Historical images do more than tell the story of a golf course’s early days. They can serve to assist an architect working on a course renovation. Drew Rogers, ASGCA is putting that benefit to use at Pine Lake Cuntry Club, Orchard Lake, Michigan.

Rogers (www.jdrewrogers.com) and course superintendent Terry Poley have embarked on the long-term improvement of the former Automobile Club of Detroit. Willie Park Jr. laid out the original 9 holes in 1919, the same year Edsel Ford was named president of Ford Motor Co., succeeding his father, Henry, one of the club’s founding members.

“To say the course has been ‘tinkered with’ since 1924 (when the back 9 opened)   — well, that would be an understatement.” Rogers said. “Holes have been repositioned. Greens have radically changed shape. Holes have been rebunkered and loads of trees planted. Today, it feels like you’re playing 3-4 different golf courses out there.

“However, what the aerials make clear is that Pine Lake in the 1930s was still a superb, cohesive layout. My job is to refurbish the course to that high standard, while also creating a greater consistency of this vintage style and character. That’s where the aerial photography is such a huge help. It gives me something to go on, in terms of hazard placement, for example. It confirms some of the observations I had already made about original shapes of certain greens, bunker placement, the alignment of fairways and the presence of vegetation, or lack thereof.”

“I have a lot of respect for the knowledge Drew possesses on golf course architecture and design, and have much admired his work at Old Elm Club,” said Poley, superintendent at Pine Lake since 1996. “With the leadership and vision Drew brings to this project, we will be able to restore Pine Lake’s heritage as one of the finest golf courses in South East Michigan.”

Originally founded by a group of like-minded automobile enthusiasts in 1902, the Automobile Club of Detroit included founders like John Dodge, Ransom Olds and Henry Ford. These friends and business competitors first encountered this property when they fled the city on weekends, in their cars, destined for an overnight camping spot on Pine Lake.

In 1905, they formally acquired the property. Eleven years later, the club changed its name to Automobile Country Club. By 1917, golf had been introduced, as Park had formally planned the course along the bluffs above Pine Lake.

Rogers has been studying the property and its aerial archives since 2012. He reports that the holes closest to the clubhouse, today, are not only Pine Lake’s best — they are the ones that most resemble the Park holes featured in the vintage, aerial photography. “That gives us a pretty good roadmap to follow, a solid base of understanding that we can use as a stylistic foundation,” Rogers said.  

“Our improvement plan at Pine Lake is more than mere design. We want to overcome challenges with drainage, bunker construction, turf health, and address the clutter of trees that has grown up or been planted over the course of decades. Park was a master of the craft. His work here — in addition to places like Olympia Fields, Sunningdale and Maidstone — is worth preserving in any way we can. Our goal here is to mesh his legacy with the traditional design idiom in which I prefer to work.”