Growing up my sport of choice was always baseball. I played in summer leagues and grew up thinking I would play in high school, college, and possibly even the major leagues. However, when getting close to starting my freshman year, I discovered golf. I was instantly hooked. I had a set of clubs when I was little, but there was just something about the game that pulled me in. From the time spent outside with Mother Nature to the competition factor, I knew that golf was going to be my new addiction.
That addiction has carried over into an absolute love for the game and a passion for playing as many courses as I can. Similar to how I dislike drinking the same bottle of wine twice, I hate playing the same golf course twice. I want to get out there, experience as much as I can, and play as many tracks as possible. Not to mention the places I get to see and the cities I get to visit along the way. The travel portion of a golf trip is just about as exciting as playing.
This summer I decided to take a trip north. We went way north, all the way to Roscommon, Michigan. From Indianapolis it was about a seven hour drive. And trust me, it was a boring seven hours. Through Indiana you get pretty much cornfields and gas stations. When you hit Michigan, the terrain gets a little nicer, but rather than cornfields you get forests and lakes. Still a pretty boring drive. And we made most of ours at night, so it didn’t really matter much anyway.
When we got to Roscommon, and lost cell phone service for the next four days, I knew we were in the middle of nowhere. Upon our extremely late arrival, I was forced to pick up a late check-in package at the clubhouse. Sheryl Hugill and I were at Forest Dunes Golf Club. Here we would spend the next four days relaxing, playing golf, drinking various microbrews in the clubhouse bar, and chatting with two people who would soon become good friends of ours. Welcome to Forest Dunes.
Where is Forest Dunes?
Forest Dunes Golf Club is located in northern Michigan in the small town of Roscommon. Here in Roscommon there is not much to do. Well, besides golf. But in Roscommon you are reminded of the great American Midwest town. There are a handful of stores, most of them locally owned, a few gas stations, and a bunch of hole-in-the-wall bars and restaurants.
One day, looking for a place to grab some lunch, we did manage to make it into town to experience one of these holes in the wall. We ended up at Fred’s of Roscommon. This place was neat, actually, as it was a restaurant, bar, and bowling alley all wrapped into one. After ordering a couple lunch specials, we took some time to pet the huge buffalo head hanging on the wall and grab a view of the parade going on outside. It was the 4th of July weekend after all.
If you are coming from the south, prepare for a long and boring ride. You can take interstate 69 all the way up until you reach 127, which will take you pretty much into Roscommon. It’s not that the city is hard to find necessarily, it’s just literally in the middle of nowhere. When we left 3G cell phone service, I got scared. But when we lost cell phone service all together I was even more frightened. We ended up going three days straight with no cell phone service. The only thing that kept us sane was the Wi-Fi offered in the clubhouse.
What is Forest Dunes?
A great experience, that is what Forest Dunes is. Imagine looking from an aerial view of the Huron National Forest. Look down, and all you see is trees, trees, and more trees. Now imagine that a golf course was just picked out of the middle of the forest. There you have Forest Dunes.
The highlight of Forest Dunes is the golf course. The course was designed by Tom Weiskopf. Tom used to play on the PGA Tour, but has made quite a name for himself designing golf courses. Forest Dunes is said to be one of his best designs yet.
If you are planning on staying at Forest Dunes, prepare to be impressed. There is not a hotel there. There is actually not a hotel anywhere near Forest Dunes. But that’s okay. You can just stay in one of the many homes located on the property. While there we stayed at the Buck, one of the homes sitting right on the water. No, not the ocean, but a manmade lake. There are actually a few manmade lakes at Forest Dunes, some just for looks, some meant for fishing (ice fishing in the winter) and others meant for boating and swimming. We didn’t get in the water while we were, but we sat out on the beach and read a few nights.
The house we were in had two double beds in one bedroom, a two-car garage, a king size bed in the master suite, a full kitchen, a view of the water, and much more. It literally was a house. I told Sheryl when we got there, “Pretty nice hotel room, don’t you think?”
One thing about Forest Dunes, besides its utter beauty and location, is how safe it is. I was a little worried when we got there, as the doors were all open and the lights were all on. But after asking Jennifer Middleton—the membership director at Forest Dunes—about the safety, she assured me we would be fun. She said that she hasn’t even locked her doors in six years! Refreshing as how I lock my doors when I run to get something from my car!
Do you like the outdoors? I hope, because that is where you will spend most of your time here. If you like to fish, grab your pole and head over to Lake AuSable. They keep this lake stocked full of fish for that reason and you can fish all year round. Donny Fisher—the head pro at Forest Dunes—said that every winter you can find just as many people ice fishing as you can during the summer when the weather is nice!
If fishing is not your thing, then jump in one of the many random canoes just lying on the beach. They are sort of a first-come, first-serve kind of a thing, but that doesn’t stop people from taking a spin around the lake. Be careful though, the lake gets quite deep, and from the beach it tends to slope off quite quickly as well.
Don’t like splashing in the water? Then why don’t we go for a bike ride? There are trails everywhere at Forest Dunes. There are also volleyball courts, horseshoes, and more. There is always something going on, even when there is nothing going on.
Need to relax? Well, let’s just head over to the spa shall we? The spa has only been around for a little over a year, but you can get the true VIP treatment here. From a simple massage to hand and foot therapy, the Forest Dunes spa is ready for you to spend a relaxing day letting go. The spa is only open for reservations, so make sure you make an appointment soon.
If you are in need of some exercise, then head over to the fitness center. Located on the second floor of the clubhouse, you will find a huge workout facility offering yoga classes, fitness equipment, treadmills, and more. Of course, while we were there we decided against working out. There were just too many other things to do! This is a great benefit to the members though, and one that is used by a lot of folks.
If you are like me, and just have to have the Internet at your fingertips, then take advantage of their full service business center. The clubhouse also has free Wi-Fi for members and guests and allows you to stay in touch with folks back home or to check your email while on the road. Note that the homes do not have Wi-Fi, or cell phone service for that matter, so make sure to take advantage of the Wi-Fi offered here. I spoke with Donny about that actually, and he said they are in the process of getting Wi-Fi to the homes. (They do have satellite television in the homes though!)
If none of that suits your fancy, and you are still looking for something to do, you can jump in the car and find a wide range of other activities nearby. Like to gamble? Then head to a casino. You can also go horseback riding, cross-country skiing, and more. Again, there is always something to do here at Forest Dunes, no matter how secluded it might be.
Oh boy, here we go. This is the main reason why I came to Forest Dunes. The golf course at Forest Dunes is the main reason most people come here. Well, that and the view.
When we first arrived to Forest Dunes, it was after midnight and all I could see were the lights around the clubhouse. I stopped in, grabbed our late check-in package, and headed to the house. We did see a deer when we were pulling out of the parking lot. But needless to say, we didn’t get a good view of the golf course. I wouldn’t get the chance to see the golf course until Saturday morning. Donny and I had an early tee time.
When the sun came up the next day, I awoke excited to get on the golf course. Being a Troon course, I knew it would be in great shape, but I was not ready for what was in store for me. When I first pulled up, there were only a few cars in the parking lot. I would later learn that is pretty typical as the course only gets around 10,000 a year.
I had not met Donny until that morning, but had seen pictures of him on Facebook. So, after saying hello to the greeters, I headed into the clubhouse to just kill some time. I was about a half an hour early, so I figured why not. As soon as I walked into the clubhouse, Donny walked out of his office to introduce himself. From there, it was off to the practice facility.
Most Troon courses I have played, if not all Troon courses I have played, have immaculate practice facilities. From the multiple targets on the driving range to the undulating practice greens, these facilities are usually taken care of just like the golf course itself. Forest Dunes was no different. When we got to the range, sitting to the left hand side of the massive clubhouse, I was in awe of the view from here as well. Behind you was the golf course, in front of you the practice range. This range is neat because you can hit balls from either side.
Donny said that both sides of this driving range offer unique shots to work on. From where we were hitting, there were about five pins in reach. I hit my usual wedges to start, then a few seven irons, a handful of three iron shots, and back to the wedges. One of the greens that was out in the distance was guarded by a bunker and an overhanging tree. Donny explained to me that hitting shots that you might actually see on the course makes all the difference.
We didn’t get a chance to putt before our round; it was off to the first tee. I had not hit a driver on the range either so I was a little nervous I might yank it into the high grass. But I didn’t. I placed the ball right down the middle. I caught it a little thin, but the ball ran for quite a while on the hard, yet smooth fairways. It left me with a seven iron onto the green. I yanked it, again blaming it on the tense muscles, into a greenside bunker. From there I would hit out to about ten foot, two putts, and happily walk to the net hole with a bogey.
I actually didn’t mind starting off with a bogey. I was just happy to be there, playing golf, and being able to take in all the sights and sounds of Forest Dunes. From there, I would bogey the next, then the next, and then hit a streak of pars.
On hole two, before I get too far into the round, we saw some wild turkeys just off the side of the fairway. I had seen a turkey before, sure, but not on the golf course. Never mind the deer that would later run right beside the fairway on hole sixteen. Donny said the later in the season it gets, the more wildlife you see. They even have guys hunting out here in the fall and winter.
The front nine was fun. Hole eight had to have been my favorite on the front side. It had a great view for your second shot. It went downhill, toward a lake, and had the clubhouse in the background on the left with trees and forest on the right. From there, hole nine would have you hitting over that same lake to a small green to finish with a par three. Donny said no matter what the distance says, hit a club, if not two clubs extra. There was wind over that lake that you just didn’t feel from the tee box. (Playing with someone that had the local knowledge like Donny did made my day even that more enjoyable. Better yet, I was playing with a guy who had local knowledge and was a professional. It couldn’t get any better.)
By the time we hit the back nine, I was ready to make some birdies. That sadly never happened, but I did start hitting some better shots on the back. The back actually starts off with a short, almost reachable par four. However, there is trouble right, trouble left, and with a split fairway you almost want to hit an iron off the tee. Of course, I took out a driver and ripped it into the junk on the right. I did manage to get out and up and down for a par.
The back nine is nothing like the front. On the front side trees and tight fairways surround you. And while there are a couple of tight fairways on the back side, it is a lot more wide open. The backside, just as pretty as the front, proved to be the easier of the two sides for me. Maybe I was starting to putt well, I don’t know. But by the time we got to hole sixteen, I was just so overcome by the golf course all I wanted to do was camp out on one of the tee boxes.
We got to the last hole, I ripped a driver left, and ended up finishing with a bogey six. But not really. Here at Forest Dunes, you have one more hole to play after you finish your eighteen. Most golf courses consider the bar inside the clubhouse to be the nineteenth hole. But not here. Here you play one more. The hole, titled the Bye Hole, is setup to settle bets. So if you are done and tied, well, no more.
This hole is pretty cool. Water comes into play, as does a bunker. But this bunker is not your typical bunker. This bunker is in the center of the green! You might have seen this a few times on the PGA Tour as they have some holes with a bunker in the middle of the green. But it is a sight to see from the tee box.
When the round was over, we all shook hands (Donny’s apprentice joined us on the back side) and headed into the bar for a bite to eat and an ice-cold microbrew. I ordered a wedge salad, a club sandwich, and a blackberry stout to drink. It was the perfect end to a perfect round of golf. I ended up shooting 82 that day, and while I would have liked to be lower (excluding that nine I had on the front side), I will take it. And apparently I beat Donny. But I think he let me win.
As if the golf course was not enough. They had to go and throw a restaurant into the mix. And you all know how much I like to eat. So after our round, I had my first chance to see the restaurant and to take a gander at the menu. When I sat down, I was handed an over sized menu on card stock. I was a little surprised the menu was not a tad bit nicer than this. Especially considering where we were. But I quickly saw past that and started reading the menu. I was immediately turned to the wedge salad.
I ordered that, and while Donny decided what he wanted for lunch, I also snagged a club sandwich. Based on Donny’s recommendation, I thought I would give it a shot. Oh yeah, and the blackberry stout. Imagine taking Guinness and mixing in a handful of blackberries just to give it that added kick of flavor. Yeah, they have that…on tap. I also had another beer that I had never heard of, but nothing could top the blackberry beer.
When the salad arrived I was ready to dig in. I poured my bleu cheese dressing all over it and went to town. And it was delicious. If you have never had a wedge salad, I must suggest you drop what you are doing and go get one. Right now! They are that good. And by the time the club sandwich came, I was ready for another beer. And I finished the club, don’t you worry. It was equally delicious. I would later learn that they had a new food and beverage director and he is bringing in a lot of ideas for the menu. I must say, if this is what is to expect from the new menu, appearing in early August, then you are in for a treat.
By the time we got to dinner a few hours and a nap later, I was hungry again! I was looking over the entrees and had no idea what to order. They had some interesting menu items on their dinner menu, including roasted duck in a chocolate chili glaze. That is what I ended up getting, and it was the tenderest duck I have ever eaten. It was just enough to satisfy. I had another one of those beers, and sat back after dinner satisfied. Of course, Sheryl ordered dessert.
She ordered a slice of cheesecake, one of her favorites. Donny and Jennifer also ordered dessert. I had another beer. I am telling you, this blackberry stout is really that good! By the time we were done eating, I think everyone was ready to just enjoy a nice Saturday night in. Sheryl and I headed back to the house to read on the beach by the water. It was a great way to end a perfect day of golf, food, and friends.
I wish I could tell you there is a lot of stuff to do around Roscommon, but I can’t. That’s because there isn’t. But for someone like me, who just wants a place to relax, lie on the beach, and get in a few rounds of golf, it is a perfect destination. Sure, there are a few shops here and there in downtown Roscommon, but nothing worth getting excited about. We did walk through one of the local grocery stores, and had lunch in one of the local hangout spots, but again, it is a small town, with nice people all around, and not much to do besides relax.
There are some bigger cities nearby. When I say nearby, remember we are about five miles from cell phone service here. A good hour, hour and a half drive will have you in a number of casinos. You can even head over to Traverse City, about an hour and a half from Roscommon, to visit the cherry capital of the world. While we were in town they were having the National Cherry Festival in Traverse City. Sheryl tried to go on Saturday, while I was playing golf, and ended up coming back because traffic was so bad. But according to Donny, Traverse City is a great town. He compared it to Scottsdale, Arizona, only in Michigan.
If you come to Michigan, or to Forest Dunes for that matter, just bring some good books, a board game or two, maybe a DVD, and an open mind. This truly is a place where you can leave your doors unlocked at night.
Press Coverage & Awards
Forest Dunes is not as secluded as you might think. They have been recognized by various magazines and media outlets for the facility, the golf course, and more. Below you will find a list of just a handful of the media coverage Forest Dunes has had recently:
As you can see, some of these publications are serious business. From being featured on the front cover of Great Lakes Midwest Golf Life to having an all out featured article in Golfweek’s Definitive Guide to The Golf Life, this club means business. How cool would it be to work at a place that has been recognized by Golf World Magazine as the #1 Reader’s Choice Award?
Faculty & Staff
Nice would not even begin to describe the people at Forest Dunes. I had first been introduced to Forest Dunes through my work, but had no idea it would turn into friendships and a chance to visit the property. I had been in contact with Jennifer, the membership director, for a few months before I headed north. I had chatted with Donny here and there, and we were Facebook friends, but never had communicated as much as we did during our stay.
When I got out of my car on Saturday, my first chance to meet anyone from the club, I was greeted with a friendly hello and was offered assistance with my golf bag. I felt like royalty or something. It seemed that even the guys handling the carts had a genuine interest in my enjoyment at the club. Not to mention the guys working in the pro shop and the ladies tending the bar – even the servers, for that matter. Everyone was just so darn nice.
Donny and I had the chance to play on Saturday, so we got to know each other quite well during my trip. He and his wife even invited Sheryl and me to watch the fireworks with them on Sunday evening. He said he knew just the spot to take us and would pick us up around 9:00 PM. Long story short, he did know a great place. Good thing he had four wheel drive. We ended up literally on the top of a mountain. Now, granted it was only a few thousand feet high, but we ended up watching fireworks displays from about the best spot possible. We saw roughly six or seven different fireworks displays that night. We could see that far. It was a great way to spend the holiday, that’s for sure.
The moral of the story is, the people at Forest Dunes are not just nice, they are genuine. They care about their job, they care about the people who play the course and that eat at the restaurant, and they truly cherish the relationships they build. I am happy to have met the people that I did and I look forward to growing better friends in the future with all of them.
Do you like to play golf? Maybe you just like good food and enjoy being treated like a king or queen. Or perhaps you just like to relax, read a good book, and go for a quick swim right off your back deck. Whatever the case may be, go to Forest Dunes. This place is hidden, in the middle of nowhere, and lacks the luxuries like cell phone service and Wi-Fi that you get at home. But that is just part of it and even adds to the enjoyment of spending a weekend away. I will be back, rest assured, and I will be taking friends with me when I go. I want as many people to experience Forest Dunes as they can. Thank you to Donny, Jennifer, and the rest of the Forest Dunes staff for providing me with a unique and nearly perfect weekend. Fore!