One of the most unique and impressive Jack Nicklaus Signature Courses

Two great minds, Lt. Col Dan Rooney with a vision and the other Jack Nicklaus who turned Rooney’s vision into a reality!

More than just a golf club, this monument just off the shores of Lake Michigan, in Grand Haven, commemorates the birthplace of the Folds of Honor, with a Nicklaus Signature Course, pays tribute to those who have served and sacrificed for the United States.  The Folds of Honor is a foundation that provides educational scholarships to spouses and children of America’s deceased or disabled service members.

A memorial walkway guides you from parking lot to pro shop and the course. While walking through if you don’t get emotional, you best check yourself for a pulse.  “I love the game of golf, but I love my country even more,” a statement, on the wall, from Nicklaus, is impossible to miss.  For this very special project Nicklaus waived his design fee.

The emotional experience doesn’t stop there as at 1300 hours (1PM), play stops, carts shut off, all staff come out standing at attention facing the enormous US flag close to the 9th green.  Taps is played and a bell chimes 13 times.

At each hole, one commemorative plaque describes a military hero, another tells a tale about one of Nicklaus’ major championship victories. In the golf carts, videos play with course tips and Folds of Honor family tributes.   Undoubtably you can play golf elsewhere for a lot less that you will pay here.  That is not the point, it is golf with a purpose and in support of an extraordinary cause.  You get all the bells and whistles on your day.  Fully loaded carts, water on the carts and a fulfilling experience and more.

My American Dunes Golf Course Experience

Truly the most unique Nicklaus experience, maybe even the most unique Michigan golf experience.  Did Nicklaus bring the desert to Michigan?  You might just think so after your round.  But here you will get to experience some parkland style golf bordering the dunes.  Six parkland style holes and 12 dunes holes and believe me you will have plenty of sand to fill your boots!

By the time you get to the first tee you will have come across a number of staff members as friendly and courteous as any in the business.  That is the only way one of the true professionals in the industry would have it.  General Manager, Doug Bell is a long-time friend who is the perfect fit for this project.  “They only treat people in a manner that they would like to be treated,” said Bell.

From the 4th Tee Box

Let’s tee it up!  Three rather tame parkland style holes is what American Dunes opens you up with.  Tame only in comparison to what you are in for!!  Nicklaus opens you up with a taste of the dunes on the 1st hole, left hand side but should not really come into play.  Surprisingly on the 2nd hole, Nicklaus has a pond running up the right-hand side.  What happened to his fade?  Nice par 5.  Another taste of dunes on 3 but again should not come into play.

As we ascended to fourth tee, I remember blurting out to words, “Holly Sh**.”  Doug looks over at me and says, “you had to know that if Jack was going to create one more Signature Course, it was not going to be an ordinary course.”  Truer words have never been spoken.  The WOW FACTOR was upon us.

From the elevated 4th tee box, you stare down at a green, about 140 yards away depending on which tees you play.  You are likely more captivated by all the dunes that you need to avoid, not only on the immediate hole but your eyes cannot help but to look beyond.

The former tree-lined Grand Haven Course, which is located a few hundred yards from the east shore of Lake Michigan, is now a dunes-like course, utilizing the dramatic local topography and sand base that covers the property. There are 30 bunkers, and sand dunes are located either right, left or in front of you at each hole.

Fairways are generous for the most part and like most great golf courses your shot into the greens are what is going to make or break your day……..and here, staying out of the dunes.  Once on the greens your work is not done, big and fair greens, nothing crazy, but there is plenty built into the greens to test even the greatest putters.

From the 4th through the 8th holes, you have one dune-full hole after another.  The 9th parkland style, takes you back to the clubhouse with an enormous American Flag along the left side.

The 10th hole kicks off with another parkland hole before bringing you back to the well sculpted dunes holes.

Weather wise our September day was exceptional, nice temperature, sunny for the most part and little wind to speak of.  That might have had something to do with my being able to hit most fairways and most importantly avoid the massive dunes.

Only 1 over, on the back after 6 holes.  Hmmmm feeling pretty good!  Then came the dreaded 400-yard 16th, at least I can console myself to the fact that my triple bogey came the #1 handicap hole.  Ugly lie in a grassy dune bunker on the right, slashed it out to a bunker on the left and promptly into the 130-yard-long bunker protecting the front and right side of the green.  Out, but still not on the green.  Stick a fork in me, I am done!   Two more bogeys to round out the 9, but still smiling as the overall experience is second to none.

“Mr. Nicklaus and I talk about this place … as a church. A church is a place you come to find spirituality. This is a golf course that is going to raise people’s spirits,” Rooney said.

Rooney’s goal was to make American Dunes the type of golf course that would inspire golfers and veterans from all across the country to make the pilgrimage to Grand Haven.  I would say “MISSION ACCOMPLISHED!”

For more information:  American Dunes Golf Club