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.
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