S L I C E O F L I F E
I'm always amazed how some of the most enjoyable golf experiences are discovered in the most unlikely of places. This came to mind most recently last month when I played Lost Dunes Golf Club in Bridgman, Michigan-located in the southwest corner of the state off I-94. I've been traveling through this area for over 40 years and always noticed the beautiful sand dunes, the woodsy environs, and the occasional glimpses of Lake Michigan. The area must've also caught the eye of Chicago-based businessman Jeff Shearer because it resulted in a wonderful golf experience at Lost Dunes.
Designed by Michigan's Tom Doak, Lost Dunes is a pristine, linksy layout noted for its superb use of natural greensites and land formations. From the sensible starting hole to the testing final hole, Lost Dunes is a captivating, unadorned, and well-manicured golf course. In fact, it's so good and enchanting, you'll soon not even notice the highway noise generated by the interstate traffic. It's a cliché but the layout is playable and rewarding from all sets of tees. There are generous fairways, smart and strategic bunkering and greensites that invite run-up shots, all in keeping with Doak's trademark minimalist design philosophy. And the greens have just the right measure of scale and slope to justify their ever-quick pace. Every detail at Lost Dunes, under Shearer's watchful eye, is first-class and deliberately executed. The clubhouse is handsomely designed with wood and stone and with high airy interior spaces and large windows affording an expansive view of the golf course. And befitting a private club catering largely to Chicago residents, Lost Dunes also makes available three separate and nicely appointed cottages-that sleep anywhere from eight to 16 golfers each-that are ideal for members entertaining guests. All in all, Lost Dunes is a found gem of a course and a golf experience.
Nearby and only an exit or two away, I revisited one of the premiere nine hole courses in the country, The Dunes Club in New Buffalo. In 1992, Michigan Golfer devoted a cover story to it entitled, "The Best Nine Hole Course Anywhere." I'm happy to report that 10 years later The Dunes Club has lost none of its luster nor its magic. This Dick Nugent design is an abridged version of famed Pine Valley, with dramatic waste areas, bold bunkering, and excellent conditioning. Best of all, it must be savored on foot as no power carts are available. Also, although there are defined back, middle and front tee pads on every hole, no tee markers are used here. Instead, the local custom (excepting for tournament play) calls for whomever has the honors to simply peg it and fire away.
A comment or two about New Buffalo. Tucked along the southwestern shore of Lake Michigan, this area is a favorite tourist and summer cottage haunt for Illinois and Indiana residents. It's a shame this area is overlooked by the state's own residents (okay, maybe just me) when looking for rustic country charm, white sandy beaches, art galleries, fine restaurants and shops, and terrific sunsets. Plus there's plenty of good public golf with Whittaker Woods and Briar Leaf GC both nearby. As such, I'm just glad that I finally discovered New Buffalo after all these years racing to and from Chicago. But you can be sure it won't be long before I retrace my steps. Lodging tip: it would be hard to beat the 55-room The Harbor Grand in New Buffalo that sits on the waters' edge and offers the only waterfront dining in the area.
However, the prize for the most remote golf course played this season goes to Highlands Links GC on Cape Breton Island in Nova Scotia. I played this Stanley Thompson-designed national treasure in August after disembarking from a Montreal-to-Boston cruise ship in Sydney, Nova Scotia. As such, I'll pat myself on the back for studying the itinerary and then realizing I'd be only a few hours' drive away from Highlands Links after arriving in port. Let me attest that it was worth the time and the effort to play this exceptional course. First, just getting there is a treat in itself, as the drive along the rocky coastline is spectacular. Secondly, thanks to Canadian golf writer Lorne Rubenstein, Highlands Links has been restored to its original design after the course had fallen on hard, neglected times. Rubenstein championed efforts to renovate and upgrade the course in several columns in the '90s. Today, the Canadian National Park Service, which oversees Highlands Links, maintains it in fine fashion. Fussy Americans, however, will have to accept slower green speeds. But Course Manager Tom Forsythe smartly reasons that the green contours and undulations here would be unputtable or offer few sensible cups for flagsticks if the stimpmeter got over 7 or 8. So forget about your light tap stroke and marvel instead at the outstanding scenery of mountains, glens and valleys, and the sea.
Indeed, this game takes us to some wonderful spots both near and far. MG
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