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”.
Forest Dunes is the ying to the Loops yang. If you played the Loop first, you may feel claustrophobic on Forest Dunes front 9. A Weiskopf design, the front meanders through a forest and the back through sand. (dunes require elevation) I had previously thought the name peculiar, but now it kind of makes sense.
The first hole is welcoming, a slight dogleg right with a bunker on the inside elbow. You can fly this and have a short iron to the green. However, if your appetite is too large and you miss right there is a steep falloff to additional penurious bunkers. The 2nd is the number one handicap hole, slight dogleg left but very narrow off the tee. If you miss the fairway you will probably be looking at bogey. The green is well- protected with bunkers front right and left. The 3rd is a par three surrounded by four bunkers. A ridge runs front to back, just about in the middle of the green. If you are on the wrong side a two putt is a job well done. The 5th is the first par 5 and my advice is play it as a 3 shotter. A modified S that starts off left with a bunker on the elbow, right is best off the tee. There is a gaggle of fairway bunkers to be avoided, left is best for your second shot. This is a severely sloped back to front green. The 6th looks tougher from the tee box than it is. A quasi-split fairway, right is better. If you are playing the correct tees, do not fear, you can and will clear the bunker and have a short iron in to the green. The par 5 7th is a slinger left. Big hitters can get home in two, especially if you are a hooker. This is a well protected green. The 8th is a sharp dogleg right and a penthouse or outhouse type of hole. If you can fly the bunker on the elbow, you will have a short iron in. Anything else and the hole gets much dicier, a water hazard comes into play on the right with bunkers left and behind the green. The par 3 9th is the signature hole. All carry over water to a green that is surrounded by five bunkers.
The back starts off with a split fairway, left will be longer, but arguably a better angle. Right shorter with a narrower landing area and your approach will have to go over a greenside bunker. The 11th is a short par 3 and allegedly, the easiest hole on the course. The par 4 12th is a fun hole. Dogleg left with bunkers on the inside elbow, water hazard sneaking in from the right and in front of the green along with bunker left and behind the green. The 13th is pretty straight forward. However, favor the left side off of the tee as there are a pair of large trees protecting the green on the right. The long par 4 14th is the number two handicap and deserves to be. Finding the landing area on this hourglass shaped hole is the first challenge. Bunker right and water left. The long approach is to wide, but shallow, green that is protected by a trio of bunkers, water left and a waste area right. I think the best hole on the course. (I did not birdie it) The par 5 15th can be reached only by those who are long and accurate. The hole trundles left and has triplet bunkers on both sides of the landing area. There are two greenside bunkers right to this bowl green. Half the fun is the anticipation of how close your approach shot ends up from the pin. As visually appealing as the par 3 9th is the 16th is a golfer’s par 3. It is long and mostly carry over a waste area. Bunkers left and right and the green tilts left to right. The 17th is a short reachable par 4. How else would you know it is a Weiskopf design? Waste areas and bunkers left and right, the ideal line is over the left side pot bunker. Green light, birdie oppty. The 18th is a good risk/reward closing hole. A reachable par 5, favor right of center off the tee. There are three bunkers lining the right side leading up to the green as well as water left and long. Ultimately, it is a finishing hole that is not a finishing hole. The 19th hole gives everyone one more chance for glory. A whimsical short par 3 over water with three greenside bunkers and a bunker inside the green.
A course that provides a little bit of everything, long and demanding, short and fun birdieable and quadrupleable.
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.
Follow Dave Finn's travels at www.golftravelandleisure.com