Backers view new American Dunes Golf Club as ‘church’

Sports

GRAND HAVEN, Mich. (WOOD) — Working on a new golf course in Grand Haven that will benefit the families of slain service members, golfing legend Jack Nicklaus has made seven trips to Grand Haven in the last year or so.

While it’s still not ready for play, American Dunes Golf Club is starting to take shape.

The project to give new life to the old Grand Haven Golf Club was announced last year.

“They will not recognize it,” former professional golfer and U.S. Air Force Reserve Lt. Col. Dan Rooney, who’s backing the project, said of the redeveloped course. “As Mr. Nicklaus said, ‘Col. Dan, if we are going to call this place American Dunes, we’ve got to uncover the dunes.'”

It its heyday, Grand Haven Golf Club was on Golf Digest’s list of the top 100 courses. The fairways were lined with big, beautiful trees.

“(Nicklaus) left some trees around the perimeter, but it’s a greenscape. The greatest attribute and asset in this part of the country is the dunes. To be able to uncover the dunes and let people have this magical journey through these big rolling dunes and play golf, it’s going to be a treat,” Rooney said.

The new American Dunes Golf Club in Grand Haven, still under construction. (June 3, 2020)

The course will benefit Rooney’s Fold of Honor scholarship program for family members of slain or wounded service members.

“Mr. Nicklaus and I talk about this place … as a church,” Rooney told News 8. “Church is a place that you come to find spirituality and this is a golf course that is going to raise people’s spirits and awareness.”

Rooney launched his nonprofit in 2007 after watching a ceremony on the tarmac at Gerald R. Ford International Airport near Grand Rapids for fallen Army Spc. Brock Bucklin. Since then, Folds of Honor has raised some $50 million for scholarships.

“Less than 1% of the people in this country wake up every day and put on the uniform to defend our freedoms. This is a place where we are reverent and acknowledge that freedom isn’t free,” Rooney said.

Nicklaus was so moved by Rooney’s mission that he waived his $3 million course design fee.

The hope is that the course will be ready for a soft opening in October then open fully by Memorial Day 2021 — though coronavirus closures have slowed the timeline.

Once American Dunes is ready to go, 100% of its profits will go to Folds of Honor.

Golfing legend and course designer Jack Nicklaus (left) laughs with Dan Rooney (in white hat) on the site of the new American Dunes golf course in Grand Haven. (June 28, 2019 file)

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