Northern stars

Away Game: Arcadia Bluffs Away Game: Forest Dunes

The 594-yard 11th hole at Arcadia Bluffs, the start of a Midwestern Amen Corner along Lake Michigan. The 278-yard 17th at Forest Dunes is a reachable par 4, but its far from easy.

September 2009

Forest Dunes Golf Club, located in the middle of the fingers of mitten-shaped Michigan, is beyond secluded. Just trying to find the one-mile driveway to its clubhouse, a road of cracked pavement flanked by fields of blown-down trees, I couldn't help but doubt my dashboard navigator. But once you get there, be prepared for a big payoff: bright-white sand, superb conditions, fast and true greens, endless waste bunkers, a 20-acre practice facility, a bet-settling 19th hole and the most impressive clubhouse I've seen since the Ocean Course at Kiawah Island.

The Tom Weiskopf-designed Forest Dunes, ranked No. 18 on Golf Digest's list of 100 Greatest Public Courses, was my last stop on a challenging itinerary of eight rounds on seven Michigan courses in four and a half days. That's 144 holes in 108 hours. With the exception of four-star Black Forest at Wilderness Valley -- which should have a higher rating, in my view -- all have at least 4½ stars in Golf Digest's Best Places to Play reader ratings.

Away Game

Map: Kagan McLeod & Jonathon Rivait

A highlight of my trip was playing five-star Arcadia Bluffs, an hour Southwest of Traverse City. Think of Arcadia Bluffs as the Pebble Beach of Michigan, and Forest Dunes as its Spyglass Hill. Designed by Warren Henderson and Rick Smith, Arcadia Bluffs has a stunning stretch of holes along a 180-foot cliff leading down to the lapping waves of Lake Michigan. Had I been blindfolded and dropped onto the property unaware of the setting, I would've been certain it was an ocean. The 594-yard 11th, the 431-yard 12th and the 190-yard 13th make up Arcadia's version of Amen Corner -- my favorite stretch of three consecutive holes on this trip. Given that Arcadia Bluffs is ranked No. 10 among the 100 Greatest Public, I decided to play it twice.

If I had a mulligan, I'd play Forest Dunes twice instead. I've always thought Spyglass Hill, from start to finish, is a better course than Pebble Beach. Likewise, I would contend that Forest Dunes is a more complete course than Arcadia Bluffs, though it's not nearly as impressive visually.

My favorite hole at Forest Dunes is the 278-yard 17th, a classic Weiskopf reachable par 4. Although it looks vulnerable from the tee, the small green is protected by bunkers, and there's plenty of room for a big score. (Typical of my round, I hit my drive into a greenside bunker and made double bogey.) Stubborn but fair, combining high risk with rare reward, Forest Dunes joins Bethpage Black in New York, Pasatiempo in California, Pine Needles in North Carolina and Pacific Dunes in Oregon among my top-five public courses in the country.

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