Located way off the beaten track, at a latitude further north than Toronto in Canada, the Tom Weiskopf-designed Forest Dunes Golf Club lies within a 1,200-acre estate in northern Michigan and it’s rated one of the top public golf courses in the USA.
Opened in 2002, the 18-holes run through pine forests and birch groves, skirting wetlands and waste areas as they weave their way over sandy terrain, attracting favourable comparisons from some golfers to Augusta National for the front nine and Pine Valley on the back nine.
Such similarities are flattering – if a little wide of the mark – but there’s no doubt the architect has crafted a wonderful set of holes here on top of a landscape rich in glacial sand deposits, framing many of the fairways with corridors of pine and bracken.
Last word to Tom Weiskopf, who says, “Forest Dunes replicates classic style and design and emulates a risk/reward involvement on most every hole. This is truly a spectacular piece of golf course property and I am thankful that I was given the opportunity to create a special golf experience”.
So many times when people prepare reviews the focus often highlights the "experience" side of the equation. How well was one received by staff? How good were the turf conditions? How well did the putting greens roll? There's no question that these elements have a place in the discussion but frankly the central dimension must have the architecture as the first among all other aspects.
The other factors I alluded to are support considerations -- which flow from just how good the architecture really is.
Take for example the Tom Weiskopf design at Forest Dunes. Before playing the layout this past summer I had heard a great deal. I especially took notice when Golf Channel's Matt Ginella had the course among the top five public in the USA. I've played my share of public golf throughout America and frankly Forest Dunes would not sniff a top 25 position let alone a top five.
That's not to say the course is not good but the expectations I had going in were extremely high. The turf quality when I was there certainly merits attention for how the course presents itself. The greens rolled well and the details in having the course "look" smart were clearly apparent. Unfortunately, the architecture side was not at the same level.
The holes are good but Weiskopf has done far better at other designs he has created.
There are a few standout holes on the outward side -- the split fairway at the par-4 6th is good. Ditto the risk/reward elements at the par-5 7th which is bolstered by a singular tree that stands guard along the left side of the putting green. The dog-leg par-4 8th is also a fine driving hole to a well defended green.
The inward side starts strongly with the split fairway at the 10th and bolstered by a well-defended green. But, frankly, after that wonderful hole the only other one of note is the stellar long par-4 14th. No question, the turf quality and the setting make for a pleasant time but the beef for compelling architecture is just not sustained. If Weiskopf had added more from the holes I have mentioned then the totality of the golf would have been on a much higher level.
In other designs Weiskopf has made it a point to add a driveable par-4. It's become his signature inclusion. However, the par-4 17th Forest Dunes is a mere lightweight when held against others that he has created. The round concludes with a decent par-5 but nothing that is extraordinary. If anything, I found the par-3 19th to be a fine way to settle any last minute bets.
The Weiskopf layout certainly provides high marks on the "looks" dimension. Frankly, without knowing better, I would have thought the course was the handiwork of Tom Fazio -- a man who has perfected the appearance of golf without having the substance behind it in so many of his efforts.
Those going had best place their expectations in check. The only thing not overrated is the constant attack of the bugs. They are akin to a zombie movie -- they just keep coming and can be a major irritant. Compelling architecture is on a limited basis here. It's just too bad more could not have been brought to the table.
by M. James Ward
Forest Dunes is a fantastic public course with plenty of eye candy. While the eye candy is mostly out of play, there are some very good holes on the course and it is fun to play. The only criticism is that the greens are average, not spectacular.
Forest Dunes is quickly transforming itself from a stop over to parts north in Michigan into a destination on its own. It truly is located in the middle of nowhere. A 3-hour drive north of Detroit and 8 miles to the nearest town of Roscommon with a population of just over 1000, Forest Dunes is a pure golf experience.
Golf Digest ranks it #25 in the 2017-2018 “America’s 100 Greatest Public Golf Course” and in 2017 Golf Magazine named it #21 in the “Top 100 Courses You Can Play” so you won’t be disappointed.
The course was in impeccable shape with five sets of tees ranging from 3,500 to 7,100 yards to accommodate all skill levels. The strategically placed deep flashed-up bunkers have sharp defined edges filled with consistent soft white sand. The greens are well protected with less undulations but when I played it the Stimp Meter read 14 so they were extremely fast. Plus the false fronts and swales around the greens make for strategic approach shots.
A Tale of Two Lives – Forest and Dunes
The first eight holes have a true parkland feel as you gently meander though the heavily wooded Huron National Forest. The short 6th hole nicknamed “Gamble” offers a visually intimidating tee shot since bunkers run across this split fairway and a huge tree is perched directly in the middle. It forces you to make a choice of laying up on either side of the tree or fly one over the right bunker.
#7, aptly named “Goal Posts” is a sweeping dogleg left par-5 that is surrounded by four large bunkers and a big tree in the front right as you approach the green.
The “Forest Edge” 8th hole is probably my favourite. This sharp dog-leg par-4 has a huge bunker on the right side to prevent you from cutting the corner. The visually stunning peninsula green is also protected by three huge bunkers making your approach paramount.
“The Point” 9th hole is an intimating par-3 that is entirely over water, surrounded by five bunkers within clear view of the clubhouse.
The wide-open 10th hole, called “Decision”, gives you a taste of the back nine with two huge waste bunkers staring you in the face on this split fairway. Take your pick but chose wisely depending on the pin placement on the horseshoe shaped green.
The back nine has more of a raw heathland-style feel with wind swept dunes, waste bunkers, natural grasses and thick underbrush.
Holes 11, 12 and 13 transport you back into the dense forest then 14 and 15 open back up again. The “Hideaway” #15 par-5 is set in a gully with the smallest green on the course. Waste bunkers are the most prominent feature as you head back to the clubhouse from 16 to 18.
Fantastic customer service and over-all conditioning is without repute.
Patterned concrete cart pathways
Divots are filled with a green seed and sand compound so you cannot see them from a distance.
More après golf activities and rooms need an outdoor patio area to sit at
No course map on the cart or scorecard so make sure you buy a yardage book
Gnats are here all year round – they don’t bite but make sure you invest in the natural insect repellent that they sell since deet is not effective.
Dave Finn is our Canadian Correspondent. Follow his travels at www.golftravelandleisure.com