In 1925, a group of Detroit Jewish leaders began searching for a spot of land ideally suited for a golf and country club. Their travels took them to a remote corner of Farmington Hills, a horse farm on the corner of 13 Mile Road and Inkster Road. Within a year, they acquired nearly 180 acres, enough to build the golf course and club house of their dreams.
The road to the Franklin Hills Country Club began in the late 19th century when the wealthier segment of the Jewish community of Metropolitan Detroit, banned because of religion from joining the city’s prestigious social and dramatic clubs, created one of their own. The Phoenix Club, founded in 1872, was a place where the Jewish elite could dine, socialize, play billiards, bowl, and even stage a performance. Seventy members belonged in its first years.
Missing from this two-story brick building located in the hub of the City, was land; land enough to construct a golf course. In 1913, the Phoenix Club purchased 113 acres in a village near the present-day city of Redford. Straddling the Rouge River, architect Jack Bendelow designed the nine-hole course. As membership grew, and interest in golf expanded, the board of directors of the Phoenix Club suggested the course become self-sustaining with its own board and management. The Redford Country Club was incorporated on January 1, 1920 with Leo M. Butzel serving as president. A year later, in 1921, the legendary golf course architect Donald Ross was retained to redesign and upgrade the course to an 18-hole mecca.
Despite the investment and expansion, it soon became evident that the golf club, with its limited acreage and the encroachment of the city, would not be able to provide for the club’s long-range goals of continued expansion. Club leaders found four tracts of farmland, totaling nearly 400 acres, between 13 and 14 Mile Roads in Farmington Hills. With the sale completed in 1926, Donald Ross was again retained to design the course, and Albert Kahn, a club member, was tapped to design the clubhouse.
The terrain was rugged, an asset Ross used to make the course challenging and beautiful. Kahn accentuated the landscaping further by designing a clubhouse that was warm, charming, solid, and incorporated fieldstones from the property.
Franklin Hills prospered with a loyal group of members, many of whose descendants remain members today. The club did encounter hard times, especially in the 1930s, during the depression. In January 1934, the club filed for bankruptcy. Meyer Prentis, General Motors’ financial architect, stepped in and purchased the club. Five years later, Prentis sold the club back at the exact purchase price.
Generations later, Franklin Hills Country Club remains a gem in the suburbs, home to an accomplished roster of golfers and tennis players. The club has been the site of countless community dinners and functions, hundreds of weddings, and other mitzvahs.
Excerpted from Franklin Hills Country Club: 75 Years, by Wendy Rose Bice