The Myrtle Beach area, known as the “Grand Strand”, is a 70-mile coastal strip of golfing and vacation heaven stretching from Pawleys Island in the south to Brunswick County in the north. Boasting more than 100 golf courses of many styles and price ranges, it is a difficult task to choose the top course on the Strand. However, since its opening in 1948 when the Robert Trent Jones Snr layout was only the second course on the Strand, the Dunes Golf & Beach Club has been at or near the top of every Myrtle Beach golf course list. The Dunes has hosted the Ladies US Open (in 1962) and the PGA Tour “Q-school.”
Although located barely more than a block from the beach and with most holes subject to strong ocean breezes, the style of the course is not seaside or links by any stretch of the imagination. It has woodland, parkland and marshland elements, with the 9th being the only hole where a player catches a glimpse of the Atlantic. Most holes are lined with beautiful old oaks and water comes into play by way of ponds and marshes on more than half the holes. The mostly elevated green complexes are extremely challenging as a result of large and deep Augusta white sand bunkers. Other RTJ trademarks are the runway tee boxes and a generous dose of strategic fairway bunkering, requiring well placed tee shots. Typical of the Jones design philosophy, for the good golfer there are risk-reward options on most holes that can mean easy par if you choose the safer option and difficult birdie – with a risk of much worse – if you choose the riskier option (or for the high handicapper, easy bogey/difficult par.)
The 13th hole, known as Waterloo, is a 590-yard par five in a crescent moon shape along the perimeter of Lake Singleton. A slice or push off the tee (for a right handed golfer) is wet. Any thought of going for the green in two requires a very long tee shot. However, the longer the tee shot, the narrower the fairway becomes. On the other hand, the more conservative the tee shot, the longer the remaining shots will be. Even with a moderately good tee shot, the player is then challenged to cut off as much of the lake as he dares. Bite off more than you can chew and you’re wet. Meet the challenge and a possible birdie awaits.
The course has four outstanding par threes, among them the 12th hole which is all carry over a salt-water marsh. The finishing hole is a beautiful long par four with a green fronted by a pond. On either of these holes a front pin position makes firing at the flag a particularly risky choice.
Since early in the new millennium the club has had Rees Jones and his associate Steve Weisser working alongside long-term superintendent Steve Hamilton on course improvements. Greens have been brought back to their original size, new tees introduced and a state-of-the-art irrigation system installed.
Bunkers have also been reviewed, with Better Billy Bunker liner installed throughout. “Every bunker has been rethought and relocated or rebuilt,” said Rees Jones. “We also carefully evaluated the depths of the bunkers. We’ve taken some fill away and cut them down into the surface.”
The public may play the Dunes only if booked into a limited number of Myrtle Beach accommodations, so plan your trip accordingly. While there you must also play Caledonia Golf & Fish Club located about a 30-minute drive to the South. Figuring out which of the remaining 100 or so courses to play after that will be a fun challenge.
I first visited Myrtle Beach in 2013 and could not play this one as it was changing the greens from bent to bermuda. But after The Masters 2016 I made a trip to Myrtle and finally could experience this Masterpiece. In a sunny and very windy day we arrived to the club just 20 minutes before the tee time and could only hit a couple of putts before teeing off from 10th. When we arrived to the tee our 2 playing partners were both 1 handicappers and wanted to play the Gold Tees (7300 yds) so we did and played a match against them beating the Philly guys 2/1. The course was wet due to some rains the previous days so it played really long, course rating of 76.1 was some strokes higher.
Said all this, this venue is a Masterpiece. Not only in design but also in course shape, greens design, speed (at least 11 in the stimp), trees and service. Put all together and there is no course in Myrtle like this one, not even the other private one. There are some holes that are among the best in the World, specially par 4 11th, par 5 12th and par 4 18th. The 9th hole is a 230yds par 3 from the tips, the downwind helped but into the wind it could be a spoon or even a driver. I would not compare it to private venues as Winged Foot or Oak Hill which I have played before, but Dunes is among the best public courses in USA and a must play in the Myrtle Beach area, I should even recommend it to be played twice in a vacation.