The final round of the trip was one I have been hoping to play for a long time. In fact, it wasn’t even confirmed until the trip had begun. The Dunes Club in New Buffalo, MI. Everything I’ve read on it says that it is a special place with a special vibe, and I was stoked to get to play it.
I had the whole to day to kill, which I did at a Starbucks, writing a few blog entries to try and get caught up. I was meeting a friend, Donny Ballgame (or Don Wilson, you choose. I prefer the former) for the round, as he was the one that set it up.
I have heard how hard it is to find the course, so I was surprised that I didn’t miss the entrance, although it is completely understated, absolutely no signs, and no proof of a golf course. Without the green blob on the car GPS, I am certain that I would not have found the right entrance.
Unsure of the full arrangements for the day, I sat in the car for a few minutes, texted Don, and awaited his response. After a few minutes with no reply, I decided to get out and stretch and get my bag ready for the caddie – removing all of the unnecessary trinkets and extras to help lighten the load. I left only 7 balls in the bag, feeling timidly confident in an effort to make the caddie’s job easier.
Paxton earned the right to carry my clubs that day, the poor guy. A young, college kid that reminded me of Tom Brady. He attends Ball State, majoring in Business Admin to keep his options broad. He was in for a treat today, I told him. As I switched out my shoes, he grabbed my bag and walked on up to the putting green. I met him a couple of minutes later with another sleeve of balls. I’ve got to learn to trust myself!
The clubhouse at The Dunes Club was as equally understated as the entrance. A smallish white building, the handles of the doors are bent golf clubs to match the logo of the course. Once I walked in I was greeted by Matt and Woody, who filled me in on the round ahead of me.
Don and I were playing alone as guests of a member that he knows. We would keep track of our beverages and snacks throughout the day, which would be billed to the member, and we would square up with him. Matt showed me the beer fridge, fully stocked with a great variety – the joys of membership, I’m sure. The pro shop was to the left and the bathrooms to the right.
Of course I wanted to check out the Pro Shop, because who knows if I will ever make my way back. I stepped through the door on the left to find a closet (yes, a closet) loaded with shelves that were stacked with Peter Millar and Donald Ross polos still in their original packaging, to save room. The organization was very well maintained, and however small, it was still challenging to decide what to buy.
I opted to buy nothing, a decision I am still questioning, and made my way to the putting green. Our second caddie, Aiden, had made his way out as we awaited Donny Ballgame’s arrival – having to sit through a conference call slowed him down. I putted a few while we waited, and stretched as much as I could – as there is no driving range at The Dunes Club.
A quick history on The Dunes Club. It was Mike Keiser’s first foray into golf course ownership. Dubbed the “Pine Valley of the Midwest” the Dunes is one of the best 9-hole courses anywhere. Designed by Dick Nugent in 1992, The Dunes Club has cemented it’s place in the lores of golf. The design features are immense, but most notable are the multiple tee boxes available to play from. The course does not have any tee markers – no Black, Blue, White – no Back, Middle, Front – no markers at all. The player with the honor chooses the tee box. In this way, the course offers variety through the second nine to alleviate any monotony.
Don finally showed up and we made our way to the tee. We both struggled on the first hole, as we’re both old and creaky. The first beer taking its’ time loosening up the muscles. I had made it through the whole trip without injury or trouble – until this morning when my right knee tightened up on me. Unfortunately it did not recover in time, and was seriously affecting my golf swing.
Needless to say, I don’t think Don or I impressed our young loopers. We kept trying to prove that we knew what we were doing, but the shots and the results were not showing us any favor. I didn’t really have a clean hole until the last, with a solid drive and pure 8-iron pin high left. I wrapped up my 89 with a smooth 2-putt par, and hobbled my way up the hill to the clubhouse.
The Dunes Club is special, no doubt. There isn’t a bad hole out there, and even though you play each hole twice, you never had any sense that you were missing out. There is sand everywhere, the course is very close to Lake Michigan’s shores after all. The highlight for me is the 8th hole, a three shot par 5 with an elevated green set between two sets of giant oak trees. Unfortunately I played it horribly – BOTH times!
You can’t help but leave this place feeling that you’ve experienced a golf dream. While it is a very exclusive Club, there was never any sense from any of the staff that we were bothering them or that we didn’t belong. They were friendly and welcoming every step of the way. Especially Paxton – who graciously hoofed the course carrying my clubs and watching me hack it up.
I have not yet made my way out to Bandon Dunes – Mike Keiser’s second golf venture. But if the courses, staff, and experience is anything like we encountered today then I can’t wait to get there!
Well, that’s all folks! The Golf Dude’s Trip Around Lake Michigan. 8 days, 11 rounds, 10 courses. WAY too many shots. But so much fun! I knew this trip was going to seriously effect my finances, but I couldn’t imagine canceling it.
I hope you enjoyed following along. Next time join me for one of the rounds. I think you’ll have a blast!