On the recent HOG World Tour stop in northern Michigan I had the pleasure of staying at Forest Dunes resort, and playing the unique Tom Doak designed reversible course there called The Loop. Check out my review of The Loop.
While The Loop may be the attention grabber, Forest Dunes is home to a Tom Weiskopf design simply called Forest Dunes Golf Club. Forest Dunes Golf Club sits inside 500 acres of land within the Huron National Forest. The course is a 7,116 yard par-72 design which is quite different than The Loop. For one it isn’t reversible.
A Tale of Two Nines – Forest and Dunes
The front nine (Forest) is carved through some fairly dense northern Michigan trees in more of a traditional American parkland style of golf, less links influence. So there’s more carrying the ball and little running up shots. Due to the dense trees lining most holes, each hole is isolated. No parallel holes. It’s quite serene.
The back nine (Dunes) exits the forest and turns to a more rugged and exposed experience. The dunes on the back feature large sandy waste areas and native vegetation which line and sometimes cross the fairways and surround the greens.
Speaking of serenity… Forest Dunes occupies about 500 acres and there are no homes on the course.
The look and feel from the tee of the Weiskopf course is very pleasing to the eye. Most often it’s WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get). Tee shots need to be fairly accurate or they’ll end up in the dense forest, waste areas, water hazards, or some of the terrific fairway bunkering. There are a few situations where from the tee one doesn’t realize there are two different paths to take, split fairways. A better familiarization with the course would really help in those situations.
There’s also a nice bit of elevation change from tee to fairway or tee to green on the front nine. The elevation changes make the tee shots even more interesting. More rolling hills and dunes are on the back, which hide some of the native areas.
The fairways on the Weiskopf course were in terrific condition when I played there, and I found most of them thankfully. Only on the 9th did I run into tree issues. Lies on the shortgrass were like lies on high quality carpet. The only difference is you don’t want to take a divot out of high quality carpet. It won’t grow back.
Most of the fairways are not terribly penal or unforgiving. There can be positions in the fairway which are not optimal; ones that perhaps bring overhanging trees into play or bad angles to the green. A little course knowledge helps for those situations. Same goes with some of the small native areas and waste areas which can jut out from the sides of some of the fairways, especially on the back nine.
I really enjoyed the green complexes at Forest Dunes. Many of the greenside bunkers are Robert Trent Jones Sr.-like large. There can also be more rugged bunkering with native grasses around the edges and less pristine and precision in the shaping on the back.
Some greens are guarded by forced carries, water, and of course sand, so flying it all the way in those situations is required. Other greens offer options for chipping, pitching, or even putting off the surface (one of my favorite shots because chipping is one of my least favorite shots).
Despite the fact that I couldn’t make any putt for birdie inside of 10 feet, and there were a lot of them, I still enjoyed the putting surfaces. They rolled very true and well. Putts that were on line dropped but puts, like mine, that were off by even a fraction of an inch, did not.
One very unique feature at the Wekskopf course is the 19th hole. No that doesn’t refer to the bar. The bar is the 20th!
19th Hole at Forest Dunes
The 19th is a short par-3 which is used to settle matches or bets in the event that there’s a tie after the 18th is completed. What a cool idea. My group was hitting sand wedges into the green but it looked like the hole could be stretched out a bit more. One fun part, hard to see in the photo above, is the bunker in the middle of the green which made the green’s shape like a donut.
Forest Dunes has a tremendous practice facility. From numerous practice greens to a solid and interesting driving range to a very detailed and creative short game area. The answers to your game’s issues are there somewhere.
I also noticed a putting course which had just been seeded. I imagine it will be fully operational by the 2018 season, if not sooner.
The clubhouse is large and elegantly appointed inside and out. Inside the clubhouse are a few rooms, a restaurant, and the pro shop. The shop is fully stocked with great gear and apparel.
The clubhouse as seen from the 18th fairway
I enjoyed several great meals in the restaurant. Two of them were smoked filet mignons with baked potato and French onion soup. The reason I had a second one was because the first one was so good. No, they weren’t at the same sitting.
In addition to the rooms in the clubhouse, there are “villas” which are about a one minute walk from the clubhouse or any of the courses’ first tees. The villas have numerous rooms, with shared living space. Each room has its own shower. The shared living space in the villas feature large cushy reclining chairs, couches, a large flatscreen TV, kitchen, microwave, refrigerator, and kitchen table.
Villa sweet villa
I stayed in one of the villas (photo above) and loved it, sans a closet or somewhere to hang up my expensive golf shirts.
Bring bug spray.
I had a fantastic time taking on the challenge of Forest Dunes Golf Club. The variation between nines, immaculate conditioning and maintenance, and fabulous design made it one of my favorite golf experiences of the year.
Forget boring flat Florida golf or the other traditional golf travel locations. The Loop and Forest Dunes golf club are the perfect recipe for a memorable golf buddy trip.
The Loop at Forest Dunes review
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
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.
It has taken a few weeks to process my experience at French Lick Resort’s Pete Dye Course. I was also slightly sidetracked by a little trip to Scotland in that timeframe. The dust in my golf cranium has settled. I’m ready to try and tackle this big review of a big golf course.
French Lick Location
First off, let’s get the location figured out. French Lick Resort is in Larry Bird country, the towns of French Lick and West Baden Springs in southern Indiana. The closest major city and airport is Louisville, Kentucky. Next would be Cincinnati and Indianapolis. The resort sits on a large and historic estate which dates back to 1845.
The Dye Course is a 5-10 minute drive from the West Baden Springs Hotel and the French Lick Hotel and Casino. The course lies on one of the highest points of elevation in Indiana, producing a 40 mile panoramic view.
Pete Dye Course Key Facts
First off, one must know who Pete Dye is. Pete Dye is a Hall of Fame golf course architect who has built some of the most famous courses in the world. Some of Pete Dye’s most notable courses include Kiawah Island Golf Resort, Harbour Town Golf Links, TPC Sawgrass Stadium (home of THE PLAYERS), Whistling Straits, and PGA West.
Pete Dye and me
The Pete Dye Course at French Lick is certainly one of the most difficult courses in the USA, if not the world. The course rating from the tips is an unheard of 80.0. The slope is a massive 148. It’s hard to translate those numbers for those who don’t understand rating and slope. A skilled professional on average would shoot an 80 on this course, on a good day.
The course plays to a par value of 72. The total yardage is 8,102. Amongst that hefty yardage is par-3 16th hole which measures 305 yards. If the length isn’t tough enough, there’s water down the entire right side.
The views presented to the golfer from the tees are tremendous, challenging, and worthy of not only a solid tee shot, but a solid shutter release of a nice DSLR camera.
1st Tee – The sliver of fairway in line with the cart path is the target
Where to aim from the tee on the Pete Dye course is a tough call on nearly every hole. Visually the landing areas look extremely narrow and seem like they’re miles away. Wait a sec… that’s because they are extremely narrow and miles away. One must know how far they hit their drives or layup shots, exactly. Then execute a near perfect shot to hit that precise spot to keep a ball in the fairway. And I’m talking about the par-3’s! I kid. I kid. Sort of.
Dornoch, Scotland born Donald Ross began his golf career as an apprentice to Old Tom Morris at the Old Course in St Andrews. Old Tom was the greenskeeper for the Old Course in St Andrews and had designed many of the most famous courses in Scotland and the UK including Carnoustie, Prestwick, Muirfield, Machrihanish, Jubilee, and Balcomie Links. I’ve played a few of those.
Ross moved to the United States in 1899 where he began arguably the most successful architectural career in the history of golf. Ross is credited for designing 600 golf courses. Amongst those 600 are some of the world’s most famous and respected courses, which still stand the test of time. A few of Ross’s most notable courses include Pinehurst No. 2, Seminole, Oak Hill and Oakland Hills. A couple of others I like to add to the list are ones I’ve had the pleasure of playing, Burning Tree and Aronimink Golf Club. Ross’s courses are known for being natural and taking advantage of the lay of the land, not the “earth mover” type of golf architecture.
The Ross Course at French Lick opened for play in 1917 and has recently undergone a $5 million renovation to bring it back to Ross’s original design. Golf courses, like living beings, grow and change over time. In the renovation, bunkers which lost their nearly 100 year battle with the elements and nature were restored to their original specifications.
The Donald Ross course at French Lick is a par-70. Don’t let that fool you into thinking it is short or easy. In fact, the course clocks in at 7,030 yards which is long even for a par-72 course. The rating from the tips (the Gold Tees) is a strong 72.3 with a slope of 135. A solid test of golf. To accommodate players of all abilities and ages, there are four total sets of tees, the shortest measuring 5,050 yards.
The way each hole presents itself from the tee of the Ross course is so visually appealing. The landscape is hilly and features some very large elevation changes. The tees challenge the golfer to execute an accurate shot or find strategically placed penal areas including bunkers, hazards, long native grassy areas, and trees. Some tee shots are blind and the help of some course knowledge or at the least, a local caddy is a great thing to have.
The numerous sets of tees are not boringly arranged on one flat piece of ground a few yards apart. Rather, each tee set offers the golfer different yardages, elevations, and angles to the target. Regular golfers could create a very different playing experience by simply changing tees from round to round, or even making up their own combo set.
The fairways at the Ross course are welcomingly wide. That said, there are very few flat areas on the property. The golfer will be challenged to hit a straight from the fairway due to the undulations and uneven lies.
Strategically placed bunkers can and will penalize shots which are not placed in the fairway.
Donald Ross is well known for his amazing greens at courses like Pinehurst, Oakland Hills, Aronimink. Ross’s greens at French Lick are truly amazing; the prime feature of the golf course. Many of the greens feature the Ross trademark “upside down soup bowl” design, where any shot or even putts too close to the edge are rejected and end up rolling off into collection areas or false fronts. Those upside down bowl greens (photo below) present some very difficult challenges in the short game. The player can try hitting a high soft shot, bumping a low shot into the hill and onto the green, or my default choice which is putting. Getting up and down from greenside at the Ross Course is an accomplishment.
In fact, getting in the hole in two putts is an accomplishment. Due to the undulations, slopes, tiers and bowl edges, putting the Ross greens is the biggest challenge of the entire golf course. A two-putt on any green feels like a birdie. 3-putts can actually be a solid play.
Stay below the hole at all costs. Because of the speed of the greens and the incredible slopes and undulations, shots which end up above the hole are most often dead. Stay below the hole, even if that means missing the green short.
The clubhouse at the Ross Course oozes history and class. The pro-shop is full of great equipment and apparel and a great staff who are extremely helpful and pleasant to interact with.
Hagen’s Restaurant has a large indoor and outdoor seating area (right side of above photo). I enjoyed great food and great service between rounds on a 36-hole day. Hagen’s is named after Walter Hagen, who won the PGA Championship there in 1924.
The Ross course has an adequate putting/chipping area with a fantastic view (first photo), and very close to Hagen’s to insure the frosty beverages are topped off.
One drawback to the Ross and my only critique: there is no driving range.
The Ross Course is a pristine gem, full of history and personality. It will challenge golfers of all abilities and especially those like me, who consider themselves good putters. Be sure to plan a trip to French Lick to experience this historic golf course. The French Lick Pete Dye course (review coming soon), the Ross Course, and the French Lick Resort and Casino make for a tremendous golf buddy trip.