My first encounter with a Tom Doak design was at Black Forest up in Gaylord, Michigan. My recollection was that he liked to bury elephants in the green. The greens had some of the wildest breaks and undulations I had ever seen. They made some of Jack Nicklaus’ designs seem tame.
My second encounter was at Streamsong, where Doak and his Renaissance Golf team of architects created what many believe is one of Florida’s finest courses, Streamsong Blue. The greens, while they didn’t seem to have a much rise and fall as I remember from Black Forest, were extremely fast, which is not entirely Doak’s fault.
My lack of enthusiasm for Tom Doak-designed golf courses changed after I finished playing the first round of his latest creation – the reversible Loop Course at Forest Dunes Golf Club in Rosscommon Michigan. This is one – make that two – incredible golf courses!
Doak had been toying with the idea of creating a reversible course for more than 30 years. The idea comes from The Old Course at St. Andrews, which was played both was during the 19th century. Every now and then you’ll read about an event at The Old Course where it is played backwards.
Doak’s problem was find a piece of land where he could make his dream a reality. Tom now lives in Northern Michigan and knows the area quite well. He felt that the land around the Forest Dunes Golf Club in Roscommon, MI had most of the elements he was looking for. To make a long story short, it just so happened that the course had come under new ownership and there was an interest in adding a second course. Several months later a deal was struck and Doak and his Renaissance team got to work. Very little earth was moved in creating The Loop. Doak did a great job of using the subtilties in the natural topography of the land to shape the holes and arrange them in a clockwise/counterclockwise direction.
The finished product is quite an accomplishment. Eighteen greens that are approach from different directions on different days, creating 36 unique golf holes. A green that plays as a par 3 on Monday could be a par 5 on Tuesday. Tee boxes are a throwback to the old days and are marked with a single small flag. Tee up on either side; there are no defined boundaries. There’s a good reason for this: what may be a tee box on Monday will be part of the fairway on Tuesday. There are three sets of tees on every hole, marked with Black, White and Red markers. They look like little flags and bear The Loop’s Infinity logo.
The Loop is as close to Scotland as you can get without using a passport and is reminiscent of some of the great courses in the home of golf. It’s a walking only course, no motorized carts are allowed on the course. Guests may carry their own bag or use a push cart. A third option is to take a caddie. If you’re out to shoot your best score or take money from your buddies, this is a wise move, as their knowledge of the golf course and green complexes may prove a valuable resource.
The main reason this course is walking only is because of the special grasses that Doak used throughout the course. According to some of the maintenance people I spoke with, the fescue grass used cannot withstand the wear and tear of motorized golf carts. As you make your way around, you’ll see that even walkers and pull carts have literally left their mark on the course.
The Red Course plays counterclockwise around The Loop. Your round starts to the right of the 18th green and plays to the red flag in the distance. You play to the red flags on the front nine and the white flags on the back. If all else fails and you lose your way, just keep to the right.
The routing on the Red Course is more traditional; starting you out with holes that lift your spirits and give you hope, only to bring you back to reality on the last few holes. One of the more memorable scoring holes is the short par 4 12th, which can produce a 6 or 7 as easily as a 3 or 4. At only 312 yards from the back tees, many long hitters will be tempted to go for the green off the tee. Although it plays downhill, it’s a long carry over the front bunker and shooting it up the gap on the left can make for a tricky up and down. Long fescue grasses and the odd tree await anything hit to the right.
The Black Course plays clockwise around the property. The round starts left of the 18th green and plays to the white flag in the distance. With this routing, you play to white flags on the front nine, and the red flags on the back, just like you were playing The Old Course at St. Andrews. If you ever get to the point where you’re not sure of which way to go, just keep to the left!
The Black Course starts out tough and finishes somewhat easier than the Red. Coincidently, Number 12 on the Black Course is also a short par 4 and perhaps the most memorable on the entire course – either way. Although you’ll be tempted to thump the ball off the tee between the bunkers on the left, you may want to consider laying up short of the bunker. Anything over the bunker but not far enough left will funnel down the slope and bring the deep bunker on the right side in to play. Too far right off the tee and one of The Loop’s rare trees may hinder your approach shot.
Last Word: The Loop takes golfers back to the simple origins of golf. Hazards typically found in the US are limited; there is no water on the course and only a few man-made bunkers. And, although the course is situated within a state forest, very few trees come into play. There is no first or second cut of rough; if you don’t see your ball when you get up to it, you’re in trouble. That said, there is still an unbelievable amount of trouble in the form of natural wastelands formed over a long period of time and areas of native fescue grasses.
Playing the course just once each way is not nearly enough to develop any kind of feel or to really distinguish one hole from another. In looking back at my rounds on the Red and Black Courses and trying to recreate the rounds, I found that it was necessary to refer to the yardage book, and sometimes that wasn’t enough.
The fairways on The Loop are wide open, especially off the tee, giving you the opportunity to just swing away and hit it as far as you can. This can be both good and bad because The Loop has some of the most intriguing green complexes you will ever encounter. Often there a huge advantage to approaching the green from one side of the fairway and the green complexes require you to hit a variety of shots and be creative if you want to get your ball close to the hole. It really does require a lot of mental acuity to get around the course successfully.
What ended up being the downfall of The Old Course being a reversible course was that memorable holes, such as the Road Hole (No. 17) and the par-3 11th just weren’t the same when played in the opposite direction. Eventually, people only showed up to play it when it played in a particular direction. The Loop is less than two years old so it’s a little early to tell if it will have the same fate. For more information on this phenomenal golf opportunity and the great stay and play packages available at Forest Dunes Golf Club, give them a call at (989)275-0700 or visit www.forestdunesgolf.com.