|The Wild Dunes Resort offers a couple of 18-hole Fazio courses for public play. It’s generally accepted that the Links - six years older than the Harbor layout - is the better of the two tracks at a marvellous 36-hole complex.|
The Links course at the Wild Dunes resort on the Isle of Palms in South Carolina was once rated by Golf Magazine in the top 100 courses in the world. After playing the course on May 31, 2020 I understood the rationale for including it, although it is clearly no longer worthy of such a lofty recognition.
Designed by Tom Fazio in 1979 the course features narrower fairways, tucked greens, forced carries, good bunkering, excellent green shapes, with the finish along the water. Sadly, a hurricane took away the most famous hole on the golf course, the par 5 finishing hole. This hole was a sharp dogleg right tucked inside the dune line of the beach and featured rolling fairways and a magnificent green with a back right shelf. What is left is a fine par 3 but after playing it and looking at the dune line, one can only imagine the splendid par five hole that once existed. Even today it would have been considered to be an outstanding golf hole that players would remember.
When first built, the design concepts and site location were likely unique to the area and warranted inclusion in a top 100 list. Now there are dozens of similar courses, many of which are better than the links course at Wild Dunes. In addition, when first built there was not the amount of housing along many of the holes which completely distract from the course. Much of the bordering condominiums/housing is boring, plain or unattractive. The golf course that is now remains a fine resort golf course, one that high handicappers would do well to steer clear of by playing the second resort course.
I did like the golf course and am glad to have played it. I would not go out of my way to play it again unless I was staying on the island for a few days. There are some very nice holes that offer good variety both in length and challenge. A few of the holes are very good. However, there are simply too many similar, flat holes that do not offer much for this course to be considered as one of the best courses in South Carolina. That is not meant to be a negative but since built, numerous courses on Kiawah Island have been built as well as many courses near Bluffton and Hilton Head.
The course is short as it was likely planned as a resort/housing development project. From the Black tees it measures 6503 yards, par 70, rated 72.2/140. The White tees are 6002 yards rated 69.8/132.
1 – par 5 529/429. There is not much of note for this flat hole other than hitting from a chute of trees. Bunkers are scattered up and down among trees on both sides of this slight dogleg left. There is a small bunker right of the green which is pressed against a pond on the left side. The green is fairly straightforward. This hole is a gentle opener.
2 – par 4 363/344. Teeing through another short chute of trees to a fairway angled slightly to the right with wetlands and trees lining the right side makes the fairway look much narrower than it is. The green is angled right to left with a single small pocket bunker in the middle left and one at the rear. The green is slightly raised but again is easy to read.
3 – par 4 433/401. The back tee is pushed far to the right creating a sharp dogleg over the marsh to a very narrow landing zone. There is a small bunker on the right side of the landing area. From the white tee this is a slight dogleg right and not nearly as good as a hole. I liked the hole a lot although a near perfect drive is required. The green is long and thin with no bunkers and slightly crowned. This is the best par 4 on the front nine but only from the back tee.
4 – par 3 182/165. A slightly elevated green with a single bunker on the right center follows. The green is shaped like a peanut, small at the front and wider at the back with a definite tier in it. Trees seem to infringe on the left side of the green which I would remove.
5 – par 5 508/479. A generous fairway is followed by a nice green complex built into a man-made hill raised about 10 feet with a small opening making only a fraction of the green visible. The green sits in a punchbowl although it is not a punchbowl green. Fronting the green are two bunkers built partially into the hill. The green flows back to front and right to left. It is a very good par 5 due to the challenge of the blind shot into the hidden green.
6 – par 4 423/401. Playing from an elevated tee and swatting away mosquitos that had already bitten me ten times, this is a somewhat narrow fairway for the length of the hole slightly angled left. Trees are relatively heavy down both sides. The green has two fronting bunkers of which the right one pinches into the green making a back right pin more difficult to get to. The green is one of the trickier ones to read with subtle breaks. I did like the hole.
7 – par 4 358/346. A slight dogleg right with a raised green of about five feet and a false front with a single small bunker in the front middle. This is a steeply sloped green back to front. It is a fun hole and should be a routine par if you avoid the bunker.
8 – par 3 206/183. Playing from an elevated tee over a pond that is not in play, be mindful of the alligator here. The green is long and has three levels to it. There is a single bunker middle right. For me the hole is bland.
9 – par 4 437/384. Playing over a small pond that continues to the left side of the first green, this is a long hole with many rolling hills in the fairway. The green complex is all man-made with a valley fronting the green creating a false front. There is a single bunker on the right side of the fairway and one bunker on the right of the green which has a spine running horizontally through it. There is a small pond to the left of the green which I did not notice until we were walking off. Behind the green is higher mounding. This is the best par 4 on the front nine if one did not play the back tee on the third. I like the hole.
10 – par 4 351/305. This hole goes sharply uphill with the fairway having fall-offs to the right and some ripples. If one hits too far left they can create a bad angle into the green. There is a single bunker on the left but it should be carried. At the green are two small but deep bunkers that are nearly hidden. Swatting away mosquitos for the final time, this was my second double of the day but thankfully after this the mosquitos went away. I did like the hole because it presented a nice challenge on the second shot. Going long over the green leads to a difficult recovery as the land behind the green falls away.
11 – par 4 380/359. When this course was first built, this was likely a very attractive hole. But now, playing from an elevated tee on this straight hole there are ugly condos at the end of the hole behind the green. The fairway has a higher ridge line to the right to offer protection for the players on the seventh green. The fairway is wide to the left side but does also offer a few trees and a sandy waste area. Nearer the green is a long bunker on the right followed by a small bunker to this somewhat oval shaped green. The green itself is a letdown compared to others with the possibility of recovery if one goes long. But who wants to go long and get closer to those condos?
12 – par 3 192/170. Easily the best par 3 on the golf course and one that would be a good par 3 on any golf course. Playing from an elevated tee to a green that looks hidden due to higher grasses that weave back and forth from both sides give the appearance of playing over ripples of dunes to a green shaped like a bell that is raised with fall-offs on all sides. It is a very visually attractive hole that also has real challenge.
13 – par 4 427/391. This slight dogleg left has a fairway that gets narrower as you approach the green. Trees are the primary obstacle with a single bunker left of the green which is also long and narrow. The hole is average and thankfully, the trees hide Palmetto Drive to the right.
14 – par 5 489/480. Crossing back in front of the clubhouse for the third time, you arrive at an elevated tee for this short par 5 which is a slight dogleg left. It shares sandy areas and trees on its left side with the first hole with a single bunker on the right near the green. The hole is average and not memorable.
15 – par 4 430/393. Crossing over Back Bay Drive, this hole plays longer than the yardage due to the wind as to the left of you there is only water. It is a longer forced carry over wetlands with reeds and the marsh to the left and housing to the right. There is a single bunker on the right as well as trees. The green is long, narrow and angled slightly left to right. It is slightly crowned. It is a nice, challenging hole.
16 – par 3 198/163. This is another long, forced carry that offers a distant view of the waterways and marsh. It is visually more exciting than it plays as the bunker front left is the only defense.
17 – par 4 412/381. Paralleling the river and beach on the left side with nicer housing on the right, this is a straight hole to a generous fairway. Much like the sixteenth, the hole is visually more exciting than it plays although it does offer some nice sculpted mounding on the left fronting the green as well as a longer bunker on the left. The green is decently sloped. It is a nice hole but slightly short in length to be more interesting.
18 – par 3 185/168. After losing the fabulous dogleg right par 5, they first tried it as a par 4 but the land was likely too short. It is an okay par 5 with a raised green and sand all down the left. The green has a definite crown in its middle. It is an okay par 3.
One will find some interesting design concepts at the Links course at Wild Dunes. It does not have a lot of challenge except for a few tee shots and greens. The par 5’s are weak as are a few of the par 3’s. The housing strongly detracts from the course. The greens are good and there are several good holes. It is fun to play if you remember to apply bug spray or play after 9AM and before dusk.
There’s an element of empathy with this course on the Isle of Palms. Unintentionally, the Links course at Wild Dunes Resort, just outside Charleston, joins the small list of notable courses which finish on a par 3.
The effects of erosion necessitated a redesign of the oceanfront 18th hole from a 501-yard par 5 to a 188-yard par 3. In May 2015, the course closed to renovate greens, cart paths and the irrigation system. It opened again for business in October, but the lingering impact of Mother Nature has cast a shadow over this coastal course. The golf staff clearly has heavy hearts as they lost an epic closing hole to the merciless coastal erosion.