Newly opened American Dunes brings together patriotism and golf for an exceptional, emotional experience.
Jack Nicklaus is best known for being one of the greatest golfers of all time, but if there’s anything he loves more than golf, it’s his country. With the new American Dunes Golf Club in Grand Haven, Michigan, Nicklaus has melded those two passions and created a golf experience that is unlike any other in the world.
American Dunes opened in May 2021 as a complete reinvention of Grand Haven Golf Club, which opened in 1965. When Grand Haven shuttered in 2018 to undertake the renovations, it was ranked on Golf Digest’s list of “America’s 100 Greatest Golf Courses.” Its reopening reveals a stunning make- over that bears little resemblance to its predecessor.
While the course formerly was lined with trees, Nicklaus utilized the local topography and sand base covering the property to create a dunes-like course. More than 2,000 trees were removed to open up the course and reveal the natural undulation of the dunes that had been hidden by the woods. Now, true to its name, American Dunes has 30 bunkers with sand dunes to the right, left or in front of players at every hole.
Perhaps the most distinctive change on the par 72 course is that the front nine holes are now the back nine, which allows players to finish this course on the property’s best dunes. And, while it wasn’t built to be the most challenging of Nicklaus’ projects, the course still asks players to bring their best game. Thanks to its location near the shores of Lake Michigan, the course is no stranger to substantial winds that create an ever-changing challenge, and the soft native sand can take some getting used to as well. Together, it delivers a playing experience that simply can’t be found anywhere else.
A Nobler Cause
For all its breathtaking beauty and thoughtful design, American Dunes is about much more than golf, however. U.S. Air Force Reserves Pilot Lt. Col. Dan Rooney — whose family owns the course — dreamed it up as part of a much bigger picture.
In 2007, Rooney founded The Folds of Honor, a foundation that provides educational scholarships to the spouses and children of America’s disabled or deceased service members. That same year, Grand Haven hosted the first Patriot Golf Days, which has since gone on to provide more than 10,000 scholarships worth some $50 million. But Rooney’s vision was even bigger, which is why he brought in Nicklaus to design American Dunes.
The honor and patriotism ring loud and clear throughout American Dunes; it celebrates the bravery and heroism of all those who have put on a uniform and made the ultimate sacrifice for their country. Plaques dedicated to fallen soldiers are found at each tee box, and there’s a white cross between holes no. 17 and 18 to further commemorate those losses.
And, every day at 1 p.m., golf is paused for the playing of Taps. At that time, the bell rings 13 times; each ring represents one of the 13 folds that brings the flag to a triangle shape during the ceremonial folding and presentation of the flag to a service member’s family during a military funeral.
The Folds of Honor Memorial Wall is a shrine with eight- foot-tall concrete walls filled with the images and stories of those who died in service. Images of fighter planes, folded American flags and an oversized American flag provide an ever-present reminder that this is about much more than a round of golf. It’s not simply décor, it’s a mission statement: American Dunes is donating its entire annual profit to The Folds of Honor foundation.
More to Come
As the vision of American Dunes comes to life, there’s much to discover. The popular CAVU Squadron Bar presently serves as its main place for eating and drinking, while the Founders Hall is available for private receptions and special events. At the CAVU Squadron Bar, guests can enjoy draft beer drawn from a one-of-a-kind system that is made from a missile equipped with surgi- cal-grade steel beer lines. Or, try the bar’s specialty drink, the Blue CAVU — just don’t ask for the recipe, because that’s top-secret.
Beginning in summer 2022, American Dunes will also offer The Camp at American Dunes, which will provide on-site accommodation options for members and guests. The 16-room lodge will include a dozen staterooms on the upper level and four on the lower level, each carefully designed to honor every branch of the U.S. armed forces. The lower level will also be home to The Bunker, which will include a full bar, pool table, Golden Tee arcade game and multiple televisions.
American Dunes is a stunning course on its own, but the message and mission it stands on only adds to its magnificence. As a living memorial to the true heroes both living and dead, it is both a solemn reminder of the price of freedom and a celebration of that sacrifice, and it breathes that patriotism into every inch of this course.
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