Tom Doak thinks most new golf courses are “way too hard.” He says designers are driven to match the abilities of players you see on TV.
“Nobody who pays to play golf plays anything like that," he says, "but that’s where all the attention goes.”
Doak’s firm, Renaissance Golf in Traverse City, has built courses around the world, and he says they strive to make them enjoyable for all players. If his team gets carried away creating obstacles like sand bunkers, Doak says it’s only to make the course pretty.
Doak's new course, The Loop at Forest Dunes, plays in two directions, so he had to keep things simple. He says he liked the additional restraint and the result.
“It’s fairly wide,” he says. “It’s kind of open around the greens. It’s not tightly bunkered around the greens.”
Tom Doak played his new course last week for the first time. He actually played it both ways three times in one day as a fundraiser for the Midnight Golf Program in Detroit. Now that it's open, it will play one direction each day.
He was joined by some members of the golf media, including Ashley Mayo, a senior editor from Golf Digest. Mayo says what struck her about the course was how different it felt going the other way.
“I thought it would be playing the same hole in reverse,” she says about her expectations. “They played and looked so entirely different. I was pretty shocked by that honestly.”
Tom Doak took an interest in golf course design when he was a kid growing up in Connecticut. He says there were a couple books on the subject at his local library and one was The English Architect by Tom Simpson. It included a design for three holes Simpson had laid out on a private estate and it showed how the holes could be played in reverse.
“It just made sense to me,” says Doak.
He carried the idea around with him for decades, but he needed the right land and a client willing to try something unusual. He says the owner of Forest Dunes, Lew Thompson, wanted something that would keep golfers at his resort, instead of just stopping for one round on the way to play other courses Up North.
“And I thought, ‘Well this is the perfect guy for this concept,’” remembers Doak. “Because, hopefully, the hook on the reversible golf course is you want to stick around tomorrow and see what it’s like the other way around.”