The Dunes Golf & Beach Club
South Carolina, USA
Eleventh hole, 430/385 yards, Salt Marsh; Though this hole doglegs right around Singleton Swash and though the green extends into the same hazard that the golfer contends with off the tee, this isn’t a true cape hole as a grove of trees are on the inside of the dogleg. Hence, the golfer doesn’t flirt with the hazard off the tee and indeed he needs to stay well away from them to have a clear second shot. Why not cut the trees down, you ask? The thought is that the hole would then just become a drive and a pitch, which is what the tenth hole is. With the trees forcing the golfer to the outside of the dogleg, this becomes one of the longer, more difficult par fours on the course which fits in nicely with the flow of holes around it.
Twelfth hole, 245/175 yards, White Heron; Jones considered flexibility a key tenet to good design and wrote that ‘Flexibility is created by the way the architect positions the tees, and the number of them, where he places the fairway hazards and of course, by the way he designs the green. A more difficult shot for the better player, an easier shot for the high handicapper is ideal. It is not always achieved, but it is a goal.’ He clearly achieved it here with the back markers requiring a taxing, all carry shot with a fairway wood across Singleton Swash while a tee ball played from the most forward of the five sets of tees can bumble along the fairway and onto the green without ever crossing the marsh.
Thirteenth hole, 590/545 yards, Waterloo; Out of the 7,000 plus holes that Jones designed in over thirty countries, this one still might be his most famous single creation which would be fitting since it clearly embraces his heroic design philosophy. The tee ball is oddly uncomplicated for such a famous hole and little more than a straight shot of 220 yards is needed. Having done that, each golfer must then decide for himself how much of the thirty-five acre Lake Singleton to bite off on his second shot and the range in playing angles is staggering. It’s these options on the second shot that make the hole famous but the green itself is most noteworthy. Following the general slope of the hillside, the top left tier gives way to a lower right section and the contours are so strong that the golfer dearly loves to have nothing more than a short iron in his hand for his third shot. As with many iconic holes (the Road Hole at St. Andrews, the Alps at Prestwick, etc.), the thirteenth is not universally loved as some consider the 110 degree angle of the dogleg to be too extreme. Dan Jenkins wrote in 1966 in The Best 18 Golf Holes in America, ‘ It has long been agreed among knowledgeable golfers along the Atlantic Coast that if a man plays the 13th hole at The Dunes Golf and Beach Club enough he will eventually lose every golf ball he owns and perhaps perish by alligator bite.’ It is easy to see why based on the photographs below.
Fourteenth hole, 450/410 yards, Homeward Ho; Everyone knows that Jenkins selected the thirteenth when Sports Illustrated published his book on the best holes in America. What most don’t appreciate is that both the twelfth and fourteenth received honorable mention and were nearly included as well. That’s how strong this part of the course is and this hole embodies Jones’s oft quoted line ‘that every hole should be a difficult par and an easy bogey.’ This is high demand architecture as the man in search of a par doesn’t have many options other than to hit a really good drive and then a high soft approach shot to a relatively small target that is fronted by three bunkers. Nonetheless, because of how the tee, landing area and green occupy the high points, it is quite a handsome hole and all golfers enjoy playing it.
Sixteenth hole, 365/345 yards, Bull’s Eye; Seeing a teaser like this late in the round shows what Jones meant when he remarked ‘every course should be challenging, but it always should be fun to play.’ His sketch of this green and its surrounding bunkers in The Golf Course by Whitten and Cornish is very instructive as to how he visualized and formulated green complexes.
Eighteenth hole, 430/385 yards, Little Gator; One reason that The Dunes garnered favorable reviews from the day it opened is that it was a fresh, original design. Water had not become the ubiquitous hazard that it is now and for the final green to be tightly guarded by a pond was a novelty. The approach shot is farther complicated by the fact that most drives hit into the upslope of the fairway and frequently the golfer doesn’t have a good view of the pond or sometimes even the green itself. Playing an approach from an upslope to a target fronted by water has t-r-o-u-b-l-e written all over it.
Jones’s name is associated with well over four hundred courses (i.e. ten times that of William Flynn for instance). That’s a lot and clearly not all of them received the same amount of personal attention as his design empire grew. However, The Dunes came early on and it enjoyed his full focus with one result being there is nothing close to a weak or throw-away hole here. Also, the course is a delight to walk though many lazy golfers opt for a golf cart instead, ignoring the fact that golf is a walking sport. This is a special course, one of the few great ones built anywhere in the world between 1945 and 1985 and the variety of the greens is better appreciated by approaching them from a distance on foot. Yes, too many greens are bunkered front left and front right (e.g. the first, second, third, fifth, eighth, ninth, tenth, thirteenth, fourteenth, sixteenth, and seventeenth) for this to be confused as a Golden Age design. Still, imbuing this course with genuine ground game options would have been difficult, in part because of the need for pushed up greens and in part because of the grassing schemes dictated by the high humidity in the southeast of the United States. (As an aside, his course at Ballybunion features fescue grasses and consistently firm playing conditions, so he left many more greens open in front).
What was a private wild-turkey and deer-hunting preserve became a course that has stood the test of time for over sixty years as well as any course you can name. Let’s leave the concluding words on this benchmark in design to Jones himself who wrote in Golf’s Magnificent Challenge, ‘I designed the Dunes at Myrtle Beach on a lovely piece of land studded with live oaks where the Singleton Swash empties into the Atlantic Ocean. If it was not a true seaside course, it was as close as I had come to one at that point. I was able to work the water into several holes, including the 13th that became one of the world’s most famous par-5s and perhaps the best example of my philosophy of heroic architecture. Certainly, it was, and still is, one of my landmark courses.’