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September 2020

Forest Dunes Golf Resort

Blending Beauty with Technology

By Sally J. Sportsman

As a summer golf destination, Northern Michigan evokes images of lakes, forests and green spaces as far as the eye can see. Lest one be cajoled into utter nostalgia, though, Forest Dunes Golf Resort, in Roscommon, Michigan, presents a balance of natural beauty and modern technology, putting golfers at ease in a smoothly-run operation.

“We are in the middle of nowhere in the Huron National Forest,” says Don Helinski, director of operations at the resort. “We market ourselves as a high-end public destination, but we are not by any means on the cutting edge of anything related to technology.

“The technology we do use is extremely useful and effective. Email address collection is huge for us.”
The resort includes the original Forest Dunes course with The Loop, an 18-hole reversible design; the 18-hole HillTop putting course; a new 10-hole, par-3 walking short course; and an active caddie program.

Consumer golf shows are an important opportunity for Forest Dunes to gather email addresses of golfers interested in travel. Forest Dunes usually participates in five consumer golf shows per year, during February and March. As opposed to in years past, when show attendees filled out forms and dropped them in a bucket for a chance to win rounds of golf, the resort now has iPads at its booth on which people enter their information. For each 1,000 email addresses collected, 10 winners are selected, each receiving a twosome of golf.

“At our resort, what’s really changed is the ability to have an online tee sheet,” Helinski says, “with guests able to book overnight stays at home at midnight – with no one in the golf shop til the next morning.”

Golfers do not encounter a noticeable amount of technology on site, according to Helinski. There are no simulators; starters do not have iPads; and the golf carts do not feature GPS systems.

“Golfers tend to have their own rangefinders,” says Helinski, “and we sell them in our shop.”

Wireless technology, such as GPS, does not always perform seamlessly in the resort’s rural setting, Helinski explains. GPS systems, in offering directions on how to get to the resort, occasionally mistakenly send guests down two-track logging roads. Cell phone service is not uniform throughout the property, although it’s improving. Rangefinders do perform well, however.

Forest Dunes contracts with a marketing company to obtain information from people who visit the website or find the resort through social media, and to follow up with them. A few days later, these interested, potential customers receive a reminder about the resort, and ads pop up occasionally as prompts.

Forest Dunes may utilize more technology in the future, Helinski notes. Currently, communication among staff consists of calling and texting via cell phone.

“Our owner has the desire to continue to expand and establish ourselves as a preeminent golf destination,” Helinski says. “The more our footprint grows, the more we will need to keep tabs on where our guests and employees are.

“Cost and human resources are the impediments now, but we know that data collection and analysis will be even more important in the future.”

Helinski estimates that the cost of installing a GPS system on the facility’s fleet of 90 golf carts would be approximately $3,000 per month.

“There aren’t a lot of things we are currently on the forefront of,” Helinski says, “but we do quite a bit in terms of resources and staffing with all that’s available to us.

“We are thriving. What we are able to accomplish is a testament to our staff.”



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