Forest Dunes and The Loop – 2020 Trip
I am always thrilled to have the chance to play a round at Forest Dunes, a Tom Weiskopf course which I have long ranked as the best public course in Michigan. My mid-August 2020 trip just renewed my love of the place, but left me with a conundrum, of which I will write more later.
In 2019, Golf Digest ranked Forest Dunes at number 28 on its list of America’s Greatest Public Courses. The Loop Black was ranked 45th; the Loop Red, 47. That puts all three of its courses in the top fifty.
That’s rarified air. The only other resorts with three courses in the Top 50 are Pebble Beach, Streamsong, Bandon Dunes and Kohler.
Much has changed since I first played Forest Dunes in 2002. At that time, the clubhouse was a trailer home, and Forest Dunes had none of the amenities it now has. The rumor at the time was that the club would soon go private, so I made a special trip to Roscommon to play.
As far as I know, Forest Dunes never did close to public play. The course went through some management changes as the dreamed-of sales of resort housing never did take off. At one point, there were rumors that it would close altogether.
A gorgeous clubhouse replaced the trailer in late 2004.
Then, in 2011, Forest Dunes was bought by Arkansas trucking magnate Lew Thompson. It turns out that Thompson is a golf visionary, of the same order as greeting card magnate Mike Keiser.
Since taking ownership, Thompson has made Forest Dunes a must-stay-and-play golf destination. In addition to the original Weiskopf, Forest Dunes has added Tom Doak’s acclaimed reversible course, The Loop. Players now can stay two days and play three courses.
Which brings me back to my conundrum. As much as I love the original Forest Dunes course, I am beginning to think that The Loop might be even better.
The Loop really is an exceptional golf experience. The word “experience” is one I chose carefully. I don’t think The Loop has a single “signature” hole in either direction. Even after three rounds, I find I often get lost on the course. The Loop’s spartan, treeless design doesn’t have many landmarks.
Taken as a whole, however, The Loop is amazing. In either direction, from the first tee to the eighteenth green, The Loop makes you think. There are a thousand ways to play every hole. Every shot asks you to use your imagination. Unconventional shots on The Loop are conventional. Ordinary becomes extraordinary.
I love the challenge and thoughtfulness of Forest Dunes. But I love the freedom of The Loop.
One of the highlights of the trip was a chance to play The Loop with its architect, Tom Doak.
As we played, Doak described his thoughts on the holes. One, Doak said, was originally a short par 4, but he wanted to incorporate a mound, so it became a par 3. On another, he pointed out a cut that he wanted to bring into play. A small mound here, a swale there, a depression to come into play. There also were numerous areas that he thought would be opportunities for teeing grounds on this course without tee boxes.
My takeaway from his descriptions was that Doak found more holes at The Loop than he created. His running commentary on the holes we played made me understand how he implements his minimalist philosophy.
“I put this here because I wanted to use that,” was a running theme.
Doak said during the round that of all the courses he has built, The Loop plays closest to a true links. That’s high praise considering the courses he has designed.
In the summer of 2020, Forest Dunes added a new ten hole “short course,” designed by Keith Rhebb and Riley Johns. The pair are most famous for their revitalization of the Winter Park Course in Florida. Rhebb and Johns’ design at Forest Dunes is inspired. With no tee boxes, per se, the Forest Dunes Short Course has a virtually infinite number of set ups.
The Forest Dunes Short Course has an incredible number of ways to play each hole. You could take the traditional approach, with wedges and short irons. I pretty much used a 3-hybrid for the entire ten, hitting pitches to the green. One of my playing partners used a putter, hitting it as far as 140 yards and even popping a ball our of a steep sided trap.
Creativity is the watchword at Forest Dunes’ short course. You can read my complete Forest Dunes short course review at the link.
With the first tee — and tenth green — located just a few yards from the outdoor bar, The Short Course has quickly become an attraction. Groups of up to eight are permitted, giving the course a party atmosphere. Cheers erupt from the bar on a well placed shot on the tenth.
In addition to the Short Course, Forest Dunes boasts a two acre putting course called Hilltop. Each day, eighteen tee markers and holes are set up for an interesting golf experience. At two acres — 87, 120 square feet — Hilltop is only slightly smaller than the famed Punch Bowl (100,000 square feet) at Bandon Dunes.
Over the years, Forest Dunes has added a large number of villas and cottages for stay-and-play groups. I stayed in one of the villas, which has four rooms — each with their own bath — attached to a common area. It’s a perfect setup for a golf group.
With the original Weiskopf course, The Loop Red and Black, the Short Course, the Hilltop Putting Course, a vast practice area and on-site lodging, Forest Dunes has elevated itself into the upper echelons of golf focused resorts. The addition of a long-rumored fourth course would only cement that position.
I look forward to returning to Forest Dunes every year.