What a fantastic opportunity I was able to take advantage of on the recent HOG World Tour stop in Forest Dunes, Michigan. Forest Dunes is located in rural northern Michigan (map below).
I had the chance to play perhaps the most talked about new course in the last several years, The Loop. The Loop is a course designed by one of my favorite golf course architects, Tom Doak. Doak is as much a mad scientist as he is a brilliant golf architect. I’ve played many of his courses and always enjoyed his designs.
The Loop Overview
While only 18 physical holes, The Loop plays as two distinct par-70 18 hole golf courses, the Red Course and the Black Course. It is reversible. One day The Red is the play (counter-clockwise) and the next it’s The Black (clockwise). Reversible courses aren’t new. Even the Old Course in St Andrews played two directions, though they only do it once a year or so these days. The Loop is the first fully reversible course in the United States.
There are certainly unique challenges when trying to make holes that play in both directions and Doak’s genius in making that happen is impressive. Think about it for a minute. When facing a hole going one direction there are many factors to consider. The tee must setup appropriately and the sight lines from the tee must produce the look and feel the architect intends, but on The Loop it has to do the same thing backwards. Fairway bunkers and waste areas showing in one direction may not show or be in play going the other direction and vice versa. Some fairway bunkers and waste areas are visible from both directions. Those must play and look appropriate clockwise or counter-clockwise.
Perhaps the biggest challenge in a reversible golf course is designing greens and green complexes that are approachable, playable, and visually pleasing from both directions. Green side bunkers, false fronts, and collection areas present the approaching golfer challenges and opportunities to be creative in one direction, but must not ruin the playability coming from the other direction. Doak does very well here, with the exception of a couple of greens which fall off in both directions making the effective surface quite small.
Reversible Hole Comparison
My first round on The Loop was the Black Course. The Black course plays The Loop in a clockwise direction, starting left of the 18th green. See first photo below, from the first tee. It was early in the morning so the photo is a little dark.
Now contrast the look above with the view from the 18th tee on the Red Course below. It was a little brighter when I played the Red.
Interestingly, the elevation from the Red tee to the bottom of the fairway and back up to the green seemed to be more than it was going the other direction, on the Black tee down and back up to the putting surface. It’s the same elevation change of course, but it “seemed” different. It looked different too as you can see. The fairway on the Black looks more narrow from the tee than the fairway on the Red looks from the tee, and its the same fairway!
Every hole seemed quite different when comparing the Red vs the Black. Even the tree-lines looked different.
Despite occupying the same real estate, the Red and the Black courses look, feel, and play differently.
I felt like driving the ball was a little easier for me on the Black course. Somehow the fairways felt wider. The ball runs and bounces hard on the links-style hard ground. Love that. As I mentioned, the look from the tee from the Black is very different than it is from the Red. The landing areas are quite wide and forgiving on both courses. Some course knowledge would help in knowing where to aim.
Many fairways have some fun humps and bumps which can result in interesting bounces and lies. A few others are very wide and flat. There are numerous fairway bunkers and waste areas which can eat up strokes and the smart player will aim for the fat part of the fairway, away from those round killers. It’s quite fun to examine the fairway bunkers and realize they can be seen and in play going one direction, but invisible going the other.
Approaching the greens is more challenging than hitting the fairway. Often times approaches must land short or at a different angle to the pin to allow for bounces and release. But if one releases too far the ball may go over the other side of the green and end up in bunker normally in play for the opposite direction.
The green design is so interesting because the greens have to be able to take approach shots from two directions. Most approaches can be run ups which I really like since I’m a low-ball hitter and links lover. There are a couple of approaches over hazards or waste areas that require forced carries. Course knowledge or having a caddie can really help around the greens because often times aiming at the flag when chipping on or putting isn’t the best play.
Click to see more photos of The Loop
The bunkering around the greens is so unique. Like the fairway design, bunkers can be in play and visible from one direction but not the opposite. I really like the rugged styles of the bunkers with rough edges and native grasses growing around the edges.
A few of the greens roll off on both sides, which can make finding the right spot on the green tough.
Putting is fun on The Loop. I struggled with my reads from shorter distances because there are situations which look uphill but are down, and there are nuances and subtleties which can move the ball just enough to miss. I found long distance putting to be a blast, even putting from several yards off the putting surface, just like in Scotland. The highlight putt of both rounds was my birdie putt on the short par-4 15th on the Red. The pin was far left-front and I blocked my approach to the back right. I was 90 feet downhill with a good 10 feet of break and nailed it dead in the jaws for birdie. Easily the longest putt I’ve made in years.
Speaking of putting off the greens, there are a lot of opportunities to do that because of the short grass and hard ground. That’s why I love Scottish links golf. I chi-putted many times on the Red and Black. One really fun one was the par-3 17th on the Red. There’s a half pipe in the back of the green (front on the Black). The pin was right in the middle of it and I missed the green left. I putted over the hill, down to the green, back up the hill on the other side. From there the ball rolled back onto the green and nestled to a foot or so for an easy par. Very fun.
Bring bug spray. There were lots of bugs when I was at The Loop. In fact some of my photos have dots in the sky which are gnats flying around the camera. I also managed some nasty mosquito bites.
Having played both courses once now, play the fat areas of the fairways. Don’t take on hazards or waste areas unless you’re sure you can carry them. That would have saved me several shots.
Have I mentioned I hate cart paths? In my opinion cart paths ruin golf courses. Yet another reason I love golf in Scotland and now The Loop… there are no carts or cart paths. The Loop is a walking-only course. Make sure you have good shoes and socks, and take a caddie. You’ll enjoy it.
No cart paths! Great!
Rates on the courses at Forest Dunes run between $69-149/round, based on time of year and day of the week.
There is a massive practice area at Forest Dunes for sharpening all aspects of one’s game: large driving range (below), short game area, practice green… and a soon to be opened putting course similar to the Himalayas in St Andrews.
The clubhouse is large and spacious with a finely appointed pro shop. Inside the pro shop one can find any kind of Forest Dunes logo items from apparel to accessories, as well as high end golf clubs and balls.
The clubhouse as seen from the Weiskopf course
The restaurant at Forest Dunes is great. I enjoyed two smoked filet mignons there (not in one sitting mind you). Fantastic. The burgers are great too and even the salads.
I stayed right on the property at Forest Dunes, just a 1-2 minute walk from the clubhouse in a “villa.” The villas are multi-room buildings which have common areas and individual rooms with showers.
The common areas have couches, a kitchen, fridge, sink, microwave, and TV. My villa had four rooms and was very nice and comfortable with a big shower.
I always try to point out areas of improvement when I do my reviews. In the villas there is no internet-wifi available and the wifi at the clubhouse was very weak and undependable. I dig the remoteness of the resort, but no wifi is painful for doing business or keeping in touch with the outside world.
Also in the villa rooms there are drawers but there is no closet or anywhere to hang clothing.
As I previously mentioned, a couple of The Loop’s greens with false front/backs can be pretty extreme, making the effective target area on the greens very small and difficult to hit.
Add The Loop to your golf bucket list. Forest Dunes makes for a tremendous golf buddy trip. Hit the Red and Black, and the Weiskopf course (review coming soon). The experience of playing Doak’s mad scientist creation is one of the best you’ll have in golf.
The Loop Image Gallery
Old-school leather style head covers are the hot ticket right now in the golf accessories world. There are some very nice ones out there, some which fetch a hefty price. On the less expensive side and less smug is Craftsman head covers. These are Chinese made (don’t sigh, 99.9% of golf stuff is made in China). I’ve played most of the 2017 season with these head covers and they look like brand new and are not wearing out in the slightest.
My set includes a driver, 3-metal, hybrid, and blade putter cover as shown in the picture below.
On The Course
On the course I find the Craftsman head covers to work well and do their primary job, protect my golf clubs. They are solid, well made, and durable. I’m not sure if the colors in my set are supposed to be from the American flag though. The blue is more of a black.
I can’t write a detailed 2,000 word review on golf head covers. Suffice it to say that Craftsman Golf makes solid and simple head covers, including full customizing options. I’d love to see what they could do with some Hooked on Golf Blog logos on there.
I need a head cover to do three jobs: Show up, keep up, shut up. Oh sorry, that’s a caddie’s job. I need head covers to protect my expensive golf investment. I need them to be easy to use. I need them to be durable and light weight. Finally, I need them to look decent. Craftsman Golf’s covers cover all the bases, and all the clubs.
Craftsman Golf website
I recently reviewed the 6-layer golf ball from Forté Golf, an Australian based company. That’s the first of two golf ball modes from Forté Golf. Today’s review is the Tour-Performance S model. This is a ball with a different construction than their 6-layer, but still focuses on “tour” performance. What does that mean? We hear “tour” all the time when referring to golf equipment, especially golf balls. Tour typically means high short game spin and a soft urethane type of cover for control in the short game. Let’s take a look at the Tour-Performance S.
Tour-Performance S Overview
The Tour-Performance S is a 3-layer ball, often referred to as 3-piece construction. The layers are the core, mantle, and cover. Each layer has specific properties and materials designed specifically for performance characteristics throughout the various shots. Golf ball construction is tough. Lower spin rates are great for longer distance and accuracy with the long clubs. But higher spin rate is desired for shorter shots. That high spin provides bite and control.
The core primarily gives the ball its compression, and feel off the driver. The core of the Tour Performance S is soft and produces a low spin rate with the driver. The mantle blends the core with the cast urethane cover. The urethane cover provides the ball’s feel and control in short game shots, even putting.
On The Course
Driving with the TPS is excellent. I love the softer core. I’m able to hit this ball as far most brand name tour quality balls. Just yesterday I was in a tournament in high winds and was still able to hit some long drives which held their line nicely. I even got to put my name on the long drive sign, but that didn’t last long I’m sure.
The soft core and urethane cover make for great feeling shots with the irons. Longer irons compress well and my accuracy with them is great. Shorter irons and especially wedges stop on a dime and leave 7 cents change. In my last round I nearly holed out two shots from roughly 100 yards. Quite sure one lipped out. Nice to have a 10 inch birdie putt now and then.
Short game shots, chipping and pitching around the green are huge beneficiaries of the urethane cover. I feel like I have total control and stopping power with my wedges.
Putting the S is terrific as well. It rolls true and is very easy to control distance.
One problem “tour” balls have is durability. It’s contradictory to have a soft cover and high durability. That said the TPS is very durable. I’ve played one ball for 2-3 rounds and it barely shows any wear.
The ultimate golf ball has low spin with the driver and high spin on shorter shots. The S performs highly on both ends of the spectrum and easily competes with tour caliber balls from the big name brands.
I may be fooling myself, but I like to think I hit certain clubs fairly accurate and consistent yardages. When I have an exact yardage to my target it helps me confidently pick the right club and put a solid swing on it. That’s one reason I typically prefer laser rangefinders over GPS devices on the golf course. I can shoot anything and get a number. Top lip of the bunker guarding the front of the green is 127 and the pin is 135. Perfect. I know just what to hit.
Laser rangefinders are not typically inexpensive. The Bushnell Pro X2 laser I recently reviewed is $500! That’s a lot of dough for golfers on a budget or who only play a few times a month or even a few times a year. Luckily the more affordable laser rangefinder space has an excellent player in it, TecTecTec. TecTecTec makes several “affordable” lasers which start in price from $149 and max out at $249.00. Many of the features found in the more expensive laser units come standard in TecTecTec lasers. Today’s review is the VRPRO500S.
The VRPRO500S is not the least expensive offering from TecTecTec. It’s the next level up, and can be found on Amazon for only $179.99. This model comes in a very small and convenient size. See the photo below.
- “Flagseeker Advanced Pinsensor Technology” – (LOL, not pinseeker) technology locks onto the pin (see critiques)
- Slope – not legal for tournament play but can be turned off
- Yards or Meters
- Measures up to 540 yards (good for you long hitters)
- Very nice zippered case with elastic quick release
- Compact size
- 6X monocular magnification
- 2 year warranty
On The Course
The VRPRO500S performed fairly well on the course for me. Keep in mind I’m used to gaming lasers that are 2-3X the cost. I found that in most situations I was able to get an accurate yardage quickly. The numbers on the display are clear and easy to read. The visual through the 6x monocular multi-layer coated lens is clear and bright.
I don’t typically use slope when getting yardages with lasers because my rounds are almost always legit handicap or tournament rounds. But for fun I used the slope a few times to get the hang of it. The slop can be turned on or off via the “mode” button on the top. The slope is quite cool. The actual yardage is shown as normal, but under it is shown the yardage compensated for change in elevation. For instance on one par-3 at my home course the yardage was 145 downhill. With the slope turned on the unit told me the yardage would play like a shot of 137 yards. The top of the display also shows the number of degrees in the slope, which is interesting.
There are also other modes and settings one can use the mode button for. One is a kind of “scan” mode where you can hold the button down and the numbers will automatically update as you move it around.
Naturally the main mode I used is “Flagseeker” mode. LOL, doesn’t sound anything like Pinseeker.
One weakness this laser has over the expensive higher end brands is a situation I’ve ran into a few times. The Flagseeker mode has a hard time locking in on the pin when there are trees close behind the pin. More often than not the unit gives me the yardage to the trees, not the pin. Bigger target. In events like that all is not lost though. I’ll just shoot the ground at the bottom of the pin, or shoot the false front, or better yet shoot players if they’re still putting.
At $179 the VRPRO500S is a great value in golf laser rangefinders. It’s difficult to find many with slope in that price range, if there are any others at all.
Change of pace for me today. I played the 9-hole Forest Dale golf course, located in Salt Lake City. Forest Dale, known by my group as “Foreskin Dale,” is the oldest course in Utah, serving up bogeys since 1906. Not as old as the New Course in St Andrews (1895), but 111 years isn’t too bad. This is a mini-review.
Forest Dale Clubhouse and practice green
The clubhouse (above) is actually a historical landmark, placed on the Utah Historical Register. Can grease in the cafe be a historical landmark? It might be as old as the course. I kid. I kid.
This 9-holer is interesting. It features a par-36 but three par-5’s, three par-4’s and three par-3’s. Here’s the par-3 8th below, what I could call the “signature hole” of the course.
Forest Dale 8th hole
This course is friendly to the very casual, higher handicap golf crowd. No collars required. In fact, I’d be surprised if shirts are required. It’s inexpensive but the rolling hills make it much more interesting than some of the other flat courses in the city. The old-school greens are pretty small, but since the course is moderately short they’re not overly hard to hit. They were quite slow today. Probably more favorable for the typical client the course serves.
I don’t know who the pro in the shop is. Never met him until today. But for a hot Sunday without a lot of people playing, he was very friendly and obviously enjoying his day’s work.
Forest Dale isn’t exactly golf tourist attraction for serious players, but for locals who don’t take themselves too seriously it’s fun. It’s not too hard to get on the course. I checked in with no tee time and was on the first tee before I had a chance to tie my shoes. It was a no-stress, enjoyable day and some decent exercise for me today. Good times.