Nicklaus Design reimagines Grand Haven as American Dunes Golf Club

Nicklaus Design reimagines Grand Haven as American Dunes Golf Club

Text: Greg Johnson

Folds of Honor Founder Major Dan Rooney, and lead ownership partner of Grand Haven Golf Club in Grand Haven, Michigan is collaborating with Jack Nicklaus and Nicklaus Design to create American Dunes Golf Club on the Grand Haven site, according to a Monday press release.

Grand Haven Golf Club hosted the first Folds of Honor golf tournament that would inspire the formation of Folds of Honor and Patriot Golf Day, and Nicklaus has been a supporter of Folds of Honor. He and others are donating services to the project.

Nicklaus, according to the release, is doing a total redesign and reimagining that will lead to it being rebranded as American Dunes. A Jack Nicklaus Signature Golf Course, American Dunes will pay tribute to the United States Military.

“I love the game of golf, but I love my country even more,” Nicklaus stated in the release.

Award-winning Grand Haven Golf Club first opened in 1965 and was designed by Michigan Golf Hall of Fame architects Bruce Matthews and his son Jerry Matthews, who then lived near the course. In 1998, Dr. John Rooney, Dan’s father, purchased the popular public course. In 2018 Dan Rooney shared his vision for Grand Haven Golf Club’s transformation and the desire to preserve the birthplace of Folds of Honor with Nicklaus. 

“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,” stated Major Dan Rooney, a fighter pilot in the USAFR and PGA Professional who founded Folds of Honor in 2007, in the release.

“To fund the construction of American Dunes there are 18 individual hole sponsors and a small group of investors. This group of Patriots is allowing our dream to take flight. With a target opening date of Memorial Day 2020, American Dunes will proudly stand as a vessel to raise awareness and donations for Folds of Honor, while recognizing the legacy of Barbara and Jack’s contributions to our military,” Rooney added.

The release said individuals and companies are donating their time and resources, such as the work of Jack Nicklaus, Nicklaus Design’s Senior Designer Chris Cochran, Superior Golf Concepts, Jon Scott Agronomic Consulting, and dozens of other donors.

“The Nicklaus Companies has a long history of giving back in its products or services, whether the beneficiary is junior golf or pediatric healthcare,” stated Howard Milstein, executive chairman of the Nicklaus Companies. “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. 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.”

The site is a blend of sandy soil and mature trees on rolling terrain about 300 yards from Lake Michigan. Work has been underway since the fall, and the course is closed for this season. Nicklaus and Cochran have also made several site visits, according to the release.

“The property is basically sand underneath. 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,” Nicklaus stated.

“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 honor 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,” Nicklaus added.

Folds of Honor is a 501(C)(3) nonprofit organization that provides educational scholarships to the families of military men and women who have fallen or been disabled while on active duty in the United States armed forces. Nicklaus Design is a leading design firm that has more than 425 courses open for play in 46 countries and 40 states. Of those golf courses, Jack Nicklaus has been involved in more than 300 designs.

Photography by Bob Walma