Tree removal highlights changes to Warwick Hills

Established in 1957 and rebuilt in 1968 by renowned architect Joe Lee, Warwick Hills Golf & Country Club has seen its fair share of PGA Tour events. The course was host to Michigan’s only PGA Tour event, the Buick Open, from 1958 to 1969 and again from 1977 to 2009. Both Tiger Woods and Billy Mayfair jointly hold the course record with a 61 on the par-72 course. In the near decade since the last PGA Tour event was held at Warwick Hills, the course has gone through a number of cosmetic changes highlighted by the removal of many trees that has since opened up the course.

“We’ve taken out over 200 trees since the last Buick Open,” said Warwick Hills PGA Head Professional, Doug Brody. “A lot of them were actually around the clubhouse but a lot were also around a lot of our greens, which is just to help keep the greens healthier. They were shading the greens too much, which the healthier they are, the better condition we can make them and the faster we can make the greens. Also, some trees were starting to get too big and starting to overhang the fairways and bunkers.”

Most of the changes to the trees were thanks to plans made by Chris Wilczynski, an architect hired by the course roughly three years ago.

“We’ve implemented most of the tree plans that he put together for us,” said Brody. “There’s been some replanting as well. We’ve lost a few key trees over the years to either age, weather or disease, so that’s really been the major change.”

One of the key holes that has seen changes since the last time Warwick Hills has hosted a PGA Tour event is the signature par three 17th hole. Brody noted a few major trees left of the green were removed as well as a large cottonwood roughly 100 yards from the tee that would come into play when the winds were blowing in the right direction.

In addition to the tree removals, Brody mentioned changes to mowing patterns on a handful of fairways as well as around the course’s ninth green, which now has fairway height on the back side of the green that will roll into the practice green. Other than those few changes, Brody noted the course is still roughly the same as it always has been.

“Bunkers have stayed the same, length has stayed the same,” said Brody. “The Champions Tour is going to be playing all the way back, so that’ll still play long for them. They will be playing over 7,000 yards.”

Brody then discussed the changes the course needs to undergo to meet the standards of the PGA Champions Tour.

“The Champions Tour is looking for the rough to be just a moderate length, not real long like in the Buick Open days,” said Brody. “So, it’s pretty much going to be our regular, everyday length. And then our fairways are cut at tournament height all year round so those aren’t really going to change.”

For the greens, Brody mentioned the goal is to get them to play as fast as possible in time for the event.

“The goal is to have the greens firm and fast, which they’re fast right now,” said Brody. “The firmer we can get them, the better. That’s something that we’ve been working on all season long, but ideally, we’ll peak in the middle of September for prime conditions for the tournament. We’re aerating the greens more often, topdressing the greens more often and we’ve purchased a new greens roller which will also help with green consistency and green speeds.”

With the changes to the course over the last nine years, Brody noted he is excited for fans to see what the course looks like now.

“I think the fans are going to get a different look around the clubhouse. We’ve taken out a lot of trees by the first tee as well as the 18th green. There’s definitely more openness from the clubhouse and practice areas.”

Only time will tell how the course changes will affect play for the professionals. The Ally Challenge begins Thursday, September 13 with the official Pro-Am Tournament beginning at 7 a.m. The first round begins the following day with an estimated 9:45 a.m. start time.

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