A golfer’s bucket list of courses likely includes “Top 100” links by golf course architect Tom Doak, such as Pacific Dunes in Oregon and Tasmania’s Barnbougle Dunes. With his new project at Forest Dunes Golf Club in Roscommon, MI, Doak’s own bucket list—of golf courses he’d like to design—is shorter by one.
Doak, whose Renaissance Golf Design is based in Traverse City, has conceived a reversible 18-hole golf course, playable from two directions with the greens yielding different layouts. “I’d been thinking about it for a long time,” he says. “I saw something in an old architecture book and I had it in the back of my mind: ‘Okay, I’d like to try that sometime.’”
Enter Forest Dunes owner Lew Thompson’s quest for a companion to his highly-acclaimed Tom Weiskopf course. “When I first met Lew and went to look at the property and saw it was fairly open, fairly flat, I thought it would work for this idea.” Importantly, Doak adds, “Thompson didn’t say anything about it being ranked in the Top 100 courses—he already has one of those. He wanted something that would make people say ‘Wow.’” And, Thompson admits, he wanted something to keep golfers for another day of play-and-stay at his Adirondack-style lodge.
The location is a bonus for Doak, who has called northern Michigan home since 1989 when he completed his first solo project, High Pointe Golf Club, near Traverse City. The Cornell University graduate was just 26 when Fred Muller, the golf pro at Crystal Downs Country Club in Frankfort, recommended him for that job. Muller met Doak when the college student came to play Crystal Downs because its designer, Alister MacKenzie, was his hero. After graduation Doak spent nearly a year playing the great courses around the world and caddying at St. Andrews in Scotland, and three years working for another hero, Pete Dye. “I’m still sort of amazed that the owner of High Pointe hired me at that age. I think the key was that I was going to build the golf course—not just design it. I was pretty ridiculously confident.”
Doak’s second Michigan course was Black Forest, at Wilderness Valley in Gaylord (“one of the hardest courses I’ve ever built”); since then, he and his team have handled new courses and renovations across the U.S. and around the globe, from Mexico to Scotland and China. Doak is looking forward to more time with his family as he and associate Brian Slawnik develop the Roscommon project, due to open in 2016.
Michigan’s four seasons remind Doak of growing up in Connecticut, but he’s not a fan of winter. He laughs, “It’s really easy to be here all summer,” when he finds time for golf. Unlike designers who are good golfers, Doak claims, “I’m challenged by any golf course. I don’t play to shoot the lowest scores. I love the outdoors and love to have fun, and that makes me a lot more like the average golfer because it’s challenging, fun, interesting and beautiful to be out there.”