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2 Play the Tips played Dunes Club on Monday, June 6, 2011

The Dunes Club

Just a stroll in your backyard

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From the outside, the clubhouse is small and very classy looking
Once inside the clubhouse, you realize just how tiny it actually is
#1 - Hopefully the practice net was enough of a driving range session for you. It's time to tee it up on this rather challenging par 4.
#2 - This is the left tee view of the hole. For a different angle, try the right tee. This is probably the easiest hole on the course.
#3 - Hit a power fade off the tee and be faced with a sizable but doable carry over waste area short of the green. Make it and you'll have an eagle putt.
#4 - Number 4 looks innocent enough, but the green is one of the more difficult to hold on the course.
#5 - My Favorite hole on the courseā€¦. This hole goes from 430 to 280 in the blink of an eye and can be the turning point in any match played at the Dunes Club
#6 - A great Par 3 with a number of teeing options from which to choose

As a kid I grew up in a small apartment building with a miniature golf course just steps from my back door.  I would go out on warm summer afternoons and play as many holes as I wanted – I was a regular there so the staff just let me run around and have a blast.  When I was a teenager, my family moved into a small yet comfortable house with a back and front yard that wound up serving as the perfect grounds for me to play golf with whiffle balls and a few wedges.  Just like with the miniature golf course, I could play as many holes as I wanted.  The coolest part about playing golf in the yard was that I could design whatever hole I wanted to play.  It didn't matter if I was playing through a tree, around a tree, off the backboard of the basketball hoop with the water hazard (the driveway) lurking just short of the hole, or just aiming for the garbage can - there was always a fun, new hole waiting to be designed and played on the fly.  Heck, I could hit it over the house and feel like I was in Scotland playing the road hole at St. Andrews if I wanted.  If I got hungry, mom was inside cooking or dad was grilling in the back yard.  If I was thirsty, there was a small fridge in the garage where I could grab a bottle of water, a Gatorade, or a can of pop.  There were no groups slowing me down.  The only things that could bring my round to a halt were rain, the setting sun, or maybe some chores.  This is where I grew to love the game: my back yard.  The simplicity of it was intoxicating; I couldn't get enough of this game.  I recently had the pleasure of reliving the days of growing to love the game, but this time it was in someone else's back yard.

I heard plenty about The Dunes Club, hidden in New Buffalo, Michigan, and always kind of dreamed about having the opportunity to play it.  I always wondered, "what could be so great about playing a nine hole course?".  I suppose my dreaming was based more in curiosity than anything else, rather than how one would dream about playing Cypress or Pebble or Augusta.  You know that those places are going to make your jaw drop at every turn and make you feel like you’re golfing in heaven.  With the Dunes Club I more or less wondered why and how I would be impressed with such a small and simple operation.

The Dunes Club is definitely one of the 'don't pass it up' places on our 2PlaytheTips rating list.  If you get the opportunity to play there, though, you will definitely pass it up.  The entrance, that is.  In fact, if I wasn’t in the car with someone who had been there before, I’m fairly confident that I wouldn't have been able to find it.  I wanted to take a picture of the entrance but by the time I knew we were there, we had already pulled in to the small black gravel parking lot that - on a busy day - might be able to accommodate 15 cars.  Everything about the place was small and quaint.  The clubhouse was about the size of a two car garage and was furnished with a few wooden tables, some comfy wooden chairs and a refrigerator stocked with beer, pop, Gatorade, and water.  The locker room (six lockers that weren't even separated from the rest of the clubhouse by so much as a curtain) seemed to be about the size of a walk-in closet, and not a big one at that.  There were two simple restrooms and a small living room type area inside.  Outside, there was a small sitting area with a few tables that you might find in your own back yard and to the right was a large putting green with the first tee just a few steps beyond.  If you wanted to warm up, there was a single-bayed net to hit in to.  Then again - now that I think about it - I never warmed up as a kid when I played in my yard, so I figured I’d be just fine.

Armed with my clubs, my caddy, and a Coors Light on the first tee, I was ready to take a stroll through my back-yard-for-the-day.  We actually played as a fivesome, which speaks to two things about The Dunes Club – the laid back atmosphere and the lack of play (the course sees an average of 15 rounds per day).  It's a local rule at the club that the team who won the previous hole picks the tee location for the next hole, and there was an abundance of options on each of the nine holes.  Each hole had massive undulating levels of fairway length grass which was used as the teeing ground, and some holes had multiple teeing grounds. These special teeing grounds allowed for the holes to be played from different yardages, angles, and elevations, allowing each hole to play completely different than the last time you played it.  During the 27 holes of golf we played, I never once got bored and always felt like I was playing a new hole as we utilized the different areas of the teeing grounds each time.  All of the holes were visually intimidating, but after a few times around the course, you begin to realize that there is a little more room in the fairways than what your eye perceives from the tee.  Some knowledge of where to miss your shots would definitely help save a few strokes as you enjoy your stroll around the 9 holes at The Dunes.

My favorite hole on the golf course was number 5.  From the back teeing area it played to 412 yards and required driver or three wood with a little cut.  A pulled tee shot would find some nasty dune/fescue area that guards the left side of the fairway.  From the middle teeing areas, a 3-wood should be played in order to avoid the large pond in front of the green.  The most fun we had was when we played from the most forward teeing area (which can’t even be found on the scorecard) that measures 275 yards to the middle of the green.  Playing in to the wind, it took every ounce of strength I had, but I hit a good one and was able to carry the pond and land the ball on the middle of the wide yet shallow par 4 green.  5's green complex and surrounding area were also very interesting and a favorite of mine - everything around the green on the 5th was shaved fairway; no rough to be seen.  There were also large mounds surrounding the green and a wide, short bunker that would collect any shots hit over the mounds behind the green. These mounds served a dual purpose in that they created a difficult short game shot if your approach into the green went too far, but they also helped to slow a hot tee shot coming into the green from the forward tee.  This hole and all of its options from tee to green make for one of the most fun, exciting, and interesting holes of golf I’ve ever played.  It perfectly captured The Dunes Club experience – options, angles, sand, fescue, trees, risk, reward, serenity, and a serve yourself cooler of beer as you walk alongside the pond.

After the 15th hole of the day, our caddies called the guys in the clubhouse and took our orders for the grill.  The food selections for the day (and every other day, I was told) were cheeseburgers, brats, hot dogs, and chicken – just like Dad would have made when I played in the yard.  It was simple touches like these that kept making the experience better as the day went on.

I never once looked at my scorecard until after the round.  I made a few birdies but never once broke 40 on a nine - there were a few holes that I just picked up my ball, hoping my teammates would pick up the slack.  The Dunes Club is easily one of the best match play golf courses I’ve ever played; it provides ample opportunities to make birdie and will eat up your ball if you fail to execute a risky shot. I loved the design and was shocked to see that one of my least favorite course architects had designed the course.  I’m not a huge Dick Nugent fan, as I have played and seen George Dunne National, Harborside International, and Kemper Lakes multiple times and find them monotonous.  I would even go so far as to say I would avoid playing them.  At The Dunes Club, though, Nugent gets a 10 for his design, and if I could give him more points, I would.  Doing what he did - taking 9 holes, carving them out of the woods, and then making the teeing areas so expansive that you can play for a what seems like a lifetime, never feeling like you're playing the same course twice - is truly a marvel, and something that should be looked at for future designs.  Everyone seeks to make golf courses bigger and tougher - maybe people should take a page out of Nugent's book and make them smaller and more interesting.

If you ever get the opportunity to play The Dunes Club, you should jump all over it!  It is without a doubt one of the most unique experiences in golf and I wish every golfer had the chance to play a course that’s such great fun.  While reading about Mike Keiser, the club's founder, I found it funny that he bought the land and proceeded to play wilderness golf on it for the better part of two years.  While on nature walks, he would hit a ball through the woods until he hit whatever tree he had picked out as a target.  This was the perfect connection to the feelings I had after playing at The Dunes Club, comparing it to playing in my yard when I was young.  Keiser and Nugent teamed up to capture the imagination of every golfer who has ever set foot on the property.  The number one ranked 9-hole course in the nation certainly showed why it deserved its accolade.  It really does feel like Pine Valley in your back yard.  It brought me back to my roots and made me remember how sweet the game can be.  I felt like a kid again.  I’m just glad I didn't have to go out and mow the lawn after dinner.

The Dunes Club scorecard is not available