Pure Enjoyment at Wild Dunes
By Ken Tabacsko
CHARLESTON, S.C. -- The cooling breeze was a welcome relief. The only problem was, it was coming off the ocean.
The dilemma? I was looking at the raging waters, my mind somewhat adrift, and not giving my tee shot at the 17th hole at the Wild Dunes Resort Links Course the attention it deserved.
While I didn't ding one of the condominiums lining the fairway, let's say it wasn't one of my shining golfing moments.
But you know what? I didn't care.
The picturesque Links layout and its somewhat more forgiving Harbor Course offer a pleasant one-two punch. And as an added bonus, the courses are just 20 minutes from Charleston -- one of the nation's top 10 travel destinations -- and its historic attractions, fabulous dining and shopping.
It's a great place for a golfing getaway -- especially if you have a spouse who doesn't share the same passion for the sport as you. In addition to touring the city, Wild Dunes Resort features more than two miles of wide sandy beach, 20 swimming pools, a nationally ranked tennis facility, extensive hiking and biking trails and a free summer family recreation program.
The resort's location at the northern end of the Isle of Palms offers a nice oasis from the hubbub of the city. As an aside, the two teen-agers in our family, one a golfer, have enjoyed the region more than any other place they have visited. In fact, they're ready to head back next Easter break!
In case you're wondering, 1989's devastating Hurricane Hugo did take a toll on the resort, closing it for nine months. Today you can hardly tell.
The two layouts are distinct in the style and challenges. But for even an average golfer like myself, the end result is pure enjoyment.
Set hard against the Atlantic Ocean, The Links has been described by one golf publication as a "combination of Scotland and the Caribbean." It has been a fixture on the "Top 100" ranking by both Golf Digest and Golf Magazine only a few years after its 1980 opening. Its picturesque 18th hole, stretched out against the ocean backdrop and shaped by rolling sand dunes, just might be one of the top finishing holes east of Pebble Beach.
As soon as architect Tom Fazio saw the land he recognized the opportunities. "It had all the elements you could ask for -- trees, water, dunes and an ocean coast," he said. "The routing was relatively easy because some of the holes looked like they had been there forever." Some say the course helped cement Fazio as a first-class course designer.
The 6,722-yard (back of four tees) , par 72 course combines the relentless winds off the ocean with the picturesque coastal terrain. The rolling fairways cut through moss-draped live oaks, magnolias and palms, through huge sand dunes and along some salt-water marshes.
Golfers open up with a reachable 501-yard par 5 that offers a generous fairway with a single fairway bunker. Think of it as a friendly handshake in introducing you to the course. Take advantage to score well on this hole, especially when it's downwind.
Salt marshes flanking the right side of the fairways on the 370-yard No. 2 and 420-yard No. 3 gobble up any careless shots. On the third hole, back tee players need a solid drive to carry more marsh terrain.
The 203-yard 8th is the longest par 3 on the course and luckily features one of the largest greens. Good news if you hit it close to the hole, bad if you are on the far reaches, hoping to get down in two on the highly contoured green. No. 9 will find back tee players hitting from 451 yards out. Hope the wind is at your face. If not, it's going to be a bear.
Even without the ocean lapping at its borders, the par 3, 192-yard No. 12 eats up plenty of photographic film. The green is tucked into the dunes, appearing as a manicured oasis in the middle of a desert. The 477-yard No. 14 features an ancient live oak in the middle of the fairway. It's the "Gold Bug" tree from Edgar Allan Poe's short story of the same name. As a young solder, Poe was stationed at Fort Moultrie on nearby Sullivan's Island.
It's the two finishing holes that get the majority of the post-round discussion.
The 405-yard No. 17 and the par 5, 501-yard finishing hole feature massive dunes, large pot bunkers and prevailing ocean breezes that create challenge aplenty. Each day the holes play remarkably different... one day par is very doable, another walking away with a bogey might be considered an accomplishment.
But no matter what your score, you'll finished pleased.
The par 70, 6,446-yard layout offers a different style of golf compared to the Links -- more of a target -style course. In general, Fazio created in 1986 and four years later renovated a sister course that had larger greens but more numerous and severe hazards. All but one of the holes incorporate water, marsh or both, and the bunkering is more extensive than on the Links. Toss in tight landing areas and you have a course that at first might appear somewhat docile because of its length but it eventually bares its teeth.
Target golf means that this Fazio course contains six par threes and only three par fives.
On the front line, the 460-yard, No. 4 is a tough par 4. The right side is not the place to be--there is a dune ridge and to the right of that, out of sight, is a large ball-eating pond. The two-tiered green is guarded on the front left by more water.
The Harbor also features some dandy finishing holes. The 177-yard No. 16 plays to Waterway Island across the waters of Morgan Creek. It's a chance to go island hopping. No. 17 is a par 4 464-yard monster that requires a tee shot over Morgan Creek and adjoining marsh with more wetlands hugging the dogleg left. An elevated green perched between more swampland clings tightly to the two-tiered putting surface.
The same marsh comes into play on the left side for the 434-yard closing hole. A narrow landing area means smart players might leave themselves a longer approach to hit the fat part of the fairway off the tee. Another menacing marsh on the left of the green along with huge overhanging live oaks on the right make approach shots interesting.
While the shorter length gives higher handicappers a better chance to score, don't be misled. The course is still a good test.
There are numerous golf schools and packages available. Call Wild Dunes at 800-845-8880 for information on numerous golf packages.
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