First-Year Golf Challenge Highlights U-M's Rich History

Sept. 19, 2013

When Radrick Farms Golf Course was brought under the Michigan Athletics umbrella last summer, newly promoted director of University of Michigan Golf Courses Corbin Todd quickly began to explore ways to utilize new resources to promote the course and, more importantly, its connection with the other acclaimed U-M property, the University of Michigan Golf Course, in the present and into the future.

U-M Golf Course
U-M Golf Course

His first promotional idea, perhaps the easiest to implement, was rooted in embracing the past.

The university golf courses wrapped its first ever MacKenzie-Dye Challenge a couple weeks ago. The competition, which lasted from May until Labor Day, featured 108 golfers separated into seven flights of varying skill level and consisted of three rounds of 36 holes apiece -- 18 at each course. The home course which boasted the majority of flight champions -- Radrick Farms, which claimed six of the seven flights -- would win the Trueblood Cup (more on than later) to display in its clubhouse for the year.

The challenge's concept originated with Todd as a way to generate some excitement among golf members, get the two courses working together and get creative with their programming.

"We wanted to do something to signify the unity of the two golf courses," said Todd. "Setting up a brand new event and promoting it, they've had their hands full but they've done a great job. It just seemed like a good first step to really get people aware that this is what is going on. We also wanted to make it fun again. The golf industry events have been really on the decline as it's become more social. But with this event, we had more eligible golfers than we've ever had sign up for an event before."

The challenge namesakes, of course, are renowned course designers Alister MacKenzie and Pete Dye, who represent two of just five members of the World Golf Hall of Fame primarily known for golf course architecture. [Incidentally, a third, Donald Ross, designed the course at Ann Arbor's Barton Hills Country Club.]

Earlier this month, Golfweek magazine listed both courses among its Best Campus Courses with the U-M Golf Course earning the No. 8 overall spot and Radrick Farms ranking No. 17. Having both a MacKenzie- and a Dye-designed course within Michigan Athletics is a source of great pride for Todd and his staff.

"I don't know any place else that can say that," said Todd. "It's unbelievable when you think about it. The only thing I can attribute to is the leadership of this university. Just thinking long-term and doing it the right way. With MacKenzie, anybody who came after him took something from him, and Pete Dye may be the most recent world-class architect. We're in the class of the elites, and it's just so unique and special."

Regents Teeing Off
Regents teeing off at the U-M Golf Course in fall 1930
From left: Thomas Sawyer, Professor Ralph Aigler, Coach Ray Courtright, Regent Sawyer, Regent Clements (teeing off), Dean Sadler, Fielding Yost, Regent Hubbard, President Ruthven, Regent Stone

MacKenzie, named Golf magazine's "Golf Architect of the Century" for the first 100 years of golf in America, designed the University of Michigan Golf Course in the late 1920s, and it officially opened to the public in the spring of 1931 -- after the regents informally christened the course the previous fall as the first golfers to play 18 holes. At the time of its opening, the University Golf Course became just the fourth course to be located on a college campus. It is one of only six MacKenzie-designed golf courses in the United States; the famed Augusta National is another.

Renovations done in the early 1990s by U-M alumnus and golf course architect, Arthur Hills, helped to return it to MacKenzie's original design after some gradual changes had taken place over the years, resulting in a change to the course's layout. Highlighting the project, hundreds of pine trees were removed and new trees planted, bunkers were restored, greens were reshaped and a new irrigation system was installed. Another restoration, again with MacKenzie's design as the guide, is currently in the planning stages.

While the University of Michigan Golf Course was one of MacKenzie's final designs, Radrick Farms, located across town off Geddes Road, was among Dye's first.

University of Michigan president Harlan Hatcher commissioned Dye to build the second university course in 1962 after stumbling on and enjoying his first design, the nine-hole El Dorado Golf Club, while driving through Indianapolis. At the time Dye was considering a move to selling insurance full time; to this day, he credits Hatcher as an instrumental figure his career.

Dye has admitted that he borrowed from course architect Robert Trent Jones Sr. -- another hall of famer who himself was nearly hired by Hatcher for the project -- in his Radrick Farms design, using long tees, big greens and high bunkers. But while in Ann Arbor, he visited the U-M course and studied the MacKenzie greens and later applied the wraparound technique to a pair of greens on his next project, Crooked Stick Golf Club outside of Indianapolis.

Golf Team 19335
Michigan Golf Team in 1935
Second straight NCAA title for U-M, Thomas Trueblood's final year as head coach

If attaching the names of two golf legends to the challenge wasn't enough, Todd added a third with the introduction of the aforementioned Trueblood Cup as prize for the winning course. The cup was discovered recently while cleaning the basement of the U-M course, along with several old Big Ten trophies, and while at the time he didn't entirely know its origins, Todd thought it appropriate to add its namesake to the list of honorees.

Thomas Trueblood, a Michigan professor of speech for 42 years, establishing the first credit course in public speaking in 1888 and later, after earning a full-time appointment as professor of elocution and oratory, the university's Department of Speech in 1892. He also organized Michigan's first golf team in 1901, the year he approached athletic director Fielding Yost about making it a sport. He then contacted the University of Chicago's Alonzo Staff, who was in favor, and Illinois, Northwestern, Wisconsin and Purdue subsequently followed suit. The team competed as a club program until becoming a varsity spot in 1920. In Trueblood's 15 official years as head coach (1921-35), the Wolverines won five Big Ten titles and captured back-to-back NCAA titles in 1934 and 1935.

The coach donated the Trueblood Cup to a six-day, 72-hole tournament of the same name inaugurated in 1936, his first year as emeritus coach. The tournament was open to all undergraduates, but only non-varsity golf athletes were eligible to win the trophy. It served as a tryout, helping determine both the 10-man varsity and eight-man freshman squads.

Radrick Farms
Radrick Farms

The cup will remain on display in the Radrick Farms clubhouse for the next year, the course's reward for winning -- dominating, really -- perhaps one of the most history-laden golf challenges in the United States. With plans to make the challenge an annual event, however, the U-M course members will have ample opportunity to reclaim it, while the university will continue to honor its past well into the future.

Contact: Leah Howard (734) 763-4423