Jack Nicklaus and senior design associate Chris Cochran are among the donors contributing their time to the transformation of Grand Haven Golf Club in Michigan to become American Dunes Golf Club, which will support fundraising for the Folds of Honor charity that provides educational scholarships for military families.
Nicklaus will work alongside Major Dan Rooney, who founded Folds of Honor in 2007.
“Dan realised what a gem of a piece of property Grand Haven sat on, being all sand and being so close to the lake, but the site was so heavily wooded no one could really appreciate the true dune nature of the property,” said Cochran.
“Therefore, Dan wanted to expose the natural dune and sand nature of the property by clearing much of the trees where the dunes are. Around the clubhouse is very flat so we are keeping more of a tree and lake parkland feel around the clubhouse, but as the golfer plays further away from the golf course, they will experience significant elevation change, dunes and lots of native sand.”
“Jack and Major Rooney have been friends for several years. Dan is an excellent golfer and has always enjoyed Jack’s work. Between that and their friendship, and how active and supportive Jack has been supporting US service member and veteran causes, it was a natural fit for Jack to do the design work.”
The course is located less than 300 yards from Lake Michigan.
“The property is basically sand underneath,” said Nicklaus. “It had magnificent trees that had grown up over time, but is that really what this golf course is or should be with the dunes off the lake? What we are trying to do is create a golf course that will open up that feeling of coming off Lake Michigan, having the dunes, and then incorporating that into some of the inland areas that have the beautiful trees.
“The combination of the two – being able to play through and around exposed dunes as well as tree-lined holes in some places – really creates a golf course that is rather unique. If we can do that, and at the same time honour our military and raise money for the education of the families of our fallen soldiers, this is going to be something very unique and very special in the game of golf.”
Clearing began in early April 2019, with shaping following later in the month. Cochran expects 12 holes to be shaped and nine grassed this season and to finish the remaining work in 2020.
“Those who know the Grand Haven Golf Club will see a completely different type of golf course,” said Cochran. “Instead of playing an extremely tight tree-lined golf course, the golfer will now find a much wider and strategic golf course. Instead of the trees being the key element of the golf course, there is now much more variety with sand, dunes, lakes and some trees.
“The routing is significantly different, which created much more balance and variety in the look of the holes, how to play the holes and appropriate length of holes for golfers of all skill levels. For those who will play it for the first time, I trust they will come away from the experience appreciating the natural beauty of the land and enjoying playing the great variety of holes that meander through such interesting and diverse terrain.”
Cochran says they’ll aim to get nine holes open for play in summer 2020 with the following nine opening later in the year or in early 2021.
“One of the important pillars of philanthropy, and something very dear to the hearts of Jack and Barbara Nicklaus, is to give back to the military men and women who have sacrificed limb and life for our country’s freedom,” said Howard Milstein, executive chairman of Nicklaus Companies. “That’s why our company donated design services to American Lake Veterans golf course outside Tacoma, Washington; why we have consulted on a number of other veteran projects to provide recreation and rehabilitation for our heroes; and why we are in full support of American Dunes.”
Construction has been funded by 18 individual hole sponsors and a small group of investors.
Superior Golf Concepts, Jon Scott Agronomic Consulting and dozens of other donors have also donated time and resources to the project.
Major Rooney said: “American Dunes represents a collaboration of countless like-minded patriots, who want this golf course to forever stand as a tribute to the men and women of our military, a safe haven for veterans who find rehabilitation through the recreation of the game, and a backdrop to celebrate our country and those who fought for its freedom.”