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.
Truthfully, Myrtle Beach does not have the most glamorous reputation as a travel destination. When you hear “Myrtle,” most people probably conjure up hotel-lined beachfront, chain restaurants, and tourist traps. However, the more I visit the area, the more I find charming old eateries, quiet sandy beaches, and real local flavor.
Myrtle Beach’s golf scene follows a similar pattern. While Myrtle Beach has a very high quantity of courses, the quality of golf is thought to be fairly modest, with condos lining tight fairways and small, uninteresting green complexes. Again, though, there are exceptions to the rule. The Dunes Club breaks this stereotype for Myrtle Beach golf, and its architectural interest stands the test of time.
I was fortunate to play the Dunes a few years ago as a guest of a generous member, and the visit did not disappoint. Having learned the game on a Robert Trent Jones original, and having played most of my college golf on another Jones design, I expected the Dunes Club to have naturally flowing fairways, bold green complexes, and tough bunkering throughout. It delivered on all fronts. The Dunes Club captures the lovely, atypical rolling topography of its site beautifully, and using mixed width fairways, Jones created fascinating corridors on the flatter pieces of the property.
The Dunes Club boasts a number of outstanding holes which include:
• #4: A complex, risk-reward par five where players can take one of two routes off the tee. The fairway is wide before making a sharp turn to the left, and one can easily play safe to this area. However, from this wider portion of the fairway, the second shot is difficult, requiring a hard snap hook. The aggressive right-to-left play on the drive can pay off only if the golfer finds an extremely narrow strip of short grass over two menacing traps. To reach the green in two, a player must be able to hit a high, lofted long iron often from a slightly downhill lie.
• #6: Rolling gently over a knoll, players must hit their drives as close to a large bunker guarding the left hand side of this fairway in order to optimize their angle on this long par four.
• #8: Players have tough decision to make on this excellent par five. The fairway is wide for a conservative player both off the tee on the lay-up shot. Aggressive players must avoid a pinched fairway and bunkers left. While a lofted metal shot will be necessary to stick the landing, a collection area is hidden beyond the putting surface and quite frankly, may be a better place to miss. Atypical for a Jones’ course, 40 yards long of this putting surface is arguably better (and easier to achieve) than 40 yards short.
• #9: Opening to the ocean, the long par three 9th is beguiling and complicated due to coastal wind.
• #10: Among the most interesting Jones’ fairways I have encountered, pin placement will dictate strategy at the turn. The initial portion of the fairway is hourglass shaped. The player must navigate wind to choose an exact yardage and side of this oblong shortgrass to provide a strong angle while also avoiding a pond long. Depending on the wind direction and position of the tees, longer hitters may also have a chance to reach a thin piece of fairway beyond the pond. Personally, I think the course should always make this an option, essentially providing three distinct route possibilities day-in and day-out.
• #11: Intricate corridors continue at the 11th as the fairway blossoms into a wide area beyond a bunker left. Playing out to the right provide a much shorter route to the hole, but also can be treacherous with a swamp; aptly played shots to the left can provide a better angle but lengthen an already deep par four.
• #13: The Dunes Club’s crown jewel does not disappoint. With a tapered fairway to start, the more aggressive one is from the tee, the more exacting their drive must be. From there, Jones offers two wider lay-up zones extended into the pond that quite frankly, seem so natural and elegant in person. There are so many risk/reward options on this hole that it could never get old to play.
• #16: From the tee, the player can either choose to play conservatively to a wide fairway, or aggressively by avoiding a bunker right. Surrounded by seven menacing sand traps, this putting surface was my favorite on the course. At this stage in the round, using your last bits of energy to hit such an exacting wedge shot was no easy prospect. (The Dunes Club has an alternate par three that, when in play, makes this the 17th hole)
The Dunes Club, steeped in rich tradition, breaks the stereotypical golf norms on the Grand Strand. Mixed wide/narrow fairways, a demand for a variety of shot-shaping techniques, and thoughtful challenges greet players throughout the round. Perhaps the only disappointing factor is that aerial approaches are required on essentially every single hole. This does not honor the Dunes Club’s firm, seaside links ancestors. With that said, if in the area and choosing where to play, I would strongly encourage anyone to check out Jones’ work on this property. Strategic interest abounds regardless of whether or not holes were laid upon rolling or flat terrain.
Had the pleasure of playing the Dunes in October. Was there for a trip with some buds and we played what we thought were the 5 best in Myrtle Beach. I believe we chose right. The Dunes is a great complex. Staff is very welcoming. The course is in great shape and is very classic. The standard discussion is always around Waterloo. The par 5 which plays around a large pond. As I review the previous ratings I am confused as to why anyone would give this place 6 balls. It is very nice. It is about the 10th best in the state though. It is not 4th best. There are some tremendous courses in SC.
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.