Golf Writer Andy Reistetter continues his exclusive "Play-Write" series with a seaside round of golf on the Links Course at the Wild Dunes Resort in Isle of Palms just north of Charleston, South Carolina. Joined by Merri Daniel, golf's new and emerging voice for women, the twosome walked the fairways together and toured the resort for this article. Join Merri and Andy as they golf and share Fazio's original Masterpiece.
Noted golf course architect Tom Fazio has designed more than 120 golf courses. What was his first solo design? The Links Course at Wild Dunes Resort which opened in 1980. His portfolio is impressive and includes a couple of courses at Pinehurst, Steve Wynn's exclusive Shadow Creek in Las Vegas and Oklahoma State University's Karsten Creek. Wild Dunes is likely Fazio's most treasured golf course because it is his first. With two closing ocean front holes on the way to the clubhouse, the Links Course is a must play for any golfer seeking the ultimate golfing experience.
Are the dunes really wild? They are massive, humpback and yes wild in the sense that they are uncultivated, natural and seemingly uninhabited beyond the resort boundaries. In terms of being unrestrained, furious and violent it is the ocean beyond the dunes that can be called wild at times. Hurricane Hugo in 1989 destroyed the course and virtually everything in Isle of Palms. The net effect after a year's worth of reconstruction was less trees, more wind and improved links golf.
Most recently the tides of the ocean changed and consumed the shoreline of the 17th and 18th holes. In 2008 nearly a million cubic yards of sand were pumped ashore to recreate the shoreline. Fazio was called back in and perfected the design resulting in two of the best ocean front golf holes in the world. In a sense, like Pebble Beach in the West with the Pacific, Wild Dunes in the East has tamed the Atlantic Ocean at least for the moment for the benefit of golfers to experience true links golf.
As spectacular as the finishing two holes are the golf course begins its crescendo from the very first tee. The holes of the first nine follow a clockwise rotation on undulating terrain through palms and live oaks. After a gradual start much like the links across the pond the short 4th hole reveals a bit of teeth. With a right hole location not only are the deep front bunkers in play on this par-3 but also the short right water hazard. Though a par-5, the 5th hole is difficult and memorable for its 3rd shot which is semi-blind over a raised bunker and past a stately live oak tree. There is no relief as the first nine ends as the 9th hole; a lengthy uphill par-4 with a tucked smallish green is the lowest handicap hole on the golf course.
The first four holes of the second nine follow a mini clockwise rotation loop returning the golfer to the clubhouse. The routing then unravels itself in a clockwise manner taking the golfer to the ocean for the climatic finish.
No. 10 is a welcome relief in the form of a short par-4. Being uphill the length is elongated. With a semi-blind approach pitch one is completely feeling the links style in advance of being impacted by the ocean. No. 14 is a par-5 that plays away from the clubhouse veranda and challenges the golfer to patiently position oneself around the dogleg in the hopes of a birdie. No. 16, a par-3, looks to the north, takes you the final leg and sets up the ocean finish. The wind is always a factor on this exposed hole which plays 175 yards from the tips.
After being enchanted by the first 16 holes as the golfer puts her or his peg in the ground on the penultimate you know you will be playing two of the finest links golf holes in the world. The 17th changes direction heading to the southeast from where most of the storms come to North Carolina. Will your round end scenically with grace? Or will a raging storm appear on your scorecard and wipe out a well established round just like Hugo appeared in 1989?
The 17th is a modest 412 yards from the tips and sports a rather ample landing area near the 150 yard marker. Safely drive and it is a reasonable iron play to a good sized green with a hump in the front left portion. Don't get distracted by the view and a birdie or par is the number to be recorded on your scorecard.
No. 18 is like No. 17 very playable if you do not allow yourself to be totally distracted by the seascape. From the tips, the par-5 "home hole" is 501 yards with a drive that determines if getting home in two is realistic. The dogleg right occurs in the landing area as the hole heads almost directly south to the finish. From the whites a carry of 228 yards is needed though a drive exceeding 287 yards finds you in the dunes or on the beach. A heroic tee ball may leave you with only 200 yards to finish strong with a birdie or even an eagle.
There are bumps and hollows along the way with some flatness around the 100 yard marker if you choose to lay up. Reaching the green means carrying two bunkers short left and center. A hump in the right half of the green tends to throw balls off the right side of the green. With the right short game one will be reliving a birdie on a great finishing hole for quite some time.
Merri's Marvelous Moments
1. Wild Dunes Links Course is playable and walkable. "Walking a golf course is the best way to get to know a golf course and great exercise. I love walking with a pull cart or caddies."
2. There's gold on those gold tees. "I hit a driver and wedged to 12 feet and made the putt for birdie on the second hole. To play well and have the anticipation of the ocean ahead is ultimate fun and relaxation."
3. Save the best for last. "The 18th green is so dramatic with the ocean beyond that it is hard to concentrate on golf. The beauty is overwhelming!"
4. The Wild Dunes Resort is a family affair for generations to come. "Don't forget the picture with The Big Chair on the Grand Pavilion. It is huge, which makes us small so it is a great picture for everyone!"
5. Be sure to come back to Wild Dunes Resort. "Our schedule did not allow for a stay this time but the tour of the property mandates a return! It is really a city within a resort and I absolutely love the golf and the beach amenities at Wild Dunes."
Andy Reistetter is a freelance golf writer as well as a Spotter, Research and Broadcast Assistant for The Golf Channel, NBC and CBS Sports. A lifetime golfer, Andy enjoys volunteering at the World Golf Hall of Fame and THE PLAYERS while pursuing his passion for the game of golf and everything associated with it.
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