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LIGHT BULB MOMENTS AT THE LOOP

A look at Tom Doak’s brilliant reversible design, The Loop at Forest Dunes Golf Club

“Golf is a science, the study of a lifetime, in which you can exhaust yourself but never your subject.” – David Forgan

A golf course that can be readily grasped after a single round is not likely to ever be considered one of the game’s greats. The best courses require repeat play, and perhaps even a bit of study, to master—much like golf itself. The Old Course at St. Andrews ideally embodies this truth. The answers to the questions posed by the links are not printed on the scorecard. They are revealed to patient and persistent players over time, many of whom did not find themselves enthralled after their first loop. Those who are fortunate enough to experience The Old Course more than once almost invariably fall in love, as their initial confusion gives way to a curious desire to explore ever deeper its mysteries.

No modern architect has made a more thorough study of the links of the British Isles than Tom Doak. He wrote in his book Anatomy of a Golf Course, “Yet to truly understand the enduring popularity of golf and the essentials of good golf courses, it is imperative to become familiar with the British links over which the game evolved five centuries ago. The importance of studying the links is summarized by two facts: These are the courses over which the game itself was invented, and they have endured despite tremendous changes in all other aspects of the game.”

By the time the opportunity arose to return to Northern Michigan to build again, Doak and his team at Renaissance Golf had been successfully applying the lessons from the links to produce renowned courses such as Pacific Dunes, Ballyneal, Streamsong Blue and many others. However, it would be at Forest Dunes Golf Club that he would finally be given the chance to draw fully upon the inspiration of The Old Course in bringing to life a reversible course with eighteen greens – The Loop.

The 12th green on The Loop’s Red Course – Photo Credit: Evan Schiller

In the 1921 British Open, Bobby Jones famously picked his ball up and quit after repeated unsuccessful attempts to extricate himself from a bunker on the 11th at St. Andrews. Suffice it to say that the Old Course’s charms were lost on him. It is equally well known that as time went on, his appreciation for the links grew to become an abiding love. Those who are not immediately enamored with The Loop from a single play can take heart to find themselves in a similar position to the younger Jones. They ought further be consoled to know that the architect himself, the resort owner, club staff and scores of players have been on a long-term journey with The Loop marked by moments when light bulbs flip on to shed progressively more light on the brilliance of this design.

Flipped Switches

The concept for a reversible course had been rattling around in Tom Doak’s brain for decades. He believed that if he could just find the right client with the right piece of land, the concept could become a reality. Enter Lew Thompson, owner of Forest Dunes Golf Club, who wanted to entice visitors to stay and play longer at the resort by offering a second course that would wow them. In Thompson, Doak saw his chance. He set about studying the land and collaborating with his associates on a reversible routing.

Twenty years of mulling it over, and it was still a tall task to figure out how to make the concept work. In an interview with Matt Ginella, Doak described the routing process. “Early on, I was thinking that the more we just make (the course) a big ‘C’ shape, the better off we’re going to be. But as I started to draw it…it’s more interesting to not just play into the same green from 180 degrees opposite. When you’re changing directions, you have a chance to play around with things…I think that’s the fascinating thing about the concept…Sometimes the orientation of the green is so much different that it doesn’t look familiar to you at all.”

Light bulb.

After many hours of headache-inducing deliberation, the Renaissance team had their design ready to present to Thompson. The story goes that Doak showed his client the routing for one direction and the reaction was, “Nice looking course, but I’m not wowed.” Out came the course map for the other direction and it took Thompson a few minutes to realize what he was looking at. Same corridors, same greens, playing in the reverse direction. The response, “Wow.” Doak was not just giving Lew Thompson a second course. He was throwing in a third.

Light bulb.

Click on any gallery image below to enlarge with captions

Robert Falconer (@LoopSuper) is now the Superintendent at The Loop, but at the time construction was getting underway, he was working for a contractor. Falconer had a sneak peek at the plans and was not immediately impressed. “I thought that it looked goofy in some spots,” he recalled. “I commented that certain features seemed out of place. My boss asked, ‘Which way is the hole going?’” That question was one that he never had to stop and consider before and it took him aback. Like Thompson, the realization came that this was a different and special project.

Light bulb.

The opening of The Loop was highly anticipated among architecture geeks, Doak fans and the media. As the fanfare of those early rounds dissipated, the course proved successful in its purpose of giving players a reason to stay longer at the resort. However, some felt that it lacked the same level of pizzazz as Weiskopf’s Forest Dunes course or others at comparable facilities. That impression is not entirely unfair. It is indeed simple and subtle at first glance. But those reviews speak more to the surface-oriented perspective of modern golfers than to the quality of the design. The Loop is not merely a single golf course, or even two. It is more than that. It is a work of architectural art that offers a glimpse into a genius golf mind at depths that cannot possibly be fully comprehended with one play.

Elliott Oscar is the PGA Professional at Forest Dunes who, like Robert Falconer, enthusiastically evangelizes the course. “The first time I played it, I thought it had a nice set of greens,” Oscar shared. “After more plays, I realized how much the green surrounds influenced play. Fifty plus plays in each direction later and I understand that every contour and feature is purposefully done. I like to go out late in the evening, play a few holes and then turn around to play in the other direction.” The Loop is not just a golf course. It is an experience.

Light bulb.

My Journey with The Loop

When the announcement of the reversible course at Forest Dunes was made, I was tremendously excited. Like a good geek, I studied the course map and was convinced that I understood how incredible the courses could be. I was wrong. During construction, I had the privilege of going out with a small group led by Tom Doak to play dirt golf in both directions on several holes. Although disoriented at first, I got my bearings and concluded, “Now I get it.” Wrong again. As I played the finished course this season, pausing periodically to look back and find a different hole in the reverse direction, I sensed another light bulb flickering on for me. But this time, I was not fooled into thinking that I got it. Quite the opposite.

Light breaks through to illuminate the 12th green on the Black Course – Photo Credit: Evan Schiller

Talking to those who have been around the course numerous times, and who continue to make discoveries, I can see that I am at the beginning of my journey with The Loop. It promises to illuminate light bulbs for me with each round. That is the good news that Lew Thompson and Tom Doak want to share with every visitor to Forest Dunes, especially those who might have had a Jones-at-St-Andrews reaction. The greatest courses reveal themselves over time. They are a reminder that if we can open and properly orient our minds, we will find in brilliant designs like The Loop an inexhaustible supply of challenge and joy.

Special thanks to Evan Schiller for contributing his gorgeous photos. More from Evan on his website (https://www.evanschillerphotography.com/), on Twitter (@EvanSchiller) and on Instagram (@evan_schiller_photography).

Copyright 2019 – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf


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Right on the Sweet Spot – Architecture Week III

This time around it was different.  They changed the name, and they changed their game.  The third installment of Architecture Week on Golf Channel’s Morning Drive took a different approach, and for me, it hit the sweet spot.

This time around was different for me as well.  For the previous two AWs, I was able to watch each day.  This year, with action-packed holidays, work, and developments at Canal Shores, I missed the live broadcast.  It wasn’t until mid-January that I was finally able to sit down and binge watch all of the segments (thanks Howard Riefs for the links – on Twitter @hriefs).  As it turns out, watching Architecture Week in this manner gave me a perspective that might have been missed by my fellow GCA geeks.

Simply put, Architecture Week III was by far the best yet.  Its greatness was the result of the same basic ingredients that make for great golf architecture – variety, challenge, and fun.  From beginning to end, it was designed to be interesting and accessible for all viewers, in the same way that a great golf course is interesting and accessible to all players.

Golf Channel increased the variety in several ways:

  • Complementing Matt Ginella with Geoff Shackelford throughout the week was a stroke of genius.  They seem to have good chemistry born of a shared spirit for the game, but they clearly do not agree on everything.  That makes for good conversation and provides the viewer with a richer perspective on the subject.  It was also nice to see additional members of the Morning Drive cast participate.
  • There was greater variety in the segments.  Some pre-produced, some live.  Some in-studio, some on-location.  Some focused on courses, some focused on the architects, and still others focused on the player experience.  A multi-media smorgasbord of discussion, video, pictures.  This gear-shifting throughout the week delivered visual and intellectual stimulation, and made for a much higher level of interest.
  • The week also had depth.  From Architecture 101 educational segments to deeper looks at the lives of Tillinghast and Ross, AWIII was substantive enough to satisfy my geekiest interests.  It did not include these elements at the expense of including the GCA novice though.  To steal the essence of Matt’s “thoughtful architecture” concept, Morning Drive knows its audience, and it designed a week with enough breadth and depth to provide interesting content for all.

I would still like to see an increase in breadth of coverage.  More history and more education on the principles of great architecture.  A wider range of featured projects, especially those focused on community golf like the Schoolhouse 9 and Sharp Park.  And of course, new and different faces including industry vets like Ian Andrew and Drew Rogers, as well as up-and-comers like Dave Zinkand, Andy Staples, Keith Rhebb and others.

Hitting the sweet spot with this installment of Architecture Week proves that a GCA show can be viable.  The remaining breadth of compelling GCA subject matter to left to cover reminds us that a GCA show is necessary.

And now, for the recap…


ARCHITECTURE WEEK III RECAP

“The chief object of every golf architect worth his salt is to imitate the beauties of nature so closely as to make his work indistinguishable from nature itself.” – Dr. Alister MacKenzie

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“Strategic design is at the core of the great holes and great courses of the world.” – Geoff Shackelford

“Could you play a course every day and not get tired of it?” – Geoff Shackelford

Spot on.  This is my top criteria for my favorite golf courses.  If I wouldn’t want to play it every day for the rest of my life, it isn’t going to crack my Top 10.  I agree too with the point about the misplaced importance of prestige in American golf.  This is at the core of what has taken golf in this country off the rails, because it is about ego.  Where there is ego in golf, accessibility and fun tend to get crowded out.

“The merit of a golf hole is not its length.  It’s the variety and interest therein that golf hole.”  – A.W. Tillinghast

“A.W. Tillinghast was not only the greatest character the American game ever knew, he was quite possibly the most imaginative designer this country has ever produced.” – Geoff Shackelford

Nobody does this historical content better than Geoff, and I love it.  Especially at this point in architecture, being called by some the new Golden Age, it is helpful to look back to the lives and work of the men who practiced their craft in The Golden Age.  They are endless sources of inspiration.

Side note about the Mike Keiser story:  Although the elements of this story are not new to Golf Channel, it is nice to see Matt continue to follow up and share updates over time.  The building of a golf course and the revitalization of a community do not happen overnight.  I appreciate Matt and the Golf Channel taking the longer view so that we can witness the unfolding.

“The first thing is, everybody just has to get over scoring.” – Geoff Shackelford

“As a player of the game for 25 years, I never really thought about why I liked a golf course or didn’t like a golf course.” – Paige Mackenzie

This was a wonderful discussion punctuated by Paige describing the evolution of her perspective, and the deepening of her understanding of architectural intent.

Side note about Streamsong Black:  The description of Royal Melbourne style bunkering, while building off the big site shaping of the Olympic Course in Rio, has me salivating.  I will be at Streamsong in 2 weeks and I hope to sneak a peak at the Black course.

“(The Keisers) only touch pieces of land that have the potential to be something unbelievably unique and special.  Mike has an ability to draw out of people much more than they thought they were capable of, or maybe more than they were capable of, and that is part of his genius.” – David McLay Kidd

“The vision is to bring heathland golf to the U.S.” – Michael Keiser

As I previously posted, I had the privilege of visiting Sand Valley for a tour (read my recap with photos here).  The Coore & Crenshaw course will be an instant classic, and from the look of it, the Kidd course promises to be equally mind-blowing.  It is a great time to be a golfer in the Midwest.

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“If you play the great variety of courses that are out there…you can’t help but realize that golf is way more fun when there is strategic interest…” – Geoff Ogilvy

I could not have been happier to see the OCCM team featured on Architecture Week.  Even better, they are bringing their Sandbelt sensibility and classic spirit of the game to the U.S.  Could there be a course in Wisconsin in their future?  We can hope…

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If you are a student of the game and GCA, you must own Cob Carlson’s Donald Ross documentary.  You can purchase it at DonaldRossFilm.com.  As is the case with many architects’ work, Cob’s wonderful film is a labor of love that deserves our support.

“This is thoughtful.  We’re identifying architects who are doing good work.  The good work they’re doing is because they put thought into the mission they’re trying to execute.” – Matt Ginella

Matt made this statement in reference to Pete & Alice Dye’s approach to designing for their players.  Their players are resort golfers, and everyday golfers.  Low handicappers, and high handicappers.  Professionals and amateurs.  The Dyes don’t use a one size-fits-all approach.  They think about their players, and design for those players.  That thoughtfulness obviously does not limit their creativity.  Rather, it makes it possible for their creativity to be accessible and enjoyable, and it is a key ingredient in GCA that stands the test of time.

Exciting times ahead in the world of golf course architecture.  Thanks to Matt, Geoff, and the Morning Drive crew for continuing to cover it for us.

 

 

Copyright 2016 – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf