He's Back! Rich Mack, Formerly of Streamsong, Buys Forest Dunes.
In 2011, Arkansas trucker Lew Thompson bought Forest Dunes, a remote Michigan golf getaway. That was the same year I started covering the development of Streamsong, a remote Florida golf destination. Mosaic owned Streamsong but it was always the vision of Rich Mack, an avid golfer and Mosaic’s chief legal officer at the time.
Going back a decade, to make the pilgrimage to Streamsong or Forest Dunes, you bounced off the GPS grid and trusted your hand-written directions. So, they had that in common.
When Thompson acquired Forest Dunes—which had one course, a clubhouse, a few houses and 300 lots—it was teetering on the brink. In the process of saving one of Tom Weiskopf’s best designs and one of my Top-20 public courses in the country, Thompson got an incredible deal. He shared that experience with us in season one of The Fire Pit podcast, which I highly recommend.
Back in Bowling Green, Florida, Mosaic supported Mack’s plan to repurpose the land they’d mined for phosphate for almost 50 years. With over 16,000 acres to work with, Mack commissioned two 18-hole courses, a 228-room hotel and several other amenities, including a pool, spa, multiple dining options and world-class bass fishing. Do I think it would be better without the hotel, more boutique lodging, cottages and fire pits conducive to the type of camaraderie golf purists have come to expect and demand from a remote location? Yes. But Mack tilted Streamsong toward a bigger audience. More than just the buddies trip, they wanted to be able to host corporate leadership outings, board meetings or large wedding receptions, but always with golfer’s in mind.
But by virtue of the quality golf and passionate leadership, plus the trend toward remoteness as a virtue, both destinations were attracting avid golfers from all over the country, and the world.
A few years into his ownership of Forest Dunes, Thompson added lodging and The Loop, a reversible routing by Tom Doak, which architectural enthusiasts have gushed over from the start. Doak and his team successfully executed the mind-bending task of fitting two different routings on one fairly ordinary piece of land. Do I think it would be better with bigger greens and less undulations, thus allowing for more hole locations? Yes. (Specifically, using the Red routing for reference, the 2nd green, 6th, 10th, 12th and 14th could use some expanding and mellowing.) But Doak does Doak, and his loyal fanbase loves it. The good news is, we have options both at Forest Dunes and Streamsong.
Mack started with designs by Doak and Coore & Crenshaw, and a few years later, he added another clubhouse, putting course and a third 18-hole routing by Gil Hanse.
Dick Youngscap of Sand Hills in Nebraska helped inspire Mike Keiser to build Bandon Dunes in Oregon. And Mike Keiser helped inspire Rich Mack to build Streamsong in Florida. I remember taking a picture of all three at the opening of the Punchbowl putting course at Bandon Dunes in 2014 and appreciating the impact those three had on the development of golf in America.
In January, 2018, Mack left as Chief Financial Officer at Mosaic, which meant he was done leading Streamsong. But he was hooked on developing golf and all that comes with it, especially working with the architects and cultivating the annual Streamsong Invitational in January. I got the sense that losing his leadership role at Streamsong hurt Mack’s heart more than losing his position at Mosaic. He told me at the time that if he couldn’t figure out a way to get ownership of Streamsong, he’d try to get back into golf elsewhere.
Which brings us to 2020, the best year ever for Forest Dunes. In spite of a global pandemic, business was breaking records set in 2019. Thompson had decided to add a par-3 course by Keith Rhebb and Riley Johns, which he opened last summer (showcased in the features section of this website).
Thompson has two grandsons who’d fallen in love with golf. More than the business venture, the short course was a place for Thompson to spend quality time with Jayce, 14, and Jaeger, 9.
Last summer was about the time Mack started reaching out to Thompson with the idea of buying Forest Dunes or forming some sort of partnership. But Thompson wasn’t interested in either.
“I’ve had a lot of fun,” says Thompson. “I love golf, the staff at Forest Dunes, the membership and the community. To be there is my happy place.”
Thompson passed on Mack’s offer. And then he passed again. But Mack wasn’t taking no for an answer. He kept calling and pitching the idea of a purchase or partnership.
“It’s a rare opportunity to try and acquire a place with two Top 100 courses and a brand with good will,” says Mack. “It met all the criteria I was looking for. It has more available land for additional development opportunities. It has an established real estate component. And it has the opportunity to carry on a tradition like Lew started over 10 years ago.”
It’s not that Mack wore him down, but the additional demands on Thompson’s time and resources due to his own success was starting to weigh on Thompson’s life and lifestyle.
When he first bought Forest Dunes, a busy day was 20 golfers and very few of them stayed on property. At the end of the 2020 season, Forest Dunes was getting over 400 golfers per day and he couldn’t build lodging or the necessary infrastructure fast enough. He had the par-3 course for his grandkids, but getting time to play it with them was going to be tough. So, in January of 2021, Thompson sold to Mack and Tom Sunnarborg, who played a key role in helping Mack develop Streamsong.
And thus, Thompson got a nice return on his investments, he’ll retain a lifetime membership and benefits at Forest Dunes, he has several lots and a house overlooking the 18th fairway of the Weiskopf course, and he now has time for what matters most to him—his family.
“I want what’s best for Forest Dunes, the staff and for the golfers who make the trip,” says Thompson. “I think Rich and Tom are going to take it to the next level. I think it has the chance to be one of the very best golf destinations in the Midwest. And instead of busting my ass and spending my own money, I get to sit on my back porch and watch those guys make it all happen. Everybody wins.”
Meanwhile, Mack is back in the golf business.
“It has been a long three years for me,” he says, as he digs in and decides the future of Forest Dunes. “I missed the relationships, more than anything. I view Forest Dunes as a business, golf as a sport, and I see the architectural aspect as art. It’s nice to incorporate my future with all three of my passions and interests. To be an owner of a place like Forest Dunes is a really special moment for me, my family, and for Tom Sunnarborg.”
Mack, who makes his home in Minnesota, has plans to solve the lodging crunch and add new amenities. And he’ll eventually look to add another golf course on what most architects believe is the best land at Forest Dunes. Doak, Hanse and David McLay Kidd have all said it. All three have provided Thompson with a proposed routing. And Bill Coore has walked the property and has a good relationship with Mack, so there’s that.
But Mack isn’t dropping any hints about who might get that job, but one thing is for sure, Thompson will be there when it happens, buzzing around in his souped-up golf cart, both grandsons in tow. And after he’s done with a long day on the course, he’ll do what he does best: settle in with old friends, make some new ones, and listen to stories around the fire pits. It’s safe to assume none will be better than his own.
As for Mack, he’s taking Thompson’s story and running with it. Writing a new song, if you will. It’s a freer, happier tune this time as he floats his own stream.