I had a dilemma for this year’s Product of the Year for “Best Golf Course” award. This award goes to the best course I’ve played/reviewed in the previous calendar year. Typically the award is an easy one to choose, like last year’s winner Cruden Bay, in Scotland. This year’s award came down to the two best courses I played, The Loop at Forest Dunes and Punta Espada Golf Club in the Dominican republic. They’re both so different and have such different unique qualities that I couldn’t find a way to leave either one out of receiving an award. So what was my solution for this problem? Create a special award for this year which falls in the Golf Course Architecture category. This year’s winner for Product of the Year in Golf Course Architecture is… the envelope please…
The Loop at Forest Dunes, Michigan
One of my most favorite golf architects is Tom Doak. Doak is one of the most respected and famous course designers of the modern era, and he’s a bit of a mad scientist. The first Doak course I played was Stone Wall in Pennsylvania a long time ago. I loved the rugged, minimalist design and the fact that I had to play creative shots to get the ball close to the hole. Sometimes hitting a green meant aiming 20 yards left of it, or short. A few years later I had the pleasure of playing the Doak designed Ballyneal in a remote rural area in eastern Colorado on the Nebraska border. What an experience.
Years later and many Doak courses later in 2017 I played the newly opened “reversible” course in Forest Dunes, Michigan called “The Loop.” The Loop is two 18-hole courses, the Red and the Black course, but one set of 18 physical golf holes. What a fantastic and special experience.
The reversible holes were extremely interesting and ingenious. While playing one direction the player sees a certain look from the tee, and certain hazards, bunkers and sight lines. When playing the other direction the hole looks nothing like it’s opposite. Those bunkers and features which appeared going the opposite direction are completely different, and often not even visible. Instead, a new set of bunkers, features, and sight lines is presented to the player.
Hats Offf to Tom Doak and Forest Dunes
I salute Tom Doak for executing an amazing concept which had yet to be done in the U.S.A. I suspect we’ll see more reversible courses, or courses with interchangeable holes. It’s a great way to use one piece of land to offer many different playing options. And hats off to Forest Dunes for pulling the trigger as well. What an effort. I can’t wait to get back for a 2nd round on both courses!
Playing the Red and the Black was literally playing two different courses, each with its own personality and style. And they’re two very good golf courses to boot! Truly amazing and worthy of a special Hooked on Golf Blog Golf Architecture Product of the Year award.
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.
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.
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 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.
In an 18 hour period I played 36 holes on two golf different golf courses that were the same golf course. Sound confusing? I played the Red and Black courses which comprise Forest Dunes’ “The Loop.”
The Loop is a new course which was designed by golf architecture genius Tom Doak. It is one of three courses at Forest Dunes, in northern Michigan. The Loops is an 18 hole, par-70 course which plays one direction one day, and the opposite direction the next.
This reversible course quite a feat of engineering and creativity on the part of Doak, and I anticipate more and more golf courses will be doing this in the future. Two courses, same acreage.
I’m still mentally processing my rounds on the Loop for a future full blown review after I return from this current World Tour event in Michigan. Stay tuned. If you have questions about The Loop and/or Forest Dunes, let me know.
Forest Dunes is a golf resort in northern Michigan you should definitely put on your golf bucket list. There are four courses on the property, if you count The Loop, which is a reversible course by Tom Doak. Yesterday morning I had the thill of taking on the Forest Dunes Weiskopf course and oh what a beauty she is. I would have made a blog post about this Tour stop sooner, but the resort is quite remote and there’s not much connectivity there. Plus, I spent most of my time there golfing, eating, and sleeping in between.
I can’t quite recall if I’ve played a Weiskopf course before this one, but I must take my HOG hat off and salute Tom for such a fantastic design. Tired and a bit jet lagged I still managed it around in 80 without losing a ball, and there are massive forest areas everywhere one can do that.
The greens were spectacular and terrifyingly fast. It took quite a bit of skill, patience and green reading to navigate them.
I’ll be posting a full review of the Forest Dunes Weiskopf course here in the near future. I’m still in northern Michigan on a golf press trip which will last another five days or so which isn’t giving me much time to write or process images. Stay tuned. Until then enjoy some Forest Dunes photos.
Above: dew sweeping.
Below: panorama showing the 19th hole. Yes there is a 19th hole.