.

“They can make other improvements if they really want to, but I think they realized that clubhouse really stood for something, it was a part of history,” Young said.

Rabbi Jason Miller of West Bloomfield recalls playing at the club for the first time in 2010. He was invited to play in the Michigan Jewish Sports Foundation’s Hank Greenberg Golf Invitational.

“The fact that a golf outing named for one of the most iconic Jewish baseball players of all time was taking place at a club that would have refused his membership generations earlier was meaningful to me,” Miller said.

His late grandfather was one of the founders of The Town and Country Club back in 1958. It was a country club for Jewish people, because Jews were not allowed to join a club at that time.

“I thought of my grandfather and how he would be smiling down with pride as a staff member of Oakland Hills drove a golf cart around the North Course looking for me that day because he had a special kosher lunch to deliver to me,” Miller said.

Dean Sallan of Bloomfield Hills had the opportunity to play Oakland Hills with his dad last summer. He described the clubhouse as a museum of golf.

“There’s bags, there’s scorecards, outfits from players, clubs, balls,” Sallan said. “Any piece of golf was there.”

You won’t see that kind of history at most private clubs in Metro Detroit, let alone the state of Michigan.

“Being in that clubhouse and getting to play there and having that experience is something that I’ll remember forever,” Sallan said. “There’s a feeling of etching yourself into history just by being there.”

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