American Dunes Opens; Nicklaus Hits First Shot

American Dunes Opens; Nicklaus Hits First Shot
Jack Nicklaus hits the first tee shot at the opening of American Dunes on May 2, 2021

American Dunes Opens; Nicklaus Hits First Shot
11,000 Tee Times Already Booked.

Course Website

American Dunes Golf Club, designed by Jack Nicklaus, had its grand opening May 2, 2021 with Nicklaus hitting the first shot.

American Dunes, in Grand Haven, was built as a tribute to the military and the birthplace of the Folds of Honor foundation. The Foundation and the course are the vision of Lt. Colonel Dan Rooney, a USAF fighter pilot who is also a PGA Professional.

Folds of Honor provides educational scholarships to the spouses and children of America’s deceased or disabled service members. Since its inception in 2007, the foundation has provided more than 29,000 scholarships worth $145 million. In 2020, Folds of Honor joined with the PGA of America to expand its for Patriot Golf Days, which are now appropriately held on Memorial Day Weekend.

American Dunes is envisioned as a source of revenue for the Folds of Honor Foundation. No money from the Foundation was used to build the course and none will be used to maintain it. Jack Nicklaus donated his design services — which typically run $3 million. Eighteen individuals each sponsored the building of a hole. Four other partners made the project possible.

Even before the course had opened, Rooney said, more than 11,000 tee times had been booked.

A very busy Michigan golf course might book 30,000 rounds a summer, so that is a very promising number.

American Dunes view from Clubhouse
A view from the clubhouse at the newest Michigan golf course: American Dunes

American Dunes is a new design built on the property formerly known as the Grand Haven Golf Club. That course, which was built in 1965, closed in 2018. It was known for its tight, tree-lined fairways.

Rooney’s vision was a course that took advantage of the natural sand dunes of a property that is just a couple of hundred yards from Lake Michigan.

Nicklaus joked that when he arrived for a first look at the property, he asked “Where are the dunes?”

“Under the trees,” Rooney replied.

The course is an open, links style design, with vast sandy waste areas and ground that is designed to play hard and fast. It is a great addition to the Michigan golf scene.

Jack Nicklaus and Lt. Colonel Dan Rooney answer media questions at the grand opening of American Dunes
Jack Nicklaus and Lt. Colonel Dan Rooney answer media questions at the grand opening of American Dunes

“I think we have produced a spectacular golf course, Nicklaus said. “We have utilized and maximized the natural sand dunes we uncovered, and at the same time, we retained some areas of beautiful trees. Playing through and around exposed dunes, as well tree-lined holes in some places, creates a very special playing experience.”

Nicklaus continues: “Designing something this special is very rewarding, but more important is the way American Dunes can and will help support our military and their families. It’s been fun to work with Dan and to meet the Founders and other people who have joined this mission. They are patriots who believe in Folds of Honor and the impact it continues to have on tens of thousands.”

The course features plaques at every hole which honor Nicklaus’ 18 major championships. During his press conference, Nicklaus joked that he stopped at 18 Majors because there were only 18 holes on a golf course.

Lt. Colonel Rooney presents Jack and Barbara Nicklaus with a folded flag at American Dunes
Lt. Colonel Rooney presents Jack and Barbara Nicklaus with a folded flag at American Dunes

The genesis of Folds of Honor came on a commercial airline flight to Grand Rapids that Rooney was on in 2007. As that flight landed, the pilot noted to the passengers that the remains of Corporal Brock Bucklin were on board, and asked that the passengers remain seated as the casket was disembarked.

A memorial for Corporal Brock Bucklin, whose service to country was the genesis of Folds of Honor and American Dunes.
A memorial for Corporal Brock Bucklin, whose service to country was the genesis of Folds of Honor and American Dunes.

Half the passengers got up and de-boarded anyway, while Brock’s family stood tearfully on the tarmac awaiting his casket.

At that moment, Rooney says, he vowed that American soldiers’ sacrifices would never go unappreciated or unrewarded. Thus, Folds of Honor was born.

Corporal Bucklin’s son, Jacob became the first Folds of Honor Scholarship recipient.

The entrance to American Dunes passes through a memorial area
The entrance to American Dunes passes through a memorial area

Just months after Rooney’s epiphany, Grand Haven Golf Course hosted the first ever Patriot Golf Day, with 67 golfers playing to raise money for the foundation. Patriot Golf Day has since grown into a nationwide event, providing more than 10,000 scholarships worth $50 million.

American Dunes is steeped in Rooney’s unapologetic love of God and Country.

Each day at 1300 hours — 1 p.m. in civilian time — golf on the course will pause for the playing of Taps. A bell will ring 13 times, symbolizing the 13 folds that bring a flag to its triangular storage shape.

Players will be given a nickel when teeing off, and are told by the veteran that you will understand what it means when you get to the 18th. There, a video from Rooney will thank golfers for “playing your most heroic round” and ask them to put their nickel onto the surrounding grass.

It is a tradition with US fighter pilots to deposit a nickel at the gravesites of their comrades.

A flyover at the American Dunes grand opening.
A flyover at the American Dunes grand opening.

The entrance to the clubhouse area passes through a memorial area with plaques honoring fallen servicemen and women, and bronze casts of their footprints on the floor.

Rooney says that all the elements of the course create a unique and special place. The patriotic elements are obvious, and Rooney also attaches a spiritual one.

“One element is obviously God and our unapologetic Christian faith. We’re not forcing it on anybody, but it’s who we are. And it’s what this place stands for,” Rooney said. 

“In a world where base seems to be telling you what you can and can’t do, it’s nice to fill the church and welcome everybody here,” he continued

“It’s not red or blue. It’s red, white and blue.”

“You can come here to celebrate the attributes that you know make this country special,” Rooney said.

The bar area at American Dunes clubhouse likely will make any fighter jock right at home. It features large models of the F4, and a beer tap constructed from an AIM-9 missile.

Kid Rock, who was there for the opening ceremonies, reportedly christened the bar the previous night in spectacular fashion. During the opening, Nicklaus presented Kid Rock with a leather Freedom is Not Free jacket.

Nancy Lopez at the American Dunes Opening.

Also present was LPGA Hall of Famer Nancy Lopez.

The next step for American Dunes is the summer 2022 opening of The Camp at American Dunes, which will provide accommodations. The 16 room lodge will have 12 staterooms on the upper level and four suites on the lower. A gathering area, known as The Bunker will also be located on the lower level. it will feature a full bar, pool table, multiple televisions and other amenities.

“I’m not a big guy to say what have you accomplished? But what have you overcome? And I am so proud of what we overcame from that first meeting to getting to today. We have been flying into the wind and he would always tell me greatness doesn’t come along very often and this place could be great, we’ve got to push.”

Lt. Colonel Dan Rooney
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