Last season, I screwed up royally. I have access to Lost Dunes, the Tom Doak gem in SW Michigan, and I did not go. Pathetic, I know.
Determined not to make the same mistake twice, I wrangled two Superintendent homies, Scott Vincent (Onwentsia) and Brian Palmer (Shoreacres) for a spring outing. And since we were in the mood for adventure, we also lined up The Dunes Club (thank you Michael). If one outstanding course is good, two in a day must be great.
We set off before sunrise, and returned well after sunset. Everything in between was pure golfy joy.
Scott and I both love to take photos (and Brian calls us a couple of Wangs). I take a lot of photos in the hope of getting a few good ones. Scott is a legitimate stud photographer (follow him on Instagram @srvpix), and he has graciously given me some of his photos to add to mine and share. Before the course photos and commentary, a thought or two about the trip.
As you know from my previous posts, Desert Days and A 1,537 Mile Drive, I do not hesitate to hit the road solo on golf adventure. I enjoy the solitude of the open road and an empty golf course. As I grow older in the game, I find it much more satisfying to share these experiences with fellow geeks. It is invigorating to riff on architecture, travel, music, family, business, and I everything else I find interesting. It is a blast to celebrate the good shots and rib each other for the clunkers. It fills me with gratitude to spend time in the company of kindred spirits.
Scott and Brian are genuinely good dudes and they are certainly kindred geek spirits. Their company was a gift, and made what would have been a good day into one that is as good as it gets.
Now, Lost Dunes and The Dunes Club.
Tom Doak rightly gets accolades for Pacific Dunes and his subsequent courses. Lost Dunes may be under the radar for the masses, but folks who have played it repeatedly appreciate it at multiple levels. I count myself among those who consider it among my favorites in modern architecture. It is creative, beautiful, strategic and challenging. From the first tee until the 18th green, there is no point at which a player can afford to take a mental holiday.
The club straddles I-94, and always tugs at my heart strings when I drive back and forth from Northern Michigan. Every time my itinerary involves stopping for a play, my love of Lost Dunes is renewed.
(click on images to enlarge)
#1 – Par 4
Lost Dunes opens with a short 4 playing over the entry road from the tee. After hitting the green, the player gets a taste of what’s to come – a green with contours that produces 3-putts like the spring Canadian geese produce, well, you know…
#2 – Par 4
This hole is my favorite on the outward nine, and illustrates the principles of strategic golf at its best. Taking on the right side bunker from the tee yields the best position from which to go for a left pin. The safer route down the left leaves the player with the option of playing short, on, or long of the green in two.
Every position presents its own challenges in getting down in two. Par is a good score on this hole, which requires both thought and execution.
#3 – Par 3
#4 – Par 5
The first 5-par offers the player a multitude of routes to take on the drive, second, and approach. There is no “right” way to play the hole, but it does require confidence to score.
#5 – Par 3
The second par-3 at Lost Dunes is just plain hard. The wind whips across this exposed section of the property making hitting the green from 225-245 a feat.
The left side mound can be used by the creative shot-maker, and provides ground-game excitement as a reward.
#6 – Par 4
#7 – Par 4
#8 – Par 5
Lost Dunes offers numerous thrills, not the least of which is the tee shot to the angled fairway on the par-5 8th.
The corridor narrows on this 600+ yard brute as the green is approached.
#9 – Par 3
#10 – Par 5
The back nine begins with the reachable par-5 tenth, which gives the player a first encounter with the large lake around which many of the best holes on the course play.
#11 – Par 4
The uphill 11th is my favorite hole on the course, and begins one of my favorite stretches of holes (#11 – #15) in all of golf.
The green is brilliantly seated in a natural hollow in the dunes and is guarded by an enormous bunker short right.
#12 – Par 4
With a new tee higher up on the large dune that separates Lost Dunes from the highway, the tee shot on the par-4 12th is even more exciting. Imagine a well struck shot rising against a blue sky and then gently falling to the fairway below.
This 390-yard hole packs plenty of challenge from tee to green.
#13 – Par 3
The setting and design of this par-3 bring to mind the 3rd at Crystal Downs, a source of inspiration for Tom Doak, and many other architects.
#14 – Par 4
The 14th features another one of Lost Dunes’s gorgeous, thrilling tee shots.
This bunkerless hole lays upon the land and winds around the lake so beautifully, additional hazards are simply not necessary.
#15 – Par 5
Once again, Lost Dunes gives the player the option to decide how much risk they want to bite off.
The closer to the target line of the distant dune one plays, the greater the chance of getting home in two.
This roller coaster par-5 plays down and then back up hill to a well-defended green.
#16 – Par 3
#17 – Par 4
Walking off the 16th green, the player re-enters the more wooded area of the property for the final stretch.
Approach shots must be hit precisely into this green if they are to avoid the nasty bunker left.
#18 – Par 4
The walk up the fairway of the par-4 18th toward the clubhouse elicits mixed feelings – joy for the wonderful golf experience, relief at surviving the challenge, sadness that it must come to an end. Like all great architecture, Lost Dunes is evocative, and it leaves you wanting more.
THE DUNES CLUB
As Lost Dunes tests all facets of a player’s game, the Dunes Club is also a test. It tests one’s ability to throw off the conventions of modern, American golf and reconnect with the pure joy that originally hooked each of us. This private playground of the Keiser family and their fellow members could not be more graciously inviting, laid back, and fun.
It has been my good fortune to visit the Dunes Club for three straight years, and every time I return, it blows my mind. Under the stewardship of the Keisers and consultation by Jim Urbina, the course continues to evolve for the better. Proactive tree management and brush clearing have allowed more air flow and sunlight, which Superintendent Scott Goniwiecha has parlayed into ideal playing conditions for firm, fast, and fun golf. Cleared areas are now being converted into artful sandy wastes featuring fescue and native vegetation.
It would be reasonable to say that the Dunes Club could not get any better, but the trend of the last several years indicates otherwise.
There are no tee markers at the Dunes Cub, and each hole has multiple teeing areas, often at drastically different angles. Holes can be shortened or lengthened as players see fit. Throw in contours, ground features, and hazards that encourage creative shot-making, and the only limitations to variety that exist at the Dunes Club are those in the players’ minds.
#1 – Par 4
The par-4 first illustrates the benefits of tree and brush clearing. Width of the playing corridor off the tee has been restored, opening up different lines of play. The hole is no less stout of an opener though.
The first also gives an indication of the creativity of the bunkering and sandy waste areas throughout the course. They are as beautiful as they are challenging.
#2 – Par 3
With two teeing areas at significantly different angles to the green, the second embodies variety.
#3 – Par 5
The third is separated into three islands, first by grassy mounding and then by a low waste area. Only the longest hitters can reach in two – more often, it requires three precisely placed shots. From the forward tees, it can also be played as a solid two-shotter with a fun tee shot to the center fairway section.
The area short of the green features a style of fescue clumping that is at once rugged and artistic.
#4 – Par 4
The fourth has always been my favorite hole on the course. The dogleg left par-4 plays to a fairway sloped downward from left to right. It requires a tee shot with a draw, or an extremely confident line down the left to get in the best position for the approach.
The second shot is best played with a fade to access all pins, or the player can use the contours short and left to feed a running shot onto the green.
#5 – Par 4
The only water hole on the course, the fifth features a beautifully sited green surrounded by wonderful contours.
#6 – Par 3
The short 6th takes variety to another level with teeing areas at numerous lengths and angles.
Recent rework to the green has also made it more playable. Good shots are well received, and the green surrounds punish poor shots.
#7 – Par 4
The seventh is in the midst of one of the most dramatic transformations. It is still a work in progress and I cannot wait to see how it turns out.
This bunker complex that borders the left side of the fairway is one of the coolest that I have ever seen.
#8 – Par 5
The wild par-5 eight has elicited a love-hate relationship among players. Ongoing tree work has returned options to the hole and made it more a test of strategy than just accuracy.
The tee shot can be laid up short of the waste area. Or for the bold, a route left into the 5th fairway shortens the hole and makes reaching in two a possibility.
Big and bold – there is nothing subtle about the 8th green complex. This hole does not yield birdies easily.
#9 – Par 4
This tough but fun, uphill par-4 can play anywhere from 425+ yards to 275. Factor in wind and change of elevation and this relatively simple hole is packed with variety.
An argument could be made that this bunker guarding the center of the green has become a bit out of style with the rest of the course as it has evolved, but I like it. It is a throwback to the course’s roots, and taking it on adds one last thrilling exclamation point to each loop around the Dunes.
We played 22 total holes on this particular day, which meant that we got three cracks at the ninth. We played it from the back tees the first time, and then the forward tees on the second and third. Old Man Way, as I am affectionately known, delivered in fine fashion by driving the green twice in a row. As we high-fived and laughed at the mild absurdity of it, I felt like a kid again.
That, to me, is what golf does at its best. For short periods, it makes the world melt away and leaves only the joyful present moment. Great golf courses naturally produce those moments, and at that level, there is no greater course of which I am aware than the Dunes Club.
Copyright 2016 – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf