Opened in 1948, The Dunes Golf & Beach Club in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, is a fantastic traditional Robert Trent Jones design that will test every club in your bag. Stretching to nearly 7,400 yards (and playing significantly longer at sea level), the course offers more than enough challenge for players of every skill level. And in recent years it has played host to tournaments including the 2017 U.S. Women's Amateur Four-Ball Championship, 2016 Southern Amateur Championship and 2014 PGA Professional National Championshp. It is currently ranked No. 64, 53 and 61 on the Top 100 lists of public courses by Golf Digest, Golf Magazine and Golfweek, respectively.
The Dunes bills itself as a private golf and beach club, but tee times are readily available to the public. It does feel like a private golf experience, however, as you check in at the guard station on your way into the parking lot and as you encounter staff who are friendly and genuinely seem to be glad you're visiting. I loved the way the club embraces the local wildlife, choosing a gator with a golf ball in its mouth for its logo and tee markers.
The starter gleefully warned our group about the presence of gators on the course, suggesting that balls inside the hazard line among the numerous ponds and lakes on the property -- even those that look like they could easily be retrieved -- are safer left to the large green beasts that roam the course and live among the lakes.
Unfortunately -- or maybe fortunately -- these warning signs were the only signs we saw of alligators once we teed off that particular morning.
I fell in love with The Dunes when I stepped onto the first tee. There are some courses that just speak to you, and that was the case for me at The Dunes. I loved the conditioning of the course, the way the trees frame so many of the holes, the contrast of the pine straw and the green grass, and the way the ponds and lakes throughout the course make the place seem bigger by reflecting the sky and surroundings. As the kids say (I think), it was a whole vibe.
I played this day from the blue tees, measuring just over 6,600 yards. So all mentions of hole length from here on out will be from the blues unless otherwise stated. The first hole, is a straightaway par-4, measuring 405 yards that requires two solid shots in order to score well. I should know; it took me four mediocre shots to reach the green.
The second hole sets up for a soft draw off the tee, aimed at the two fairway bunkers on the right side and curling gently left.
No. 2 plays a touch longer than the 391 yards listed on the card due to an elevated green, but a solid approach with a mid-iron will find a relatively flat green that will hold a well-struck ball, creating the potential opportunity for a birdie.
The third hole plays slightly uphill, which can make for a long par-4 at 413 yards. A big drive up the right side of the fairway, avoiding the fairway bunker on the left, gives players the best opportunity to find the green in two with a mid- to long-iron or hybrid.
Two bunkers guard the frong right and left of the third green. Players who can fly the ball high and land it soft will have the best odds of scoring well on this hole, but in true Robert Trent Jones style, there is ample room for a well-aimed low ball to run into this green and find the putting surface.
The par-5 4th hole is a really interesting three-shot hole. Huge cross bunkers force you to either layup off the tee (unless you can carry the ball 285 yards at sea level, DeChambeau) or to bail out right to a thin strip of fairway or the right rough. Anything more than about 235 off the tee runs the risk of finding sand even if you're straight down the middel -- or especially if you're straight down the middle.
Laying up short of the bunkers off the tee will leave you with about 255 yards into the green, needing to fly it about 240 to clear the pond in front. The smart play is another layup to the wide fairway as the hole doglegs left beyond the crossbunkers. At just 479 yards, this is a legitimate birdie hole. But I was left wondering how many players are so bothered by not being able to hit driver off the tee on a par-5 that they make mental mistakes all the way to the green and give away a wonderful scoring opportunity. I count myself among that camp, though I feel pretty confident that I would score much better on this hole in the future, having played it once.
No. 5 is a straightforward 184-yard par-3 playing to an elevated green. Like many of the holes Jones designed for this course (and others), players have options hitting into this green. A high ball player who can fly a 5- or 6-iron 175 yards or more and land it softly will have an excellent chance at birdie on this hole. But a low-ball player can run a ball right up the lane between the two front bunkers without much worry. As with many of the holes at the Dunes, there are no bunkers behind this hole and not much other trouble either. Worst case, a ball that runs through the green will require a relatively straightforward chip back to the hole. This characteristic of RTJ's design philosophy maximizes playability and fun for players of all levels, and it's one of the reasons so many of his designs continue to be so popular today.
The 6th hole is a 415-yard par-4 that bends slightly to the left. There is a fairway bunker on the left side, which will make a player want to bail out right. It takes a heck of a poke to reach that bunker though, and the smart shot is still to play down the left side of the fairway in order to shorten the approach shot as much as possible. Any drive short of about 285 yards should be safe from danger of finding the sand. Players who aim right off the tee to avoid the bunker may find themselves with an approach that is as much as 30 yards longer, depending on the pin position.
Take enough club to get your approach shot to the green and avoid the big, deep bunker front-right. Bailing out to the left is not a terrible idea as there is little to no trouble on that side of the green, and a missed green should result in a pretty straightforward uphill chip to a receptive green.
The seventh hole is a tough driving hole as a fairway bunker left pinches the landing area virtually in half. A drive up the right side will set up a scoring opportunity with a mid- to short-iron. But anything left of center needs to either stay short of the bunker at about 240 yards or must carry 275 to avoid the sand.
It's better to be long than short hitting into the slightly elevated seventh green. Deep traps front and left threaten to turn a marginal shot into a bogey or worse. But a ball that finds the green sets up an excellent opportunity for birdie on this relatively flat putting surface.
The 8th hole is the second par-5 on the front nine, playing 515 yards. The tee shot can be a bit deceiving as the first couple hundred yards of fairway angle right but the hole ultimately plays back to the left. Players can be tempted to try to hug the left side of the fairway, but a well-struck drive runs a real chance of carrying through the fairway and finding one of the two fairway bunkers on the left.
The smart, safe way to play the hole is down the right side. Fairway bunkers left threaten to snag the tee shot. And two more fairway bunkers left pose a potential problem on the second shot. A second shot pulled left also runs the risk of positioning a player behind or under one of the large trees just off the fairway, which can affect or even impede the approach.
The green on 8 is well-protected to defend against players who try to reach the dance floor in two. Three greenside bunkers are positioned to catch almost any shot that tries to run up to the green. But any player who lays up should have no trouble hitting a short iron or wedge over the bunkers to this green to set up a scoring opportunity.
No. 9 at the Dunes is an absolutely fantastic par-3. With views of the Atlantic Ocean beyond the green and big, deep bunkers front-left, front-right and long, the hole is both beautiful and visually intimidating. Playing 170 yards from the blues, the tee shot requires nerves of steel and a confident, committed swing in order to find the green. It is possible to bump and run a ball up the narrow neck of fairway between the bunkers, but the slightest bit of push or pull is going to result in a very difficult up and down from the sand. That said, a member I played with hit a pitching wedge off the tee, intentionally leaving his ball short of the bunkers. From there he played a pretty little pitch shot to within about six feet and sank the putt for par. He said he plays the hole that way every round, and he estimates he scores bogey or better 90 percent of the time. So, not a bad strategy to avoid a big number on a challenging hole.
Tee shots that do find the green on No. 9 are rewarded with one of the most makeable birdie putts the course will yield thanks to one of its flattest greens.
The 10th hole is the shortest par-4s on the course at just 340 yards from the blue tees, but it absolutely kicked my butt. A 3-wood, hybrid or long iron off the tee is plenty of club to find this fairway, which slopes downhill toward a pond that can't easily be seen from the teeing area. Driver runs the risk of finding the water, but just about any club short of that ought to be a safe play.
The real trouble on 10 is the approach shot to a significantly elevated green with very deep bunkers that guard the front. Another bunker behind the green demands a high, accurate shot to the putting surface -- which shouldn't be terribly challenging as most players should find themsleves with little more than a wedge or short-iron approach. Mis-hit that shot, though, and there is plenty of trouble to be found as balls risk rolling back into the pond if they find the closely mown grass on the hillside approaching the green or those deep bunkers from which I'm told it's not unusual for players to take two or even three strokes to extricate themselves.
No. 11 is one of those holes I love even when they eat me alive. A near-90-degree dogleg right with water all along the right side, the hole is only 385 yards. A drive that avoids the trees on the right and the one fairway bunker on the left shouldn't be left with much more of a mid-iron into the green.
Unfortunately for me, my tee shot found the trees and wound up kicking farther right, giving me no option to play out to the fairway but a clear view of the green and only about 155 yards -- all carry across the lake -- to get there.
People who know how to play golf well prefer to be in this position off the tee -- sitting pretty in the fairway, clear of the trees, with about 135 yards to the green. This hole can be a birdie hole, or it can jump up and bite you before you realize what's happened.
Hole No. 12 is a mid-length par-3 that plays 168 yards from the blue but can stretch all the way to 245 yards across lake and wetlands when played from the tips. It's a gorgeous hole, but terribly intimidating.
No. 12 was home to the only real wildlife we encountered on the course. Still no gators.
I was fortunate to hit an excellent 6-iron into this green, leaving myself just about 8 feet for birdie. Unfortunately, I was above the hole with a slippery left-to-righter and was happy just to make the come-backer for par.
The 13th hole is a big par-5 that curls around a lake on the right. From the tips, this hole measures a whopping 640 yards. From the blues, it's nearly 100 yards shorter at 545, but still a beast. The member with whom I was playing suggested we all tee off with 3-woods to avoid the water that squeezes the fairway down to just a few yards in width. But I guess I was steaming a bit after my missed birdie putt on 12 because I pulled the big stick and striped a perfect drive into the very narrow strip of fairway about 60 yards beyond my playing partners. It was a pointless display of power, however because -- given the routing of the hole around the lake -- I was still nearly 300 yards from home.
A good layup on 13 will leave you with a wedge into this green. Smartly played, the hole is a potential scoring opportunity despite its length. It's easy, though, to imagine how this hole could turn into a nightmare with one poorly played shot into the lake at any point along the way.
The 14th hole is tough driving hole. A fairway bunker on the left dominates one-third of the fairway but appears to cross about two-thirds of the landing area as you view it from the tee. It's a clever visual deception as the fairway crowns before you reach the bunker and then bends gently to the left beyond the sand. The effect is that it appears the right side of the fairway is virtually non-existent. Players who know the course know that there is enough room to drive it out to the right and find the short grass. But the illusion can be enough to prompt some players to try to blast their drive over the bunker, leading to buried lies or, worse, pull-hooks that find either trouble in the trees or a pond that runs the length of the hole left of the trees.
Tee shots that find the fairway are rewarded with a relatively wide open approach that gives a player the option to hit a high ball or a low running shot into this large green.
No. 15 is the final par-5 on the course. It plays straightaway and is possibly the best opportunity at eagle on the course at just 500 yards. There are two fairway bunkers on the right side of the fairway that can snag a wayward tee shot, but players who find the fairway with their drive can ignore the fairway bunker on the left that sits about 100 yards out from the green and take dead aim at the left side of the putting surface.
A large bunker protects the front-right of the green, but it doesn't pose much trouble as its face is not as steep as some throughout the course. And players who pull the ball a bit left of the green in an effort to avoid the sand will find themselves with a relatively simple chip or pitch shot onto the green. Neither eagle nor birdie are guaranteed, but if you're going to record one or the other during your round, this very well may be the hole on which you do it.
No. 16 is one of my favorite holes at the Dunes, without question. At just 345 yards, it's the second-shortest par-4 on the course. The only trouble off the tee, apart from the trees, is a single fairway bunker on the right side, but even a drive into the bunker will leave a player with a very manageable 100-yard-or-so wedge shot from the sand.
The real teeth on this hole are the seven -- SEVEN -- bunkers that surround the green. The bunkers in front of the green are deeper and more challenging to escape, but they all threaten to turn a marginal shot into a bogey or worse. A well struck wedge or short-iron is all it'll likely take to apprach this green from your tee shot, but don't miss the green unless you've brought a blanket and a beach umbrella!
The 17th hole is a fun par-3. Playing just 165 yards, it's meant to require a solid mid-iron that clears the bunkers front-left and front-right. There isn't much room between them to run a shot into this green. But that doesn't mean it's not doable! I completely bladed my 7-iron off the tee and hit a ball that never got more than about six feet off the ground, but it ran right up the middle, caught a ridge on the green and curled around to about 10 feet from the flag, almost as if I'd planned it that way. Missed the putt, but I didn't deserve it anyway after that shot!
No. 18 is a fantastic finishing hole. At 385 yards, and with no fairway bunkers or water in play off the tee (for us mere mortals, at least), the hole looks incredibly inviting. But the fairway grows more and more narrow the longer you hit your drive, and with a forced carry over water to a green surrouned by large bunkers, you'd much rather be hitting your approach shot from the fairway than the rough -- or, Heaven forbid, the trees.
Players who do find the fairway are rewarded with a visually intimidating but otherwise simple approach that likely isn't playing much longer than a mid- or short-iron. Take enough club, though, because anything short of the green does run the risk of rolling back down the bank into the water, assuming you don't find one of the bunkers.
I unfortunately left my approach plugged in the face of the greenside bunker on the right and worried that my chance to break 85 was slipping out of my hand. I needed a par for 84. Instead, I slammed my sand wedge into the sand wall with all I've got and watched the ball fly up, hit the green, roll out about 15 feet and drop into the cup for birdie. Just how I planned to finish.
There are courses in Myrtle Beach -- even highly regarded courses -- that I have enjoyed but would likely not play again while so many options to play new courses exist. But The Dunes Golf & Beach Club is one I can honestly say I'd be excited to play regularly if I were a local, and it'll be a mainstay of future trips to the area for me. It was fun, challenging and very well maintained. The staff were terrific. And I've got to go back if only to see some of those alligators I somehow missed this first time around!