The Loop

A reversible golf course? Tom Doak's plan for Forest Dunes is a course you can play two ways

August 05, 2014

When Lew Thompson began contemplating a second 18 holes at Forest Dunes Golf Club, the much-loved course he owns in northern Michigan, the Arkansas trucking executive made one thing clear: The new design had to make him say "wow."

He got his wish. The architect Tom Doak came up with a plan he'd been mulling for the better part of 30 years: a fully reversible 18-hole course. That is, you can play it forward or backward, depending on the day.

Construction is underway on the as-yet-unnamed course(s), with August 2016 as the targeted opening.


Though Forest Dunes is ranked among America's 100 Greatest Public Courses, it has struggled financially for years. Part of the reason is its remote location, in tiny Roscommon, Mich. When Thompson and a silent partner bought the Tom Weiskopf-designed course in 2011, he created a five-year strategic plan to turn Forest Dunes into more of a destination, says Todd Campbell, general manager. That included adding more lodging and more golf.

Right now it has 65 beds, more than twice the number when Thompson took over. Campbell says his "gut feeling" is that it will end up having room for as many as 150 guests in the years ahead.

Doak was one of two finalists in the running to build the new course, Campbell says. He recalls a meeting with Thompson and Doak about a year ago. When the architect had finished his presentation, Thompson leaned back in his chair and said, "Tom, it looks really nice, but I'm not wowed."

At that point, says Campbell, Doak reached down and pulled out some additional documents. "I think this is going to wow you," he said.

Doak had with him a plan for the second 18 that can be played in the opposite direction of the one he'd just pitched. "Our jaws just hit the floor," Campbell says. "It was goose-bump city."

It won't be the first time a golf course has offered two routings on the same property. At the Old Course in St. Andrews, Scotland, they used to reverse directions regularly and in fact they still play it "backwards" one day a year.

But still, it's not exactly common. "As far as we can tell, this will be the only truly reversible golf course' in the world," says Campbell. Forest Dunes will alternate the course each day, he says. He imagines it will be par 72 in one direction and either 70 or 71 in the other.