The 18-hole, fully reversible layout at the Roscommon, Mich., property will be the only one of its kind in North America when it’s completed, playing clockwise one day and counterclockwise the next, with only the 9th and 18th greens staying the same.
North America’s only 18-hole, fully-reversible golf course has a soft-opening planned for play this coming summer at Forest Dunes Golf Club in Roscommon, Mich., the Detroit Free Press reported.
The Loop as it will be called, has 18 greens and 36 teeing areas. It will play clockwise one day and counterclockwise the next. Only the 9th and 18th greens will always be labeled with those numbers. The layout is designed by Tom Doak, the Press reported.
The home of golf, The Old Course at St. Andrews, was built to allow a reversible path, but has only been played that way on rare occasion since 1914. A handful of other attempts around the globe at a fully-reversible layout have been made since—some with more than 18 greens—but ultimately a “favorite” routing has been chosen and played full time, the Press reported.
That could have been Doak’s biggest design challenge—making the layout equally enjoyable and interesting regardless of direction played so it remains truly reversible. “I’m really pleased with it,” Doak said. “Whichever way you’re playing, it never feels like you are going the wrong way.”
The key design element is the 18 greens, which had to be shaped in a way they could in theory and in practice be attacked from 360 degrees. What makes the layout brilliant is that approaching a green one day a golfer could be looking at a deep, skinny green with no bunkering in play, and the next day it’s wide and shallow with lots of exposed sand—and most golfers will have no idea it’s the same piece of ground, the Press reported.
According to Doak, two of the best holes are the sixth and seventh when playing counterclockwise. “The sixth is a very short par 3 with a wide and shallow green, and the seventh is a short par 4 with a long and narrow green that has a dip in the middle of it,” Doak said. “But those are also two of the best holes playing clockwise.
“That seventh green lays out across the line of play from right to left, with the dip separating the two hole locations, and a big pine at the back right corner of the green really guards the right half. Then you play a short par 4 down to the sixth green, approaching on the long axis. So you get one wide green and one skinny one whichever way you’re playing, but in either case, the short par 4 is one of the better holes out there.”
The majority of the property is sand base with Jack Pines scattered throughout, some which had been removed naturally by a tornado several years before and others by course builders. The topography is slightly elevated from the remainder of Forest Dunes, and when playing counterclockwise, from the fourth green through the sixth (13-15 the other way), the holes play along a long, narrow vista overlooking the neighboring state forest, the Press reported.
To keep the integrity of the natural horizon, Doak added contouring by digging down into the sand base, instead of building up man-made mounding as do most “stadium” style courses. The look is classic, somewhat rugged and very natural, the Press reported.
The entire layout is just under 200 acres, but 95 of those acres are seeded fairway to account for teeing areas and multiple-angle approaches to greens. Fifty acres is considered large for fairway totals, and by comparison the manicured fairway total across the driveway at Forest Dunes is only 30 acres. All 18 greens are bentgrass. But to make all those fairway acres affordable to maintain, fescue was the grass of choice. It needs less mowing and not as many chemical applications, the Press reported.
The plan is for a layout no longer than 6,900 yards at par 70, with additional forward tees as short as 4,000. The design has 40 defined bunkers but surplus exposed earth makes for additional sandy areas. There is not a single water hazard. Scoring challenges will come via frequent uneven lies in the fairway plus delicate, deceitful contours in the putting surfaces. The green complexes are of course a key element of the design, the Press reported.
“It’s almost like they have to be approachable from 360 degrees around them, which limits how crazy you can make any contours,” said Doak’s lead associate for the project, Brian Slawnik. “But when you build a really interesting green, both of the holes playing into it become outstanding.”
That said, defining 36 teeing areas was just as difficult or maybe even more of a challenge. On half of the holes players will approach the greens from straight in one way and then from 90 degrees or more, but not straight in from the back of those greens, the Press reported.
“You will be playing one hole, say west, and you will turn and play south for the next hole,” Doak said. “To make that seamless, some tees are in fairways or just on the edge of fairways. It’s still efficient, because the tees only need to be half as big for each direction—the sizes are based on the amount of traffic they have to handle.”
Doak explained more details in an email while on a recent design trip to Australia. “The Loop isn’t as flashy visually (as sister course Forest Dunes), but the heart of the course is the detailing of the greens and their surrounds,” he wrote. “The fescue fairways will also be a firmer playing surface; you’ll get more bounce and roll off your tee shots, but then you’ll have to land the ball a bit short of the hole because of the firmer conditions, especially when playing downwind.”
A major part of why Doak picked this location for debuting a reversible design he’d been noodling around in his head for a couple decades, was the buy-in from Forest Dunes owner, Lew Thompson, and the fact the property is near his Traverse City home base, the Press reported.
“We got the best of Tom, and I don’t say that to offend people who have used Tom in the past, but we got Tom at a time when he didn’t have so many projects going, and with this one (near his home) he was able to devote much more of his time to this project and it is really showing,” Thompson said in a release.
“I haven’t had the chance to build a new course within driving distance of home for many years, so it’s just a treat to be working on any project close to home,” Doak added in his email. “But for this reversible concept, it was really good to be close to home so I could get back more often and work on the holes a little bit at a time. It was a luxury to be able to leave a decision alone for a few days and then drive right back over and keep going.”
Forest Dunes’ management team plans to take full advantage of the unique situation this course expansion places in their laps. “Right now we will have the only reversible golf course in the world for the fore-seeable future, and that will be a huge attraction for golfers,” said Chad Maveus, Director of Golf. “The reversible course is giving us two courses in one, which will make everything more efficient and economical. We will have three golf courses, but only maintaining two.”
With such a highly-examined and interesting design, northern Michigan golf courses as a whole should benefit from additional golf traffic coming to the area from far and wide, the Press reported.
“All I know is that most of my friends in the business are really curious about this course and how it will work; and there may be a few others who are hoping I’ve bitten off more than I can chew,” Doak continued in his email. “There’s no telling if that will drive a lot of golf tourists to Michigan the next couple of years, but it’s nice to have a new project that everyone is talking about, when there are so few new ones to look at in any given year now.”
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