Final Shot

Forest Dunes in northern Michigan drew critical acclaim, but the resort struggled to generate revenue from rounds alone.


Published:

A trucking executive from Huntsville, Ark., with a penchant for investing in golf clubs is betting on an upswing in Michigan’s economy with his recent purchase of the Forest Dunes Golf Club in Roscommon.

In the 10 years that the Detroit Carpenter’s Union Pension Trust Fund has owned the club — a 7,141-yard course designed by former British Open champion Tom Weiskopf — the layout has won numerous awards as one of the best courses in the country. 

But neither the union, nor the original developers from Arizona, were able to make a go of the real estate component of the 1,300-acre master-planned community. Now, new owner Lew Thompson believes his group can turn the club into a vibrant resort. Although a handful of homes have been built, the facility lacked sufficient lodging for guests. To generate interest, Thompson drastically reduced the lot prices and began constructing a 22-room upscale hotel next to the existing 22,000-square-foot clubhouse.

The clubhouse is widely recognized as one of the more spectacular facilities in Michigan golf. Designed to resemble a great Adirondack lodge, it offers a spa, exercise area, locker rooms for members, a full-service restaurant, and a separate bar and lounge.

“A lot of our members live out of state, so when they come here they will have a nicer place to stay than a (nearby) hotel room,” Thompson says. “From the research I’ve done, a lot of our golfers play Forest Dunes on their way north or on their way south to play somewhere else, because we’ve had no place to house them.”

Thompson says the hotel should be completed late this year, and the staff will spend next winter tweaking it for an opening in spring 2013. “We want to have our Sunday best on when folks come to visit,” he says in his courtly Southern drawl. “We are going to surprise people. From the time they drive though our gate until the time they leave, we want them to have a great experience.”

Residential lots, which include a golf membership, were marked down by more than 80 percent. “Lots that were once priced at $375,000 will now go for $75,000, and the $80,000 lots will be $10,000,” Thompson says.

New general manager Todd Campbell will oversee the operation. For nearly 20 years, Campbell worked at the nearby Garland Resort, where he was director of golf and rooms, and assistant director of real estate when sales topped $30 million. Campbell left Garland four years ago and was general manager of a resort in Wisconsin before Thompson recruited him to Forest Dunes.

Thompson is the managing member of a partnership that in 2010 bought the Bridges Golf & Country Club in Montrose, on Colorado’s western slope, halfway between Grand Junction and Telluride. The club is anchored by a Jack Nicklaus golf course. In a move that is sure to boost business, members at Forest Dunes and the Bridges will have reciprocal playing privileges. db 

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