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.
Date: May 15, 2020