Over two million cubic yards of soil were shifted when Archie Struthers fashioned the fairways at Twisted Dune Golf Club, transplanting a wee flavour of Scottish links golf onto the Garden State landscape.
It’s said that Rees Jones was originally involved in the project to convert an old horse farm into a links-style golf course but his architectural team withdrew for some reason, allowing Struthers to step in and install the man-made undulations and mounds that give the layout its striking Celtic character.
The prime design intention was to keep holes as isolated from each other as possible so instead of using regular tree-lined fairways to achieve this, the playing corridors are bordered by fescue-covered dunes which provide visual intimidation and largely prevent the next hole from being revealed until arrival at the tee.Toughest hole on the front nine is undoubtedly the par five 4th, where it doglegs right to a green that’s surrounded by half a dozen enormous bunkers. On the back nine, the 410-yard 14th is easily the most treacherous hole en route to the green as there’s a couple of water hazards awaiting stray shots on either side of a narrow fairway.
The first hole is a great opener. It's a fairly wide open par 4 which is of average length. For those who stray dramatically it will be a lost ball as the confines left and right are massive dunes and the driving range. There is a bunker short of the green which adds a little spice but overall just a mild walk into your round. 2 is another story. A big par 4 which is always seemingly into the wind. Overall the course is open and the wind can cause havoc. 3 is the first par 3. It's a brute. Depending on your tee box it can play from a long iron to your driver. The green has a massive slope which apexes in the center and then goes down. It also slopes quite a bit left to right and the green is also slightly diagonal from left to right. Throw in a few bunkers and this plays as the 7 handicap hole...And it should be even lower. The 4th is the first par 5 and appears wide open. It is if you look straight. But if you look toward the green which is a slight dogleg right, a massive bunker lurks for those who try to bite off the angle. Then place a few fairway bunkers right where most are hitting there 2nd shots and you must ask is it worth it. Another big slope green from front to back with a large bunker. An excellent hole.
5/6 and 7 are all par 4's and are good holes. The 5th is short and features another green which appears benign. But it again has an apex in the center and requires you to be proficient with your distance control entry. 6 and 7 are both much longer and will challenge you. 7 is one of the sneaky 4's. Typically playing into the wind. 8 is a short par 3 which you only need to determine how deep the flag is. The greens at Twisted can be deep. Some as much as 50 yards deep. 9 brings the front to a close with a nice par 5. The fairway slopes a bit right to left and the green does the same. There is a lake on the left which comes into play. Just a good hole.
The course earns its stripes with the back side. 10 is a devilish par 5 which challenges each shot. The serpentine fairway slides down and left and up and right to a well protected green. There is a substantial dunescape out to the right which comes into play for those challenging the hole for a 2 shot coverage. Big numbers come here often. 11 is a feisty par 4 which comes back beside 10 on the high side of the dunescape. The green can be blind if you go a little right with your drive. It has some good length too. The green is one of the few which is unprotected by bunkers.
12 is a par 5 which seems routine. The tee ball is slightly blind and the fairway seems open. There are a few fairway bunkers which seem to randomly grab 2nd shots as they are in standard landing areas for length. The green is again quite sloped. The 5 hole stretch of 13 to 17 is the primary essence of Twisted. 13 is another par 3 which presents a diagonal green right to left with water right and massive bunkers left. The green is 50 yards deep also. This is a great hole. 14 is the best hole on the course. A strong par 4 which crosses a slight hill. A jungle right and dunescape hill left define the corridor. The green is well protected after you cover a large valley to get there. 15 seems anticlimactic after 14 but it is a big par 4. You drive to an open area and then come down a good hill to a green which sits unprotected . It is a massive green. 16 is what we lovingly call the Moonscape. It is a once in a lifetime type hole. An elevated tee seemingly because you have this massive valley of dunes between you and the green. It's a GIR or probably a big number. It plays mostly into the wind with a 175 to 200 shot. The green is massive and has a massive slope. A gir is 50/50 whether you make par. 17 is an excellent par 4 which goes to a fairway sloping right to left and gently goes down hill. You then must cover a devilish greenside bunker short by hitting from a downhill lie to a slightly elevated green. It has some length too. 18 is just stupid long. A par 4 of wide open mostly requiring two big hits to another massive green. Maybe the most massive as it is about 50 or 60 yards deep.
I have a group which has traveled to Atlantic City for 20 years. Twisted is always our favorite. It is unique and memorable.
This course doesn’t live up to the expectations. Although the undulations and dunes are beautiful, it is not a links style. Fairways were very soft despite there not being rain in the past week. The greens were also quite receptive and not very fast. Interesting layout but not what I expected with what I had heard from trusted magazines like golf digest. Nevermind the fact that the course was empty yet all 5 groups that had been spaced 30 minutes apart were stacked on top of each other. Quite the letdown and would have hoped for better on a quiet Monday.
The greater Atlantic City area had a big time push for golf course development starting in the late 1980's and carrying through the go-go period of the 1990's. It seemed as if another new course was opening its doors on an annual basis.
The issue for many of these courses was that the overall layouts were nothing more than ordinary designs -- given the dead flat nature of the terrain -- little was done to add character to bare bones designs.
That's not the case with Twisted Dune.
The original intent was to have architect Rees Jones do the design but because of a fallout that did not happen. Archie Struthers opted to plunge ahead and carry forward the effort.
Twisted Dune tries to portray itself as a "links like" layout with a Scottish flavor. Anytime I see the word "links" promoted by a course -- especially in the USA -- I begin to cringe since it often means more of marketing slant than actual reality.
The issue for Twisted Dune is while the "look" is admirable the overall result doesn't quite provide the essential "feel" of what a bonafide links course provides. Twisted Dune does have enormous mounds clearly created by man to provide corridors for a number of the holes. Interestingly, when you drive onto the property you can't really see the course. Grass has been planted on these mounds and the contrast certainly provides a striking visual dimension that makes the course stand apart from other public courses in the immediate area.
But after a few holes you find the course simply provides fairways which are generally flat with little differentiation. Too often you get a course where the "concept" is rigorously pursued but when it comes time to include the actual "details" Twisted Dune simply is not up to the complete task.
There's a reason why in golf architecture you have talented designers able to apply both the concept and then add the critical details that really accentuate the complete picture.
Twisted Dune is a fun course to play -- there's ample width in many of the fairways and there's a clear attempt to provide a "look" completely different from the other nearby courses in the greater Atlantic City area.
The missing key detail for much of Twisted Dune lies with the putting surfaces. They are not especially complex or filled with hard-to-solve riddles. Varying the shape and angles would have added a good deal more to the equation because then positioning off the tee would be more of an issue than what it is now. Having closely mown fall-offs would also added a good deal more when missing greens with one's approach shots.
The outward half of holes is good mixture but it's the inward side where things start to flourish.
The only disappointing hole for me is the 18th. It's a long par-4 but really devoid of any meaningful design elements beyond the sheer length to finish the round. In many ways the closing hole is symptomatic of what is missing with the course.
Nonetheless, Twisted Dune is one of NJ's top five public courses and clearly a top tier option for those seeking a round of golf when in the greater Atlantic City area. It's too bad the missed details were not properly provided because a course with just a concept can't reach its full potential without the key details included.
by M. James Ward