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2 Play the Tips played Forest Dunes on Monday, October 4, 2010

Forest Dunes Golf Club

The Midwest's Augusta National

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The driving range area at Forest Dunes
A view of the putting green and the back of the clubhouse area
#8 - Jason's Tee Shot on the Par 4 8th splits the fairways
#8 - Par 4 8th at Forest Dunes. You are out of the woods but not safe from danger
#9 - Par 3 9th at Forest Dunes. Pay extra attention to the swirling wind on this one
#9 - Dave hits his tee shot on the par 3 9th at Forest Dunes. This truly has the feel of being Michigan's "12 at Augusta"
#17 - Drivable Par 4 17th at Forest Dunes
#17 - Jason tries to drive the short par 4 17th at Forest Dunes
#17 - Dave tries to drive the short par 4 17th at Forest Dunes
#17 - A view from the green back to the tee at number 17

With accolades like that, it's hard to believe that Forest Dunes Golf Club, located in the small town of Roscommon, Michigan, remains one of the best kept secrets in all of golf. Designed by Tom Weiskopf and opened in 1998, Forest Dunes has survived some financial hardships and a change in ownership during its short existence. Currently Troon owned and operated, Forest Dunes remains open to the public, though they remain optimistic that the transition toward becoming fully private will occur eventually. Although the desolate setting and the struggling Michigan economy has something to do with the slow transition, we thought that this place was good enough that after one day on the property prospective national members would throw down some cash and start flying United or their private jets into Traverse City - about an hour and thirty minute drive from the course. Upon arrival, members or guests can easily rent one of the available cabins and stay for a weekend and play 36 holes a day. For whatever reason, however, things just have not worked out as planned on the private front.

The only time that Forest Dunes felt like a public course was when the assistant pro asked me for a credit card to pay my greens fee. We certainly didn't mind that the course was run as if it had already turned private, and we will most likely make a yearly trip up to this hidden gem until the transition phase is complete. Quite simply, Forest dunes boasts one hell of a golf course. The amenities and facilities make the experience pretty much second to none; you feel as though you are playing at a course that was built just for you, and you've let your playing partners in on the secret. From the drive to the golf course - a barren wasteland of sand and dying trees - to the time that you step off of the 18th green, there are numerous times when you feel like the only person within 100 miles. Weiskopf received a great piece of land with which to work, and cunningly carved his course through the pines of the Huron National Forest. Tom would tell you that Forest Dunes is his best golf course in the United States and easily in his top 3 designs worldwide.

We took full advantage of one of the most beautiful clubhouses we had ever seen. While it looks like a modern day mansion from the outside, it has the feel of a smaller, more traditional clubhouse on the inside. The locker room is small by design; it is the perfect size for accommodating a small membership. Steam room and showers were all state of the art, and the overall decor was done in a classic style. The staff was impressive everywhere we went; to the point of even delivering food to the driving range while we warmed up for our round. The practice facilities were simple, but simple on a grand scale. The driving range was double sided and the greens on the range were protected by finely manicured white sand bunkers which foreshadow the entire round.

The starter was friendly and gave us a brief talk about the former owners of the property, the Purple Gang - a prohibition era mob of bootleggers and hijackers based out of Detroit. After a warning about potentially unearthing a few buried bodies with deep divots, he also provided some nice insight on the design and layout of the golf course. Forest Dunes played from the tips measured out to 7,141 yards and played to a par of 72. The golf course was not overly difficult like some of the other more recently built tracks, but instead fit in with the rest of the experience, somewhat small but very grand. Due to the variety of options it gives the player, Forest Dunes will easily withstand the test of time - it is an excellent challenge for the golfer while remaining fair and fun. To say the course was in pristine condition would be an understatement. Forest Dunes easily boasted some of the best playing conditions we had ever seen, and without question, the the most pure greens (even after having been recently aerated). From the gleaming white sand bunkers to the towering pines to the rugged sand dunes on the back nine, this course was visually stunning in a very simple yet awe inspiring way.

Strictly from a golf perspective, Forest Dunes was about as well designed as it gets. Plenty of holes required the golfer to think from tee to green, allowed for risk reward options on multiple holes, and allowed for the game to be played as it was meant to be - both through the air and on the ground. We both agreed that Forest Dunes has one of the best par fours we had ever played - the 13th hole. At only 373 yards, the 13th, named "Twins" for the two pines which guard both sides of the fairway, is scarily similar to the 440 yard 17th hole at Augusta. However, it is not a copy by any means. The tee shot has to be carefully fit between the two trees; if executed properly, only a short shot remains. The second shot, most likely just a wedge of some sort, might be one of the most difficult wedge shots we've ever encountered. With undulations rarely seen elsewhere, as well as some potentially nerve-racking pin placements, an up and down on this green is no sure thing. The greenside bunker that is cut into the front right part of this lower case "r" shaped and turtle shell sloped green will snatch up any timidly struck approach shots. Any other approach not hit to the exact right portion of the green will be repelled off of the sides, leaving one of the the more awkward pitch or chip shots you will face. The closing stretch of 17 and 18 offer a few fun, risk/reward type holes which could certainly make for an interesting end to any match or tournament. 17, Weiskopf's signature hole at Forest Dunes, is a 302 yard drivable par four with what seems like miles of sand dunes between the tee and the green. A good tee shot should result in a birdie, but two pretty tough bunkers will collect any tee shot hit the slightest bit offline because the fairway runs directly into the bunkers (think Augusta again). Some nasty fescue and shrubbery sit on the opposite side of the bunkers and could easily make bogey seem like a good score on this short hole if you hit a poor tee shot. 18, only 531 from the tips, provides another late-round scoring opportunity. This slightly downhill par 5 is easily reachable, but a lake which runs along the left side of the hole and wraps around the back of the green will make you think over your second shot. The back side of the green has a shaved bank which will allow any second shot that comes in too hot to find the water or the back bunker (if you're lucky).

Another nice little touch was the 19th hole, a short 98-118 yard shot to a dime sized, doughnut shaped green with a small pot bunker as the doughnut hole. This magnificently manicured dessert makes for a fun setting to settle any bets that the first 18 holes didn't hash out. This hole, as well as the atmosphere which forest dunes provides, is something that few other establishments offer. It was a fitting end to a special and unique experience. Forest Dunes Golf Club is a must play for all, and it holds a spot deservedly high on our overall course rankings.

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