The Loop was virtually a life-long ambition of Tom Doak. Since reading about Tom Simpsonís idea for a short reversable course some 40 years ago in The Architectural Side of Golf, Doak waited for the right land and the right owner. Due to its flat, open site, there was an opportunity to create such a course for Texas Tech University. However, there was concern about the visual aspect of the design so the idea wasnít pursued. Jump ten years into the future and at the other end of the country, another opportunity arose. The owner of Forest Dunes, Lew Thompson, approached Doak to design a second course for the resort which he had recently acquired. The new course had to achieve the two goals of encouraging golfers to stay on site and wow them. While the land is sandy and perfect for golf, it isnít a site that will captivate golfers. The wow factor would have to come from the design rather than the location.
The property is sandy which made construction relatively simple. There were large areas of land cleared of trees. There were few if any beautiful specimen trees which needed protection. There were no dramatic elevation changes which would create blind shots. Lew Thompson may have been the perfect owner to green-light such an idea because he wasnít a golfer with the baggage of preconceived notions which needed to be placated. The elements were in place for Doak to fulfil his dream. Doak also understood that a reversable course must deliver two loops of approximately equal quality for the idea to survive. With that in mind he worked on the Black Course second to fit with the Red Course. A large disparity in quality would surely see the ruthless business end of the decision-making process put an end to the experiment. Surprisingly, to me anyway, it only took about a month for Doak to devise a routingÖ.yes, a month.
When meeting with L Thompson Doak showed the plans for the Red Course which would play counter-clockwise. After allowing for some comments, Doak then revealed the plan for the other course, a clockwise course? It wasnít a separate 18 design, but an 18 green and fairway reversable 18-hole course. Two courses in one which when combined with Tom Weiskopfís Forest Dunes would give golfers reason to possibly spend two nights on site. Despite the increased cost for extra acerage maintenance, Thompson immediately grasped the concept and must have thought the idea would provide the wow factor and put bodies in beds. Work began the following year and The Loop was opened in 2016.
Before playing I was concerned about the courses melding together as one. A few issues perplexed me. For instance, there canít be too many bunkers on a reversable course before things start to unravel. How then to create added drama on a subtle property? Well, that isnít a problem because Doak made a career of creating interest from the green back to the tee and use of short grass. I didnít see it happen, but itís quite possible to go many 10s of yards long on some approaches. That isnít something one sees every day. Somewhat similar to Pinehurst 2, many of the greens are pushed up/crowned which emphasises good approach angles and missing in recoverable spots. The bottom line is the bunkering is important, but not in a way which dominates the design.
A second apprehensiveness I had was how would the unused teeing areas blend into the design? The answer is rather simpleÖonce I saw it in action. The teeing areas are kind of half built and more often more rounded. When using the tees, they are obviously tees. When not in play they blend into the surrounding area. Without the creative single flags indicating the tee positions one has to pay attention as to where the opposite course tees are. Itís a slick solution that on some level took some thinking outside the box. Related to tees is the mounding for the greens. The integrated shaping makes these features part of the hole from any angle. Yet the flow with the overall aesthetic is not interrupted. Concealing some of the aggressive crowned nature of the greens is a bit of razzle dazzle.
A final worry of mine was carts. Renaissance was lucky in that the course was designed not to use carts. However, carts are most certainly and regretfully on display far too much. A counter-measure is the carts are programmed to restrict their use. At least there arenít dreadful cart paths cutting through the course which would diminish The Loop aesthetic moreso than the ďcart tracksĒ easily seen on short grass. Letís hope cart paths are never built, although I wonder if open hard sandy areas in pinch points etc may help disguise the minor damage.
We made the two hour journey due east from Lake Michigan to Forest Dunes, which is between Grayling and Roscommon. To offer some context, that is about 3.15 hours to Little Caesars Arena, home of the mighty Detroit Red Wings. Neither Grayling nor Roscommon is very distinguished, but once at the resort that hardly matters. After the usuals, we made our way to the handsome first tee of the Black Course (clock-wise). Its hard to believe this is also the 18th fairway for the Red Course. The only hint of any such thing is the green sitting off the right with no obvious way to approach it! The tee shot needs to be a basher to reach this 430+ hole in two. There is an ornery hollow left of the green which can't be seen well from the low point of the fairway. It can be fully appreciated while standing on the 2nd tee.
A short hole follows. The bunker mid-green left signals trouble. I am not sure its any worse than missing right, down the slope.
I found the longish two-shotter 3rd rather awkward. The tee shot is hard on the left boundary, staring down trouble left and a bunker right. The green sits on a ledge hanging over a bunker and a drop-off right. In retrospect, it may be best to be intentionally short and left of the green on high ground. Its an uncomfortable hole, but perhaps the best long par 4 at The Loop. A wide open, moderate length two-shotter, the 4th is hard to visualize until closer to the green. Much depends on where the the hole is located! The front of the green is cocooned in the bossom of two large mounds. A right bunker is housed in one mound. Most of the run-away green hides behind the mounding. Of course, the fun hole location is up front where the mounds can be put to good use as buffers and deflectors.
My policy not to look around for Red Course tees and shots was generally successful. In this case, its fairly obvious a par three from the background ridge plays over the low ground to this green...14 Red. Thats Ally standing about wondering what in the hell we are doing
More to follow.