Like many remote golf resorts that have sprung up over the past two decades, the drive to the Forest Dunes paints a picture of the entire experience ahead. Long, single lane country roads lead up to a spacious golf oasis that is just … out there.
That is the point. When you are there, you are there. You don’t have to go anywhere else. And so the two white-tailed deer figures that make up the entrance sign to Forest Dunes fit. This is the wilderness. But what they should have outside too is some kind of carnival hype man who yells, “Come on, come on everyone! To Tom Doak’s magical mirror house! ”
Yeah, The Loop is pretty trippy. In the best way.
Nestled in Northern Michigan, right between Lake Michigan and Lake Huron, in a village of 1,000 people, Forest Dunes is like a summer camp. Play golf during the day, relax under the starry sky at night. Sing a little kumbaya if you want. But, frankly, you don’t do much more. That’s the beauty of it. The “camp” part is also important. You’re leaving to learn something here. And it really only takes two days. Our trio of GOLF.com employees including Dylan Dethier and James Colgan ventured to our own summer golf camp in Forest Dunes, and here’s what we learned.
Its reversible course, The Loop, is great
In this job I am fortunate enough to play a number of rounds on excellent golf courses. And maybe once a year I’ll finish a course and think, “Wow, that’s different from anything I’ve seen before.” The loop is one of those tracks. There is basically nothing like it.
Our Sherpa for the week was Tyler Tabor, a modest handicap of 6 who has been with Forest Dunes for four years. He made it clear when he said, “We believe it’s the first and only truly reversible course in America.” Do you need any more encouragement?
The loop changes direction based on the calendar, with the black course changing direction on odd days and the red course changing direction on even days. (For those wondering, they’ll be on the few 31st)
And so, any trip to Forest Dunes requires at least two days, one to play The Loop in each direction, the second of which will really rock your head. Wait, what kind of hole was that yesterday? Was that a par 4 green from that direction? Oh, that’s the big bunker you played 16 hours ago … ”No golf course conjures up the word“ yesterday ”more than The Loop.
The three following pictures should explain what the reversibility looks like from above and how different lengths of holes are important for the direction of the green.
Doak’s brilliance would not have been possible without Tom Weiskopf
The first place in Forest Dunes is actually called Forest Dunes and was designed by Tom Weiskopf long before Doak came out. Weiskopf initially built the more wooded parkland course for private ownership, but now that it is public it can shine next to The Loop better than ever.
Forest Dunes itself is more than worth your time. It ranks number 73 on our Top 100 Courses to Play. With more shade through the trees, this course is a bit softer on the fairways and greens (although they rolled extremely fast in the morning when we were playing) and much more difficult from the rough. It’s inherently a different test, especially for the player struggling from the tee (that’s me!). And when I carded an 83 one day after an 82 on The Loop in Forest Dunes, I knew damn well which of the two scores was better. The 83, full four bars on my index. If you visit Forest Dunes and don’t play the original course, you’re missing out on something. Just make sure you order your rounds correctly. It will play very differently than The Loop.
Remote golf is a hot ticket
Name a golfer’s destination and find out if there is a major airport within an hour of the property. The chances are good, there aren’t. Bandon. Sand valley. Stream song. Pinehurst. Play sand. Cabot. They are all remote! And some obviously more than others (Pinehurst isn’t far from Charlotte or Raleigh, and Streamsong is kind of close to Tampa), but the seclusion is apparently a plus for large golf resorts. So it makes sense that when Forest Dunes went on sale in 2020, it was acquired by the original developers of the Streamsong Resort and its three courses. So yes, another course could be an option at Forest Dunes.
In terms of seclusion, Forest Dunes ranks high with the others listed above. It’s 5.5 hours from Chicago, three from Detroit, and easy to get to from Canada. The closest airport is Traverse City which isn’t big, but the nice thing about that commute is the golf at the end of your trip. This rainbow actually has a pot of gold.
Angles are more important than ever!
The Loop Superintendent has one of the trickiest and most creative jobs in golf. There are no real “tees” at The Loop, just flat areas on short grass from which you can play at some point if the super sticks the tee marker there that day. And notice the singularity there. The tees of the loop are marked by a single flag in the ground and the unwritten rule “play it a little close here”.
Because of its openness, there are potential tee spots everywhere, with most par 3s having a quarter circle (or more) of potential tee spots around the green. Why does that matter? Well, for example, it prevents the divots from stacking up. But it also completely changes how the hole lines up towards the green.
Since the greens are to be played from both directions, it follows that almost everywhere between these vectors there is also a possible approach shot. What the openness of The Loop gives when you play a whole round with the same ball, it also means when you say, “This green is not accessible from here, buddy.” I have a working voice and a working voice for this inanimate playground working brain given? That will happen in Tom Doak’s House of Mirrors.