On Grand Strand Golf: The Dunes Club to close for greens renovation

ablondin@thesunnews.comFebruary 11, 2013 

The most iconic course on the Grand Strand is joining the masses in the market with the installation of a new ultradwarf Bermudagrass on its greens.

The Dunes Golf and Beach Club will close for an estimated three months this summer to install Champion Bermuda on its putting surfaces, and the 7,195-yard Robert Trent Jones layout that opened in 1948 might get some additional length and additional improvements while closed.

The course is closing on June 4 to replace the A1 bentgrass greens and is expected to reopen on or around Labor Day.

The Dunes Club last closed for renovations in 2003, when the greens were changed from PennLinks bent to A1. PennLinks was installed in 1992 in place of 328 Bermuda.

Golf course designer Rees Jones, the son of Robert Trent Jones who had input in the 2003 renovations, toured the course two weeks ago with his senior designer, Steve Weisser. Jones created a master plan for The Dunes Club in ’03, and the lengthening of some holes was part of his long-term vision.

“If we ever touch the golf course we always want to get Rees’ blessings and recommendations,” Dunes Club superintendent Steve Hamilton said.

The greens conversion has been approved, but any other changes over the summer and their financing still have to be approved by the club’s board of directors.

Other improvements being considered include the expansion of the driving range’s hitting area from 30,000 square feet, laser leveling of tee boxes, addition of some new back and forward tees, and bunker restoration to reestablish the shape and depth of a handful of greenside sand traps that have become steep and deep.

“Those are some of the things that are down on paper,” Hamilton said. “Whether they ever come to fruition or not, we don’t know.”

The Dunes Club, which is semi-private and allows outside play through several select hotels, is one of 15 combined private and public courses that still have bent greens among approximately 100 on the Strand. The Dunes Club will be the 55th Strand course to install an ultradwarf in the past decade, predominantly in place of bent.

While the warm-weather Bermuda goes dormant in cold winters, the cool-weather bent generally struggles in the heat of the summer, and ultradwarfs have fine blades similar to bent varieties. Hamilton doesn’t intend to overseed in the winter.

“We’re going to manage them on a high-end as far as expectations,” Hamilton said. “To get a really good putting surface it requires a lot of time and money. You can have average putting greens, but we’re not shooting for average. We’ve never been average.”

The Dunes Club has an alternate 19th hole – a par-3 between the 13th and 14th holes – and its green has been part Champion and part Mini-Verde Bermuda for the past couple years so Hamilton and the club’s more than 750 members could monitor the putting surfaces in different conditions. Hamilton has been pleased with the results.

Chipping greens on the driving range have also had ultradwarf Bermudas for up to three years, and Hamilton has visited several other clubs with the grasses.

“It would have never been a topic with us if our putting surfaces couldn’t be as good or better than what they are with bentgrass,” Hamilton said. “We’re doing it for conditioning and playability. Our greens are really exceptional, but you get into about an eight- to 10-week period where unfortunately – I don’t care how good of a superintendent you are – a lot of it is out of your hands when you’re dealing with Mother Nature. I think this is going to allow us to have a little bit more control.”

Jones believes the changes in some green contours made when the course closed 10 years ago will relate well to the Champion, so no contour changes are planned. A no-till method being employed should allow the greens to remain receptive upon the course’s reopening.

If tees are expanded as proposed, the course’s yardage could exceed 7,300 yards. Several holes have ample setbacks to tee boxes to allow the lengthening of the course. “That’s just a credit to the founders that didn’t worry about the development completely around the course,” Hamilton said. “They could have made our setbacks a lot tighter and they didn’t. … If we wanted to lengthen the golf course considerably we probably could.”

The club is considering extending the back tees to add roughly between 10 to 25 yards to the par-5 fourth and 13th holes, and the par-4 third and seventh holes. The third hole is 435 yards and the seventh is 400 and has a difficult green. A few other tees may be minimally affected by movement.

Jones believes the par-5 holes in particular could benefit from the added length. He’d like to extend the tee on the fourth hole, a dogleg left running alongside U.S. 17 Business with water fronting the green, up to 20 yards to 525 yards, and extend the famed 13th hole nicknamed “Waterloo” that curls to the right around Lake Singleton another 25 yards to 615 yards.

“On 13 we want the better player to hit a wood off the tee, and No. 4 needs a little extra length,” Jones said. “The par-5s we find are really 41/2s for better players.”

The Dunes Club has hosted a number of prestigious events, including a U.S. Women’s Open, final stage of the PGA Tour Qualifying Tournament and six Champions Tour Championships, and the added length will better position the course to host additional tournaments in the future.

“We’re not doing it for any specific event,” Hamilton said. “In the back of people’s minds it’s always nice to know the club can host an event. If we were to host a [major] event we would have to do a lot more than we’re doing. I think it’s just trying to keep up with technology, a lot of it.

“Some of the holes like 4 and 7, they’re legitimately shorter holes and they’ve really given your better golfers – which we have quite a few [as members] – a distinct advantage on those, just with the technology.”

The addition of some front tee boxes would aid playability of the course for some juniors, seniors and women. The club already has some shorter “family tees” set up on the outskirts of fairways throughout the front nine. “It probably needs a little more length to keep up with big bombers, and some shorter length to help others play it a little better,” Jones said.

All in all, Jones believes his father’s course has withstood the test of time and technology, and only a tweaking and slight lengthening is needed to maintain his intent.

“If you look at the history of The Dunes Club, the length of the golf course is almost the same as when my dad built it 65 years ago,” Jones said. “It’s like he had a crystal ball. … I’m sure you could play any event on that golf course.”

During Jones’ recent visit, a display case was erected honoring him in The Dunes Club hallway behind the pro shop, next to displays honoring his father and Carolyn Cudone.

Among the best

The Grand Strand has landed three courses on Golf Digest’s list of “America’s 100 Greatest Public Courses 2013-14,” which is featured in the magazine’s February issue.

The Dunes Golf is ranked 52nd, Caledonia Golf and Fish Club is ranked 97th and the TPC of Myrtle Beach is ranked 98th. Caledonia and the TPC were not on the 2011-12 list.

Caledonia is a Mike Strantz design in Pawleys Island that opened in 1994 and is considered one of the Grand Strand’s most attractive courses. It features a drive through a long canopy of live oaks to the clubhouse, a setting on a former rice plantation, impeccable manicuring and a myriad of blooming flowers and plants.

The challenging TPC in Murrells Inlet is a Tom Fazio design with input from playing consultant Lanny Wadkins that opened in 1999. It hosted the 2000 Champions Tour Championship and has been host to Coastal Carolina’s General Hackler Championship for several years.

For the first time Golf Digest has named a “Second 100 Greatest” U.S. courses including public and private courses, and The Dunes Club holds No. 179 on that list.

In the Best in State rankings including private and public layouts, The Dunes Club is No. 16 in South Carolina, Caledonia is 22, TPC is 23, the Grande Dunes Resort Course is 27, and True Blue Plantation is 30.

To view Blondin’s blog, Green Reading, or Twitter page visit myrtlebeachonline.com.

Contact ALAN BLONDIN at 626-0284.

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