Text: R. Collins // Photography: Nile Young
American Dunes Golf Club, the most recent Jack Nicklaus Signature Golf Course, held its grand opening on Sunday, May 2, 2021 in Grand Haven, Michigan. The project benefits Folds of Honor, a nonprofit and 501(c)(3) organization providing educational scholarships to spouses and children of military members who have fallen or been disabled while serving in the United States Armed Forces. Along with the course, the eight-foot-tall Folds of Honor Memorial Wall opened onsite, as well as bronze-cast boot prints of soldiers killed in action at the entrance to the grounds.
The course represents the vision and a collaboration between Folds of Honor Founder and Chief Executive Officer Lt. Col. Dan Rooney and Nicklaus, who, along with his legendary firm Nicklaus Design, donated his design services to support the American Dunes mission. Apart from Nicklaus, 18 individuals sponsored holes and four partners made the project possible, without funds for construction or operations from Folds of Honor.
“I love the game of golf, but I love my country even more. This is a course designed with a purpose, with a great cause in mind and at heart,” said Nicklaus in the press release.
“The best projects are when the owners or developers are hands-on and passionately involved. Lt. Col. Dan loves his country, the military, the families positively impacted by Folds of Honor, and he loves the game of golf. Combine that and Dan is very passionate about American Dunes, as am I,” Nicklaus added.
The two met in February 2018 to discuss the vision for American Dunes, and Nicklaus was quick to come on board. The course is a complete redesign and reimagination of the Grand Haven Golf Club, which opened in 1965 and closed in 2018. Grand Haven hosted the first of Patriot Golf Days in 2007, the same year that Folds of Honor was founded, and since then the yearly event has provided more than 10,000 scholarships worth approximately $50 million. In 2020, Folds of Honor joined with the PGA of America for Patriot Golf Days, and this year it moves to Memorial Day weekend.
Since its inception in 2007, Folds of Honor has provided at least 29,000 scholarships totaling about $145 million, and annual profits from the new American Dunes golf course will also benefit the organization. Active military members and veterans will receive a discount for golf at the public facility and several other operations on the course are centered around honoring those who have served.
Every day at 1:00 p.m. ET, or 1300 hours, golf will pause for the playing of “Taps” and a bell will ring 13 times, signifying the 13 folds that bring the flag to its triangle shape. There will also be plaques at every hole honoring Nicklaus’ record 18 professional major championship victories, accompanied by a story of a fallen military member.
The former tree-lined facility, which is located a few hundred yards from the eastern shore of Lake Michigan, is now a dunes-like course utilizing the dramatic local topography and sand base that covers the property. There are 30 bunkers, and sand dunes are located either right, left, or in front of the player at each hole. The par-72 course has five sets of tees and measures 7,213 yards. With its generous, rolling fairways, Nicklaus believes it has the look and feel of a golf course that has been there for decades.
“When we were discussing the project, Mr. Nicklaus said, ‘Dan, if we are going to call this place American Dunes, we’ve got to uncover the dunes,’” said Lt. Col. Rooney in the press release.
“I’m thrilled, humbled and proud the dream of American Dunes is now realized. It’s a significant day in Folds of Honor’s history. I’m grateful to Jack and his team for their incredible work. American Dunes never happens without the great patriots that stepped up to sponsor the project,” Lt. Col. Rooney added.
The Camp at American Dunes, a 16-room lodge scheduled to open in summer of 2022, will provide on-site accommodations for members and guests. The lodge will feature 12 staterooms on the upper level and four suites, as well as a gathering area known as The Bunker, on the lower level. It will feature a full bar, pool table, Golden Tee® arcade game, and multiple televisions.
Located near the clubhouse patio, The Camp will also offer firepits each evening. In another stylistic ode to military operations, the aviation-themed CAVU Squadron Bar—located in the clubhouse—incorporates a draft beer system made from an Aim-9 missile that travels nearly 2,000 mph and has 270 confirmed air-to-air kills. To learn more about American Dunes and stay up to date on events and information, visit americandunesgolfclub.com.