Review: American Dunes Golf Club is a new Nicklaus course in MI inspired by patriotism, passion

Posted at 9:50 AM, Apr 30, 2021
and last updated 2021-05-03 17:58:17-04

(WXYZ) — When you get to the middle holes of American Dunes Golf Club, you may think that you're in the heart of the sandhills of North Carolina, where you'll find some of the best golf. But really, you're just off the coast of Lake Michigan in Grand Haven, at the redesigned Jack Nicklaus course with an incredible mission.

Related: View photos of American Dunes Golf Club, the new Jack Nicklaus course in Grand Haven

American Dunes opens on May 3. It's the vision of Lt. Col. Dan Rooney, an Air Force Fighter Pilot with three tours in Iraq, a PGA Professional, and the founder of Folds of Honor, an organization that gives scholarships to children and spouses of fallen or disabled service members.

One hundred percent of the profits from American Dunes will go to Folds of Honor, which makes the $150 price tag for a summer round of golf easy to pay for.

It's also dripping in patriotism. "God, country, golf, in that order," Rooney said a couple of months ago about American Dunes.

From the American Flag F-16 logo, stars and stripes on pin flags and much more, you'll be reminded of the sacrifices service members made for America.

Each of the 18 holes features two plaques: One stone honors each of Nicklaus' 18 majors; the other features a story of a fallen service member.

On hole No. 2, you'll find the story of John Tipton, a captain in the U.S. Army. He was killed in an explosion in Iraq on May 2, 2004 when he was just 32 years old. His son, Austin, is a Folds of Honor scholarship recipient.

At 1300 hours, 1 p.m. every day, everything in and around the course will pause for the playing of "Taps" and a bell that rings 13 times, signifying the 13 folds of that a folded American Flag to its triangular shape.

Before you even get to the course, you'll walk through the Folds of Honor Memorial.

"You'll actually walk in the bootprints of soldiers who have been killed in action whose families are Folds of Honor recipients," Rooney said. "So incredibly powerful. This will be the most reverent entry experience in the world of golf, and people will really understand when you come to American Dunes why the place exists, and freedom is not free."

The course itself is incredible. It used to be Grand Haven Golf Club, which Rooney's family owned for 20 years. With the aid of Nicklaus, who waived his $3 million design fee, the course underwent a massive two-year renovation ahead of the opening. Nearly 100 acres of trees were taken out and native sand areas are now spread throughout the course.

There are five sets of tees, the longest of which tip out at 7,213 yards. The longest hole on the course is the par-5 13th, which is 673 yards from the longest tees. It features an incredibly long carry over the 7th green, and there's nearly a 100-yard difference between the back tees, fourth tees and third tees.

Those looking for a little bit of a challenge can play from "valor" tees, which are 6,701 yards, or "freedom" tees at 6,102 yards.

The course is open, leaving room for golfers of all handicaps to find their drives. Greens get tougher as the course goes on, and there are places you'll find yourself penalized if you're in the wrong spot. Don't be shocked if you find yourself hitting a third straight shot out of a native area if you can't get out.

The first two holes are separate from a majority of the course, which sets up for beautiful views by the time you get to the third fairway and you see the next few holes ahead, wide open with sand everywhere.

After leaving the sixth green, you see the vast expanse of hilly sand dunes and grass which is the rest of the course, holes 7-18.

Hole No. 9 is a great finishing par 4 that goes back to the clubhouse and passes by a giant American Flag. It features a second shot that could be over water depending on your drive and the pin position on the 9th green.

The 16th hole is the hardest on the course and is a long par 4, playing at 428 yards from the middle tees. For the average golfer, it'll take a driver and a long iron to get to the green in two, which includes a carry over a native sand area about 50 yards in front of the green.

It's an incredibly beautiful and fun course, and combined with the cause and profits going to Folds of Honor, makes it easily worth the $150 price tag. The price goes down to $100 for 9 holes at 3 p.m.

For active military and veterans, the cost is $100 in the summer for 18 holes and $75 for 9 holes after 3 p.m.

In October, the price drops to $100 for 18 and $75 for 9 holes for the public, while it's $75 for 18 and $50 for 9 holes for active military and veterans.

"Someone is going to play here, and it's going to benefit a child in California, in Texas, in Maine, that will never speak about their parent they lost," General Manager Doug Bell said. "There are thousands of kids and spouses out there who will never say a word, but they'll get the benefit of playing golf.

"I watched the GOAT (Greatest of all time) literally design every contour on that golf course, by hand," Rooney said. "What has been created will take its place when we open, rare air as far as rankings and the quality of golf experience."

Those rates are for walking or riding and include use of the practice area, which features Titleist ProV1s. The carts feature GPS, Bluetooth hookups on the screens or on the JBL speakers attached.

There will also be what's called the Squadron Bar, and eventually, a 16-room lodge.

"Our restaurant-bar is insane. We've literally replicated a fighter squadron bar," Rooney said. "The drafts of Anheuser-Busch products actually come out of an Aim-9 missile behind the bar, stuff people have never seen in their life. You go to drink a hand-cramping cold Budweiser while sitting in ejection seats."

Eventually, Rooney thinks this will become a golf destination and pilgrimage for golfers around the country, and possibly the world. Bell has done interviews with a Scotland magazine, and on Black Friday, they shipped gear to 17 different states.

"The golf is just ridiculously high-quality. I love the fact that it's public. It's for the people, by the people," Rooney said. "I think people are going to enjoy all the elements that really bring this symphony together. Whether that's walking through the memorial, the impact it has, playing the golf, the 1300."

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