The layout in Plymouth, Mich. is the first newly built golf course in southeast Michigan since 2000. There is also a redesigned golf complex that was created by architect Ray Hearn, The Little Cardinal seven-hole par-3 course and a yet-to-be-named putting course. “This is an elite-level course in terms of how it’s going to be kept, manicured … what we offer is different from other public courses,” says Stan Witko, new Executive Director of Golf at the resort. The course is slated to open in spring of 2024.
Saint John’s Resort in Plymouth, Mich., rebranded from The Inn at St. John’s, has transformed the site that previously held 27 holes into The Cardinal, the first newly constructed 18-hole layout in southeast Michigan since 2000, the Detroit Free Press reported.
There are a number of factors that has Saint John’s confident it will offer visitors an unrivaled experience when it debuts in the spring of 2024, the Detroit Free Press reported.
It starts with the redesigned golf complex by Holland-based architect Ray Hearn, who created The Cardinal, The Little Cardinal seven-hole par-3 course and a yet-to-be-named putting course.
Club + Resort Business has previously reported on this project.
Hearn, who has numerous Michigan golf courses in his design portfolio over 27 years including Moose Ridge (South Lyon), The Majestic (Hartland), The Grande (Jackson) and Twin Lakes (Oakland Township), was brought in when the non-profit Pulte Family Charitable Foundation bought the property in 2021, the Detroit Free Press reported.
Ownership has sunk $50 million into Saint John’s to attract big business, elegant weddings and charitable events to its hotel.
The clincher is a revamped approach to public-access golf, with a high-end experience in the hopes of becoming Detroit’s destination resort, the Detroit Free Press reported.
“This is an elite-level course in terms of how it’s going to be kept, manicured … what we offer is different from other public courses,” Stan Witko, new Executive Director of Golf, said after taking the Detroit Free Press on a recent tour. “We aren’t just a high-end public course. We’re a high-end course that is at a really gorgeous resort with a ton of gorgeous space around and the ability to do things that other courses maybe can’t or won’t try out and do. So we’re going to have a unique first-class experience from when you step on the course till when you leave it.”
Hearn previously had a distinct passion for the land, and said he probably walked the old course 50 times over the years, the Detroit Free Press reported. Once hired, he came up with 22 different routings before settling on a winner.
“The land’s incredible,” Hearn said. “For southeast Michigan, the glacier did its job here. The valleys, the drumlin like hillsides and then you have your flat areas…The property deserved a great 18 versus what I would say is an average 27. It was always a 27 that was kind of bunched in.”
The Cardinal has five sets of tees ranging from 4,758 yards from the forward tees to 7,002 yards from the back tees on a par-72 layout, with the rarely seen consecutive par-5s on each nine (Nos. 4-5 and 11-12), the Detroit Free Press reported. Hearn emphasizes playing the correct tees, with other options of 6,543, 6,126 and 5,458 yards.
Hearn kept a handful of recognizable existing fairway corridors, but built new tees, bunkers and USGA-level greens (minus the underground SubAir drainage system) comparable to the restored Oakland Hills South Course, the Detroit Free Press reported.
Saint John’s intends to separate itself from other public-access courses by presenting a unique private club mentality.
“When people see it, they’ll see what it looks like — the care that we put into what the staff will be doing is different, the way they’ll be attending to guests is different,” Witko said to the Detroit Free Press. “So we wanted to really have a private club feel but have it on a resort course.”
That starts with the hiring of highly respected golf course superintendent Kevin Peck, formerly of the Country Club of Detroit, the Detroit Free Press reported.
Pace of play will be spaced out, golfers will have their names and hometown announced on the first tee, just like on the PGA Tour, but with a bonus comparable to batting for the Detroit Tigers at Comerica Park: They’ll have their choice of walk-up music.
Hearn’s trademark design at The Cardinal is giving golfers angles and options, which he learned from his former mentor, the legendary Pete Dye, and from a dozen trips to Europe, the Detroit Free Press reported.
The standout is Hearn’s distinct undulating greens, featuring great detail on the edges, the Detroit Free Press reported. Those complex movements allow an approach shot to feed in off a land form, or, in some cases, run off the green because of the formations created going down, inspired by greens Hearn experienced in Ireland and Scotland.
“The more you play at Saint John’s, the more you’ll recognize balls can feed in, and the tiny spines that go on some of the greens,” Hearn said.
Golfers will notice Hearn has eschewed a common theme in American golf where thick rough encircles greens, the Detroit Free Press reported. Instead, he has replaced rough in some areas with fairway-length grass to give golfers different shot choices. He wants the player around the green to have to think: Do I want to pitch it, lob it or perhaps putt?
Golfers who played the previous course here will notice new sightlines, the Detroit Free Press reported. Hearn and course contractor Rich LaBar, who previously worked on Oakland Hills, took down hundreds of trees that blocked angles and limited choices. Yet Hearn was glad to respect ownership’s wish to keep many of the woodlots and 100-year-old trees to create what he calls a great parkland golf course, adding seclusion and beauty to the round.
The sides of the fairways now come into play more, Hearn said. “You can actually play and favor one side of the fairway and then take on a hazard to get in better position for your second shot.”
Water is a key hazard feature weaved throughout, the Detroit Free Press reported. A stone-lined creek interrupts fairways on a handful of holes on the front nine, and ponds protect four green sites.
Memorable holes include the closers on each nine.
The par-4 ninth uses the same corridor of the former hole, but now features rarely seen church pew bunkers down the right of the gentle dogleg, “a cool feature,” Hearn said.
The par-4 18th plays up a hill to a deceivingly large fairway, cresting to reveal a large pound guarding the left side of the green and a spectacular view of the resort’s towering brick buildings in the background, the Detroit Free Press reported.
Hearn and Witko hope golfers will be “wowed” by the course’s thought-provoking strategy, beauty, and the detailed care and hospitality provided by staff.
“I want people to say this is a course I can come back and play over and over and over and never get tired of it,” Hearn said.