GRAND HAVEN TWP. — Jack Nicklaus sat atop a sand dune Tuesday afternoon – what used to be the 13th tee box at the former Grand Haven Golf Club – and sketched out his vision for a postage-stamp green on the hole. 

A dozen necks craned to watch Nicklaus’ skilled hand sketch on a pad of white paper as part of his continued efforts to re-design the new American Dunes Golf Club. 

Nicklaus has visited Grand Haven several times as part of the reconstruction process, and on Tuesday, was accompanied by course designers, investors, members of the media and others as they traversed the course in a fleet of Kubota all-terain vehicles and Jeeps. 

“We’ve tried to develop a theme, and the theme is developed off a name, which is American Dunes,” Nicklaus said. “It was totally tree lined, and it’s sand under everything. We felt it made sense to try to protect the perimeter with trees and open it up in the middle, and leave a few clumps of trees here and there.

“The Good Lord had a few other ideas. About 10 days ago, he decided we hadn’t cleared enough, so he decided to clear a few more,” Nicklaus added, referring to several trees that came down during a storm on Aug. 6. 

“We’re going to try to create a golf course that obviously utilizes the dunes as part of the strategy, part of the aesthetics, and make it fit around this name, American Dunes.”

Grand Haven Golf Club first opened in 1965 and was designed by Michigan architects Bruce Matthews and his son, Jerry Matthews. In 1998, Dr. John Rooney and his son, Dan, bought the club. In 2007, the Folds of Honor foundation – which provides scholarships to kids and spouses whose loved ones were injured or killed in Afghanistan or Iraq – was born at the club. 

That patriotic theme is what inspired Nicklaus to lend his expertise to the re-design. 

“I don’t know that the golf course necessarily appealed to me,” Nicklaus said. “It was the idea of what it represents with the Folds of Honor. Dan Rooney has been a good friend for a long time. He’s a good man. He started the Folds, and what they’re doing, who they’re honoring, what it does is something I’m very much moved by, so when Dan asked me to come and do it, it wasn’t a big choice for me, regardless of what the property was. I didn’t care what the property was.

“Turns out it was a beautiful piece of property to do a golf course to honor Folds of Honor. A lot of people are really going to enjoy coming here to see the golf course, see what Dan has done to honor fallen soldiers and their families.”

While many of the holes follow the same route as they did previously, the course in many places is unrecognizable, with large open spaces and huge mounds of sand where treelined fairways once stood. 

While the original hope was to have the course opened by Memorial Day 2020, that’s not going to happen now. Nicklaus said he’s hoping to get “about six holes” completed this fall, and Rooney added it would be ideal to have nine holes completed by the Fourth of July. 

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