Forest Dunes Golf Resort, one of the Midwest’s most venerable golf destinations in Roscommon, Michigan, has new ownership, a newly named short course — and is charting a bold, new course for the future.
The resort was purchased in January for an undisclosed sum by Rich Mack and Tom Sunnarborg, the dynamic duo that transformed a barren, spent phosphate mine in the middle of Florida into the golf purist’s paradise called Streamsong Resort.
In 2018 Mack left his post at Streamsong’s parent, the mining company Mosaic, and he and Sunnarborg began the search for their next golf industry gig.
“I was the founder of Streamsong, and I started that back around 2007 and ultimately we opened in 2012,” Mack explained. “I left Mosaic in 2018, so I had about 10 years or so of oversight and development experience, getting to know the golf industry and made a lot of bonds with a lot of great people.
“When I left I knew I had a passion for what I did at Streamsong, and wanted to get back into the business at a venue that had great potential.”
Enter Lew Thompson, the swashbuckling then-owner of Forest Dunes, who invited Mack to the grand opening of Tom Doak’s doubly dynamite new design, The Loop.
“I struck up a conversation with Lew, and met him when The Loop opened for the first time. But over time, he said, ‘if there are ways you want to partner I’d be interested,’” Mack said. “After some time it became apparent for Lew that maybe it was possible to strike a deal. It was almost a three-year exercise.”
Mack and Sunnarborg had a wishlist of what they were looking for, he said.
“My partner Tom was my right-hand guy on the ground for Streamsong, so he and I had been looking at projects all over the place, some existing businesses, a number of new potential projects,” Mack explained. “Forest Dunes just met a lot of the criteria.
“First, it has a great brand. Forest Dunes is known not only in the Midwest but nationally, and with the Loop, even beyond that. It has a critically acclaimed, brand-new short course designed by Keith Rhebb and Riley Johns. It has real estate, infrastructure that’s available for sale, which added a dimension to this that you don’t find often. It has lodging, and newer lodging. That was important, too.
“And it has critically acclaimed golf, with two top 50 or top 100 courses in the US. You don’t find that very frequently. And very importantly, it has land for future development. We love the courses that are there and we can hopefully even make them better, but we’re able to put our own stamp with a third course.
“All of those components made it super intriguing to us.”
The duo agreed to terms with Thompson in January, and the former owner retains a lifetime membership and his house on the course, as well. Thompson gets more time to enjoy the resort he rescued and revitalized with his family, and Mack and Sunnarborg get a second act in the high-end golf scene. Everybody wins — especially golfers.
“Lou was looking to slow down, spend more time with the family and grandkids,” explained Forest Dunes’ genial director of operations, Don Helinski. “We all know he’s a workaholic and had a lot of endeavors, and he wanted to make sure it’s in the hands of people that had the same vision and wanted to grow it.
“(Mack and Sunnarborg) have the experience and the pedigree to be able to continue to take us to the next level of predominant properties nationally.”
That “next level” includes adding a third course to the already-awesome lineup, with reportedly the best piece of land on property earmarked for something special.
“They wouldn’t have been as interested without the land for a third course,” Helinski said, “which all the architects say is the best piece of land we have here — and that’s with two top-50 courses already here. It’s a wait-and-see, there’s no timeline, but they may say, let’s go gangbusters.”
Mack said they want to get the lay of the land, before beginning to change it.
“Job number one is fully digesting the rhythm of Forest Dunes,” Mack said. “It’s got a history to it, being private, and then publicly accessible, and understanding the rhythm and flow of the course is important.
“We’ll christen the short course (recently named ‘The Bootlegger’ as homage to the land’s Prohibition-era past). Some additional lodging solutions will be high on our list, too. Then we’ll tackle a third golf course.”
In the meantime, Mack and Sunnarborg will crystalize their vision for the future of Forest Dunes, one that looks bolder and brighter than ever.
“We want to make it as successful as Streamsong,” Mack said. “These destinations are the cross-section of business, sport and art, and that’s something that Tom and I both enjoy.
These courses are aesthetic and masterpieces and beautiful to experience. We like to create just really cool, memorable experiences for people who visit there. We’re going to bring that same attention to detail you see at Streamsong here to Forest Dunes.
“If people are looking for that bucket-list destination, where we can look at celebrating the game we all love to play, they’ll find it here. That’s kind of what the goal would be.”
It’s clear for the rabid, long-time faithful fans of Forest Dunes, the club’s in good hands.
“Both Tom and I are not only excited, but really honored to be the next stewards at Forest Dunes,” Mack said. “So everybody that likes that spot — they leave and they say, we’re proud of this place.”
For more information, visit www.forestdunesgolf.com.