ROSCOMMON, Mich. -- Perhaps the most unexpected trend in golf resorts is the rise of the "destination golf" resort -- courses and lodging devoted solely (or mainly, anyway) to golf, located in relative isolation, with no shopping, no amusement parks and no casinos. It's just golf, some food and drink, and a comfy bed to rest up between rounds.
This path to golf in the hinterlands was blazed by Bandon Dunes in Oregon, and followed by a number of other properties, from The Prairie Club in Nebraska, to Streamsong in Florida. These are all first-class properties, but besides the resort and its courses, there's not much else around. You see, avid golfers don't care about anything else. They want top 25-quality golf, and they want lots of it.
Forest Dunes Golf Club has the first requirement covered. The Tom Weiskopf design was recently ranked as the top course you can play in a state that has the best selection of public courses in the nation, according to a major golf magazine. It also reached the 21st position on the same publication's list of the top public courses in America.
Yet despite the abundance of golf courses in Michigan, Roscommon is in a relatively light pocket of the state for golf. Nevertheless, Forest Dunes is worth every second of the drive, and worth setting up camp here for a while, too, now that the Lake AuSable Lodge has also opened on the property.
Lake AuSable Lodge has 14 smartly appointed rooms, and there are several houses on site also available for larger groups to rent. The lodge is literally a few steps from the course, a few steps from the clubhouse bar and restaurant, and a few steps from the course's 19th hole -- an actual hole that can be used to settle up bets or stage playoffs. This little corner of Michigan is a veritable Shangri-La for golfers who want to get away and focus on the game they love.
Forest Dunes Golf Club: The course
Forest Dunes opened in 2002 as a private club, but has been fully public since 2011, when it was purchased by Arkansas trucking magnate Lew Thompson. The layout, which Tom Weiskopf has described as "one of my top-five all-time designs," can be played at five different lengths, from 7,116 yards all the way down to 4,993 yards. For purists, one of the most-welcome aspects of the course is that -- unlike most northern Michigan tracks -- it's extremely walkable.
Generous landing areas -- each portion of which poses subtly different challenges and angles toward the large, rumpled greens -- characterize the design. The approaches into the greens are multifarious, a feature that is nowhere more apparent than at the 439-yard 10th hole (named "Decision") with its forked fairway and forked green.
Another hallmark of Forest Dunes Golf Club is ever-present waste areas, from which the course derives its name. You see, just below the turf lie acre upon acre of sand. Not only does this mean the course drains beautifully, but also it allowed Weiskopf to expose vast stretches of it to create natural hazards. Just wait until you get to the 233-yard par-3 16th and the drivable 302-yard par-4 17th. There is so much sand from tee to green on these holes that you'll feel like you're on some beachside course in Florida rather than deep in the Michigan woods.
Finally, there are the greens, which rank as some of the smoothest and purest I have ever been privileged to putt on.
"They're right around 11.5 on the Stimpmeter now," GM Todd Campbell said. "But we'll get them up to speed soon."
Whoa. Fortunately for those of us used to slower putting surfaces, every putt here starts off on its line and stays on it without the slightest wobble or bobble.
News: Forest Dunes to add a second, reversible course
I was at Forest Dunes in June, which was also when Golf Channel's Matt Ginella dropped in for a visit. At that time, we were privy to some exciting news: A second course was in development, and, at the time, the unofficial word was that Tom Doak had been tapped for the new layout. Rumor had it that the design would not only be "the most walkable in the state," but also that it would be -- reversible.
Since then, the rumors have been confirmed. Owner Lew Thompson wanted a second course that would entice golfers to stay on the property longer -- ala the golf destinations mentioned above. He also wanted a course concept that would "wow" him. Doak delivered a plan for a fully reversible course.
"The appeal of a reversible course is people would want to play it both ways. You are getting two golf courses in one," Doak said in a news release dated Aug. 4, 2014.
According to the news release, Doak said the idea of reversible course is not as revolutionary as it sounds. Many Scottish links, including the Old Course at St. Andrews, were played in reverse in winter to spread out the wear and tear of divots. Architects including Tom Simpson and Alister MacKenzie designed private estate courses with a handful of reversible holes. But, as far as Doak is aware, there is no 18-hole course in the world today that is played in reverse on a regular basis.
The term "one-of-a-kind" has been applied to countless golf resorts, but given the top-ranked status of Forest Dunes, and the uniqueness of the new Doak layout, Forest Dunes Golf Club is fully deserving of the description.
Forest Dunes Golf Club and Lake AuSable Lodge: Final thoughts
My colleague Ginella has seen a few golf resorts in his day. When I met him in the Forest Dunes grill during my visit, he was grinning ear to ear. "Do you love this place as much as I do?" he asked.
Oh, yes. And maybe more.
Aside from the midges and no-see-ums that occasionally bedevil golfers (the locals recommend Absorbine Jr. as an effective repellant), Forest Dunes Golf Club is even better than Shangri-La -- it's Nirvana. Add it to the short, elite list of quintessential "golf destinations."
In sleepy Roscommon, you'll find the food, drink, beds, and golf -- soon to be even more golf -- that will make you not just want to visit, but to stay as long as possible.