Opened in 1990 as a regular pay and play golf course, the Tom Fazio-designed Emerald Dunes layout quickly found favour with local and visiting golfers alike. Fifteen years after the course was first unveiled, a consortium including Frank Chisholm, producer of PGA Tour events for CBS Sports, purchased the club and turned it into a private facility.
Changing hands yet again a short time after, the new owners decided to ask the original designer to undertake an ambitious multi-million dollar renovation program and this involved adding new championship tees and flash-faced bunkers, widening fairways on several holes, re-shaping or re-positioning a number of greens, totally reconfiguring a couple of holes and installing a new irrigation system.
Amazingly, two thousand mature palms and other trees were also planted around the perimeter of the property, screening the outside world from golfers and adding to the feeling of seclusion inside. That mammoth landscaping task was complemented by the replacement of old cart paths with crushed native coquina shell paths and hand-set pavers, a move which adds greatly to the natural look of the golfing environment.
In Golf Magazine’s Top 100 Courses You Can Play book by Brian McCallen, the author mentions the stand-out feature that catches everyone’s attention: “This is the ‘Super Dune,’ a hulking molehill studded with three tees, three greens, large boulders, an assortment of bunkers, lots of bushes, even a few waterfalls. Everything except emeralds. The flattened top of the 54-foot high ‘dune,’ one of the highest points in West Palm Beach, provides a panoramic view of 14 holes that fan out like spokes from a wheel.”
Emerald Dunes is a golf rarity. In 1990, the Tom Fazio designed course, opened as a pay to play course. It is now uniquely private. When I say uniquely, members pay a fee at the beginning of the year and that covers everything. Most high end clubs take the annual expenses at year end and dived them up. I had never heard of this previously. The course is lovely and I was blessed with a super caddy named Rich. To the course:
A welcoming par five dogleg right that can be reached in two. However, there are several bunkers on the right side that actually protect you from the water hazard. The par 4 3rd is a tricky hole. With a water hazard running down the left, one should favor the right off the tee. However, be cognizant of the hillside bunkers on the right. Your approach is slightly uphill, whatever you do, don’t hook your approach left into the deep greenside bunker. The par 3 4th is a very pretty hole. There is a waterfall behind the green. One must carry water and there is water right, but the front greenside bunker is more of a threat. This has a tricky two-tiered green. A feature that would be hard to ignore is the large dune behind the 4th green. Rich told me it was 50 feet high and one of the highest points in Palm Beach County. It is interesting in that it acts like the hub in a hub and spoke design. Most of the holes either originate or terminate around the dune. A design feature I have not seen before and I think it is kind of cool. The 600 yard par 5 5yh rightly deserves its number one handicap rating. I would categorize it as a double dogleg with a water hazard on the left side. It appears more intimidating than it is as the fairway is spacious, but you need to hit three good shots to make par. The long par 4 6th is a demanding driving hole. Slight dogleg right, best to be left off the tee or you may be blocked out. However, there is a water hazard down the left side and it is protected with a long fairway bunker on your approach. Once again, it looks much tougher than it is on the tee box. The 7th is essentially opposite hand of 6 except you will not be blocked out by trees. The 200+ yard par 3 8th is probably the toughest par 3. There is a plethora of intimidating bunkers and the green is a redan with a significant right to left tilt. The 9th may bring you to your knees. From the tips 469 yards sharp dogleg right with water right and bunkers in the elbow.
No time to exhale as the back starts with a tough uphill dogleg right par 4. Avoid the gaping greenside bunkers left and pay attention to the pin location as it is a multi-tiered green. The short par 5 11th, under 500 yards is a birdie oppty. Water right, this extremely small green is reachable. Hopefully, you scored well between 11-14 because the going gets tough on the number 2 handicap 15th. A long par 4 that tricks you further right and into the hazard off the tee. Favor the left side even though you approach will require a longer club. Our caddy warned us, yet none of us could execute. The 16th is the classic Florida par 3 with carry over water. The par 5 17th is another hole that looks much tougher than it actually is. A cluster of oak trees infringe upon the fairway on your second shot. Good golfers can just launch over them, the rest of us should swallow our pride and play right to give us a nice approach. The 18th is a beautiful and demanding finishing hole. An elevated tee, off of the dune exposes a generous fairway. A dogleg left with a bunker on the left corner should discourage you from being greedy. That being said from the landing zone you will have 200 yard shot to a skinny green with water and bunkers right. Good luck.
A truly enjoyable track, it always helps to have a super caddy. This course is under rated. Much better track than PGA National or Doral.