(Jack Nicklaus and Lt. Col. Dan Rooney)
A soft opening of the renovated 18-hole course at the Grand Haven (Mich.) Golf Club was set for September 28-29, with the official opening to the public set for the spring of 2021. Jack Nicklaus waived his design fee to participate in the project, which will see 100% of the course’s annual profits go toward assisting Folds of Honor in its mission to support military families.
Lt. Col. Dan Rooney and Jack Nicklaus have dedicated the last 24 months to overhaul the Grand Haven (Mich.) Golf Club, located off the eastern shores of Lake Michigan, into the historic landmark of the American Dunes Golf Club, according to the Owasso (Okla.) Reporter. The renovated 18-hole, par-72 public course is set to officially open in the spring of 2021, and 100% of the course’s annual profits will go toward assisting Folds of Honor in its mission to support military families.
When Dan Rooney founded Folds of Honor in 2007, according to the Reporter, he didn’t expect that Nicklaus, his boyhood hero, would become a lifelong partner in the organization. He had grown up watching the golf legend and drawing inspiration from him, while serving as Air Force Reserve pilot, to pursue his dream of becoming a PGA professional.
Eventually, according to the Reporter, Nicklaus’ influence would lead Rooney to grow Folds of Honor from a humble venture above his garage at his home in Broken Arrow, Okla. into a nationwide foundation that is now headquartered from the Patriot Golf Club in Owasso.
Now, according to the Reporter, the Michigan property, which was purchased by John Rooney, Dan’s father, in 1965, will come full circle as a respite for veterans and active service members, while also supporting Rooney’s vision of providing educational scholarships to spouses and children of fallen and disabled veterans across America through the efforts of the nonprofit Folds of Honor organization.
“When you got a guy like Dan Rooney that’s as passionate as he is about what he does, you can’t help but be enthusiastic and want to be part of it,” Nicklaus told the Reporter.
Over the years, Nicklaus and Rooney have collaborated on several occasions, but it wasn’t until recently that they teamed up to take on the groundbreaking project more than 800 miles away from Rooney’s Oklahoma hometown, according to the Reporter.
“Our ‘why’ for American Dunes [is] getting together with Mr. Nicklaus to really reimagine what was there,” Rooney told the Reporter. “[We want to] build a golf course that is first and foremost there to raise awareness and funds for a nonprofit, and tell that story in a very reverent and emotional way and tie together the heroic families we help.”
Nicklaus added, “I’m all about trying to create things that people are going to love, and if you can do that [and] raise money for a great cause like Folds of Honor, it’s a win-win.”
The idea to renovate the Grand Haven course came when Rooney felt compelled to pay homage to not only his family’s lineage but his foundation’s legacy, according to the Reporter, and he had only one person in mind for the job.
“I met with Jack on February 22, 2018,” Rooney said. “I flew down to the Bear’s Club in Jupiter, Florida, and we sat out on the back deck there, and I shared my idea and what God had put on my heart; I already had the name for the place.
“Mr. Nicklaus is one of the most intentional, intense people I’ve ever been around in my life, and he asked a lot of pointed questions, it was a long meeting, but at the end of it, he said, ‘I’m your first guy in.’”
“‘Absolutely, yes,’” said Nicklaus, referencing his response to Rooney that evening. “For me to be involved and be a small part of Folds of Honor and honor our fallen soldiers and their families is a privilege. I’m just delighted that Dan asked me.”
It wasn’t long until the two visionaries jumped at the opportunity to move dirt on the land, re-envisioning the tight, tree-lined Grand Haven terrain as a vibrant dunes course, according to the Reporter. Construction began in March 2019, with Nicklaus waiving his design fee as his contribution to the project.
The year-long undertaking has led to the 20-year-old course, closed since October 2018, to be transformed into 7,213 yards of open flagstick-bent fairways and triple-seven-bent greens, with over two dozen bunkers, sculpted through rolling landscapes nestled along the banks of America’s second largest freshwater lake, according to the Reporter.
Each hole at the American Dunes will celebrate a Folds of Honor recipient and one of Nicklaus’ 18 major championships, according to the Reporter. The refurbished course will also play host to a two-story, 16-room lodge called The Camp that features several staterooms and suites for guests. Additionally, a gathering area called The Bunker will be home to a full bar, pool table, golden tee arcade game and multiple televisions.
“Mr. Nicklaus has uncovered a stunning dunes-scape that golfers will not believe,” Rooney said. “It’s an immersive golf experience routed in massive sand dunes along Lake Michigan.”
Nicklaus, whose signature emblematic bear, filled with patriotic stars and stripes, now graces the grounds as the course’s official insignia, echoed Rooney’s sentiments, according to the Reporter.
“I’ve had a blast doing it,” he said. “Loved working with [Dan and] all the people that have donated, made a lot of new friends, and I think what we turned out was a product that’s just fantastic. I think the golf course is super, and people are going to love it.”
Nicklaus and his team recently put the final touches on the American Dunes and plan to host a soft opening for media and close friends and family on September 28-29, according to the Reporter. The course is set to officially open to the public next May.
More information about the American Dunes can be found at americandunesgolfclub.com.