Day Two of my Southwest Michigan Golf Trip found me at American Dunes – a newly opened Jack Nicklaus design in Grand Haven. Formerly the Grand Haven Golf Club, it was repurposed with the vision of Lt. Col. Dan Rooney, founder of the beautiful Folds of Honor, a patriotic charity designed to honor the families of our fallen soldiers.
Opened in May of this year, American Dunes is easily the most patriotic golf course you will ever play. It starts as you walk from the parking lot to the clubhouse through a tribute honoring some of our lost soldiers. Plaques line the walls and boot prints dot the ground as you walk through the walls leading to the clubhouse. As you exit this path your eyes are immediately drawn to the largest American flag you’ll ever see.
On this day, the flag is at half staff to honor those lost in the attacks in Kabul the day before. Nonetheless impressive and awe-inspiring, the morning wind was not yet strong enough to move the massive flag. I turned and entered the clubhouse – excited to see the selection of goods – the logos are SICK – and I knew I wanted to pick up some gear.
We were at the course way ahead of our tee time, so I grabbed Pardo’s breakfast sandwich at the bar – and it was insane! We hit some balls, chipped, putted – it’s not like me to be at the course this far ahead of my tee time, I didn’t know what to do!
We finally got the go ahead to march toward the first tee, where we got the run down on our round. Each hole has 2 plaques at the tees – one honoring each of Jack Nicklaus’s 18 major victories and one honoring the story of a fallen hero. The coolest part of the tee boxes are the awesome markers – a fighter jet, a folded flag, the American Bear (Jack’s Golden Bear logo with a US flag) – and the fact that there is only one – you just tee up behind it and near it.
I won’t go through every hole for you. Just know that the entire course is a treat. They removed close to 2,000 trees from the old Grand Haven Golf Club layout to expose the natural terrain and dunes. Lt. Col. Rooney had first hand knowledge of the area, as GHGC had been in his family for years. Once the dunes were exposed, Jack was able to design an absolute gem of a layout.
Since it is still young, the greens were firm and unreceptive – but give them time and they will be perfect. There is a ton of sand, most of it off the tees, and if you play your tee shots right you’ll avoid most of them (I was only in 3 the whole day). Until the greens mature, I would suggest playing to the front edge and allowing for the ball to release, no matter the pin placement.
The only issue I have with the layout is the 4th hole. A completely unreceptive Par 3 playing downhill from approximately 155-170 yards. The green is small, and domed, not allowing for any sort of shot to stick. Our foursome played the hole at 12-over. Yep, 12-over. Honestly, if they blew it up and rebuilt it I wouldn’t mind. It’s just a bad golf hole.
During your entire day at American Dunes you’re reminded why you’re there – to honor the families of our fallen. The tribute, the plaques at each hole, and the GPS videos every few holes thanking you for playing “Golf’s Most Heroic Round”. To be honest, I found it a little bit too much.
Before you get mad at me let me say this: I fully support the Folds of Honor in any way that I can. I think it is a fantastic charity and an even better cause, and one that I will support the rest of my days in whatever way I can. However, calling a round of golf Heroic, given what the heroes we’re honoring sacrificed, seems misguided at best.
That being said, it is refreshing that a golf course is standing for something – all profits from the course will be given to the Fold of Honor. In a sport that does so much for charity, Lt. Col. Dan Rooney is using his platform – and his families’ property – for the greater good. That definitely needs to be celebrated.
American Dunes is worth the trip. A fantastic layout, very visually stimulating (read: SCARY), and a fantastic cause. The logos, the Squadron Bar, and the whole staff embody the ideals and reason that the course exists. While I will fall short of calling my round of golf “Heroic”, I will definitely be back to experience the whole thing again. I’m looking forward to it!