Situated in northern Michigan’s lower peninsula, around nine miles from the small town of Roscommon, Forest Dunes Golf Club began operation at the start of the new millennium as a private facility, with members playing an 18-hole layout designed by Tom Weiskopf. Acquired by Arkansan businessmen Lew Thompson and Sam Mathias in 2011, the golf facility is now fully open to the public.
The original Weiskopf course was joined in 2016 by a new 18-hole layout that came straight from the drawing boards of Tom Doak’s Renaissance Golf Design Company. Called The Loop, it’s the realisation of a long-held “dream concept” project for the architect, featuring eighteen distinct fairways and greens that are fully reversible, allowing golfers to play the same course in two different directions on consecutive days.
“This is a concept I have thought about for 30 years,” Doak said. “You need the right site and the right client to understand the appeal of it. At Forest Dunes we finally have both. The appeal of a reversible course is people would want to play it both ways. You are getting two golf courses in one.” The clockwise routing is called the Black Course with the anti-clockwise routing called the Red Course. Both play to a par of 70 with five par threes on each scorecard.
The property was perfectly suited for such a unique project because of the gently undulating nature of the landscape, with no dramatic changes in elevation, and this allowed Brian Slawnik, one of Doak’s senior associates, to develop the course in one direction whilst he designed the other.
The Black is said to be the more difficult of the two 18-hole layouts, with the right doglegged par four 12th earmarked as a potential “signature hole”. The par four 6th on the Red doglegs left to a raised green and it’s also a hole that’s worth looking out for when you play the layout in reverse.
The addition of the two Loop courses has elevated Forest Dunes Golf Club on so many levels. To think that The Loop exists just a few hundred yards from the original course is somewhat mind blowing. The playing conditions, the visuals and the experience are completely different. When you walk across the car park, it’s like you’re at a different golf club. The whole place is very special and will only continue to attract eager golfers of all levels looking for outstanding golf, great value and exceptional onsite dining / accommodations.
The Black course starts off with one of its many long difficult par 4s. Until you walk a few holes looking forwards and backwards, you don’t really get the reversible concept, but you very quickly understand its genius. You must buy a stroke-saver book and study it very well to see what you’re doing on two consecutive days. The second is a par 3 and you begin to see where the teeing grounds are positioned on any given day. There are no signs, no manicured tee boxes – just random open areas with little black/white/red flags to suggest where you play from. It’s you against the elements and the course guides you on a journey to the end of the property and back.
There is a strong sense of the Old Course at St. Andrews in certain places as you walk the grounds with hidden bunkers and the massive emphasize on playing the ball along the very hard ground. We often wondered if the ground would soften (a little) over time. It’s certainly the most “out and back” experience I’ve had playing in America and can’t wait to go back to this gorgeous part of Michigan.
This course takes huge amounts of shot-making imagination, especially in windy conditions. A couple of the holes on each nine (and on both loops) have a very wide-open flat feel to them, and almost play like connector holes to the next batch of excitement. We did find that a few too many greens were unfairly shaped on a given day especially if you hit a good approach shot that might get rejected and then leave you with an impossible chip based on the angle you face – especially into those Biarritz shaped greens. On a few occasions, you’d rather be way out of position with your approach shot than just off the green to have any chance of hitting your next shot close. Some pins are simply not possible (or fair) on each course based on the shaping – but it’s all a challenge so do your best and accept the outcome. I did love the mown areas around the greens that connected with the next teeing area which really helped the flow of your game.
We liked the movement of the course as it traverses the more interesting stretches of land that rise and fall and provide endless options for play. I even said to my playing partner that the next time I play the course, I might change the composition of the 14 clubs I have in my bag to allow for different shots.
It is eye opening how many bunkers on one day are completely irrelevant, and then the next day they wreak havoc with your mind. It’s sometimes hard to describe the holes because they change configuration so quickly, but other than a few flatter par 4s, there is so much stimulation with the colourful vegetation (almost heathland like) and greens that command respect.
I absolutely commend Tom Doak for the creation of the two loops, and my group concluded that we preferred the Black loop due to the challenge it presents and the more stimulating design from the direction we were playing in.
An extremely fun, fast and firm course. Wide corriders that are entirely fairway edged by native sandy scruff, allow for aggressive play off of the tee. Very challenging shots into greens, as with multiple approach angles required, greens are more evenly sloped instead of the traditional back to front. This along with the firm conditions require thoughtful approach play and challenging club and target landing spot selection. A great collection of short Par 4's (4, 7, 12) and long Par 4's (1, 3, 9, 14) can lead to pars that feel like both birdies and bogies.
The Loop Black
I will start off by saying that Doak had an audacious goal by designing a course that could be played clockwise and counter clockwise. Supposedly, this vision was fueled by the Old Course where up until the 19th century it was played both ways. Ultimately, people voted with their wallets and more showed up to play when it had the counter clockwise configuration. Hence, this is the design we are most familiar with. I will preface that I liked the Black configuration better. Both play hard and fast, if you are planning a trip to Scotland, this is a great place to play before your trip. Also, you will have to work really hard to hit a tree. It is wide open. This makes sense when one thinks about greens having to be accessible from two different directions. While it is open, there are still ample opportunities to lose balls in the heather. The tee boxes are identified by a single small flag and you can tee it up on either side. This is necessary as the next day the “tee box” will be considered fairway.
To the course:
The first hole is tough. Long uphill par 4 with a bunker on the right that gobbled up a couple of our tee shots. You get a respite on the short par 3 2nd before the number one handicap long par 4 3rd hole. The green is protected by a bunker front and right. It also appears as if there is a large bunker behind the green. There is, but it is at least 50 yards back. The short par 4 4th is one of my favorites because I birdied it. Off the tee, the left side will give you a better approach, but the right side has much more real estate. The green is a bowl with a bunker on the front right. If the pin is up you definitely want to come in from the left. Tricky little hole. The par 3 5th is a also devious. Uphill, if you are short your ball will roll back down. If you are long, you are dead. I guess you just have to hit the right club. The 6th is a fairly benign par five. Big hitters can get home in two, but you should favor the left side off the tee. There is a long front right bunker that protects the green and forces approaches left. This is one of the trickier greens. The 7th is a good birdie oppty, short par 4. Very driveable par 4.The contour is hard left, aim well right of the flag. The 8th is a short green light par 3. I really liked nine. Yes, I am sure you know what I did. There are bunkers right off the tee so favor the left. On your approach the two bunkers on the left are not greenside. You have about 50 yards between them and the green.
The back starts off with a long par 5. Play it as a 3 shotter. The 12th is a short par 4 dogleg right. Our big hitters went for it and paid the price with bunker challenges. I think a better play is to lay up to your favorite wedge yardage. The par 3 13th is uphill and looks tougher than it is, commit to the yardage and go. The 14th is the number 2 handicap hole and it plays tough. Fortunately, the easiest hole the par 3 15th is next. The 16th is a dogleg right. Good driving hole you can and should cut the corner. The green is a Biarritz. We were fortunate as the pin was in the swale, but look out if it is back left or right. The par 5 17th is reachable in two and is defenseless. Go for it, there is no trouble. The 18th is a dogleg right and looks pretty easy off the tee. Unless, you hit your drive left into the fairway bunker that you cannot see.
I was really looking forward to playing The Loop. We all felt The Black was the better of the two. I would encourage avid golfers to give it a test drive, but I will not be going back.
I saw some pictures of the course and was debating playing because it didn't look spectacular. Boy was I wrong! I was blown away by the course.
With very wide fairways that play firm, it is welcoming to the high handicap golfer off the tee. However, the greens are the defense with severe undulations and they play fast and firm. I'd describe the course as difficult to double bogey because you can put from 30 feet in the fairway; however, it is tough to par any holes because the greens are difficult to hold if you fly it onto them. That is true links style, which we are not used to in the U.S., but it is a lot of fun!
Doak's design to make it reversible was architectural brilliance and a great contribution to this great era of golf architecture we are now in.
To correct the other review on here, caddies are not required and carts are now allowed. I prefer walking though and it is designed for walking.
Even though The Old Course at St. Andrews was originally conceived as a reversible layout it has been rarely used as such since 1914. The Loop has long been a passion of local Architect Tom Doak to create the only reversible golf course ever built in North America. Since it opened in 2016 it has become the most talked about and awarded golf course in the U.S. So much so that in 2017 Golf Digest named The Loop the “Best New Public Golf Course” and Golf Magazine called it the “Best New Golf Course You Can Play”.
It’s hard to fathom that one day you play clockwise where you are approaching a green that is wide and shallow with plenty of bunkers and the next day on the counter clockwise track you are faced with a skinny green with no visible danger. Doak was ingenious in laying out a minimalistic design using expansive fairways, gentle elevation changes and thorny evergreen gorse-like shrubs to re-create a Scottish heathlands-style course. The fairways and tee blocks are fescue grass so there are no carts allowed (walking only).
The first 150 yards off each tee are maintained since it serves as the approach on the next day. The large greens are hybrid bent grass that are firm and fast with big undulations. You will need to learn how to bump-and-run with a 7-iron since nothing holds on these crested putting surfaces. I’ll guarantee that you will putt off the green at least once. There are about 50 non-manicured bunkers and plenty of wasteland with sand that is deep and soft sourced on property and reportedly rated the best around.
A caddy is mandatory and costs $100 + $40 tip or $60 per person for a twosome plus $30 tip.
PS. A distance finder would be helpful since there are no yardage stakes on the fairway.
To read about more of Dave Finn's adventures visit www.golftravelandleisure.com