Great Golfing Destinations

Amelia Island Plantation

The Wild Dunes Resort

Golf at Wild Dunes
There are two stars at The Wild Dunes Resort: The Links Course and Director of Golf Terry Florence. Both have been there since the beginning and both are very fair. The Links course can be difficult, Terry never is.

I visited Wild Dunes on the Isle of Palms, S.C. in April, Masters week, with my long time friends Keith Mayo, Jimmy Caiopoulos and Nick Glekas. We travel as a foursome twice a year to varied destinations. Keith and I usually play Nick and Jimmy in a full-out grudge match over the three or four days of each trip. No holds barred. The handicaps float a bit. I’m a 9, Jimmy’s a 12, Nick’s a 16 and Keith’s a 22. We adjust after each round depending on who’s playing well and who’s not. It was my first trip back to Wild Dunes since working in Charleston from 1978-81. I was fortunate to play the first round of golf at Wild Dunes with then owner Raymond Finch and two of his associates.

A lot has changed in the nearly 20 years Wild dunes has been open. From unprecedented growth of the island, to the devastation wreaked by Hurricane Hugo, the resort’s look has changed dramatically. Even the name is changed. From the Isle of Palms Beach and Racquet Club, the resort is now known as Wild Dunes Resort, taking on the name of its famous golf course. No longer a tree-filled wilderness, it now has villas and homes throughout its 1600 acres. Many are for rent through the management company running the resort, Destination Hotels and Resorts. Wild Dunes has easy access from Charleston, through Mt. Pleasant either through Sullivan’s Island or out 17 and across the island connector in front of Snee Farm. It’s about 20 minutes from downtown Charleston, an easy ride both ways.

Keith, Jimmy and Nick few into Charleston and rented a car, an even easier access to the island because the airport is actually in North Charleston. I drove in from Augusta on Wednesday afternoon and actually had time to get in 5 holes before dark.

  Accommodations

Although there are homes and villas for rent around the resort, we stayed in the new Boardwalk Inn, a near ocean from hotel with 93 rooms and suites. It has a very nice lounge, although it took me back a ways to see mini-bottles stacked behind the bar, according to South Carolina law. I’ve never liked mini-bottles; they get in the way of a relationship with the bartender. The atmosphere is great in there though, very laid back, very casual. The concierge couldn’t have been more helpful. The two rooms we had were across the hall from each other. Beautiful balconies, nice bathrooms, comfortable beds, good cable. Plenty of room for the four of us to pile into one room have cocktails and watch the Masters. The Boardwalk Inn is a very short walk from the 2 miles of beach Wild Dunes was built on. It also has one of the 20 pools available at the resort.

They serve breakfast in the hotel. It’s adequate. A buffet, not very exciting, but functional, especially if you’re hungry. Keith has a pet peeve about hot coffee, and I don’t blame him. We tried a couple of times to actually get a hot cup, but were unsuccessful.

Golf

We played 4 rounds of golf while at Wild Dunes. One on the Harbor Course and three at the Links Course. Both are Tom Fazio designs, the Links course accounting for the beginning of Fazio’s notoriety as a designer. I was working in Charleston when they were building the course and talked with Fazio dozens of times. He loved the “vistas” available to the golfer on the Isle of Palms and really spent a lot of time on the project. I’ve seen him at some of his other courses since, most recently Pablo Creek in Jacksonville and he still talks about Wild Dunes with a bit of a gleam in his eyes.

The Harbor Course is promoted as a “shot makers” course. What that means is it’s tight. From the first hole on, you’ve got to hit it straight or you’re in trouble. The wind was about 15 knots the day we played, so it was very tough. The back has some interesting holes, including a par three over a waterway that leads to one of the most interesting sights: a long row of town homes flanking the water with boats moored in the back yard as far as you can see. I’d like to play the Harbor course again, and had a chance, but the Links course is the star, and I didn’t want to pass up a chance to play it as many times as possible.

When the Links course first opened, it was the only 18 holes on the island. In fact, it seemed like other than a few beach bars and summer homes it was the only thing on the island. Gnarled trees and not a lot of room to roam were the hallmarks of the course, with the 17th and 18th holes providing the signature finish. Hurricane Hugo took away a lot of the trees, but there are still plenty left to frame the course.

I’ve always liked courses that open with par 5’s and the Links course does just that. A tricky green with some hidden water on the left, but a fun opening hole. The front runs through a lot of development, but the homes never seem intrusive. There’s plenty of trouble to be had and with wind direction and pin positions they can make it plenty tough.

The par 5 fifth has a notch opening to the green, a unique design feature. The back has six of the best holes you’ll find anywhere in the world, and three that seem to have lost their personality.

I’ve always hated #10. Never liked it when they built it and still don’t. Straight up hill, you can reach it with two 7 irons if you want. I wish they could blow it up and start over again. Eleven, twelve and thirteen provide a stretch that transports you across the Atlantic Ocean. The 11th is an alleyway, framed by sand dunes on both sides, with a deceptive second shot. Hit plenty of club here, it always plays long. Twelve is so much fun, I have a framed lithograph of it hanging in my house. A short par three, 12 has a tee and a green, and that’s it. Wind swept sea oats and sand dunes with the water in the distance make standing on the back tee one of the memorable Wild Dunes experiences.

Thirteen is a true links hole. A dogleg left, par four with a mounded fairway and not much else if you spray it right or left. Fourteen is a nice par 5, one you can go for in two, especially if the wind isn’t in your face. Fifteen and sixteen are a bit indistinguishable from a lot of other holes. Just straight forward. A par four and a short par three headed toward the beach. Nothing particularly memorable about either one. Maybe that’s okay, because 17 and 18 are two of the best holes anywhere.

Rebuilt after Hurricane Hugo, you wouldn’t know they were half as old as the rest of the course. I can barely describe the feeling I had playing those two holes other than blissful. I kept thinking, this is what golf is supposed to be like. Three of my best friends, gorgeous sunshine, and unbelievable view and two of the best holes ever basically on the beach! Wow!

Seventeen is hard by the Atlantic Ocean, a par four with a bit of a deceptive green. Nick made a nice four on the last day literally from the beach after hooking his drive so far left it was again playable. Eighteen's tee is also on the water, then the hole doglegs right toward a new condominium project. A good drive will need a bit of a fade on it if you want to try and get there in two. A teardrop shaped bunker guards the front of the very large green.

Perhaps the best testament to the Links Course is wanting to play it again, and again, and again. Every time I walked off 18, I was ready to go back to the first tee and start over. It is a great golf course, with the right atmosphere. I shot 84, 82 and 76 the three times we played there.


Food

Any golf destination needs to have decent restaurants to visit in close proximity. Wild Dunes has a lot of variations. From standard beach fare to low country cuisine, we tried most of it during our stay.

Our first night we at the beach house, right on the edge of the island on the Intracoastal Waterway. It was packed with what looked like a lot of locals and some tourists. The concierge called ahead to say we were coming, so after a short wait, our table was ready. A lot of people raved about the Boathouse before I got there. I thought it was pretty standard. Nothing terrible, but nothing memorable either. If you’re from the mid-Atlantic region, don’t let them tell you anything about their crab cakes. You’ll laugh, as we did.

On the second night we stayed near the resort, opting for a pizza/Italian restaurant in Mt. Pleasant. Plenty of food, nothing, as they say, to write home about.

Venturing into Charleston on Friday night, we had reservations at Blossom’s, a low country specialty restaurant. Right downtown, Blossom’s was very dark, but packed and bustling with action. The bar is kind of tight, not a place I’d go to hang out, but they’re interested in getting one drink in you and off to your table. The food was very good, but very Charleston. Lots of different things mixed together, and lowcountry style, served over mashed potatoes. All four of us liked it and probably would go back.

Saturday night we ate at Charleston Chops. Having eaten at several “Chop” houses around the country this one is a little different. It’s a bit schizophrenic, not exactly sure what it wants to be. A beautiful restaurant, also right downtown, the bar is nice with a piano player behind a baby grand playing lots of Sinatra and Bennet standards. While the eating area looks like something out of an old western where the bordello is upstairs, the tables and chairs, for lack of a better word are a bit “foo-foo.” Give me something solid to sit on and leave it at that. The menu is varied to say the least. I was expecting to have a choice of steaks. I had that, plus lots of other “stuff.” The steaks were adequate, and again, served over mashed potatoes, lowcountry style. Probably a good place to take a date, but four guys looking for a steak house were in the wrong spot.

General

We really liked Wild Dunes and the entire Charleston experience and we’d go back again. You can look into pricing and other things about Wild Dunes on the web at www.wilddunes.com. The resort has a nice spa and fitness center and is rated as one of the top ten tennis resorts in the country with 17 Har-Tru courts.

If you call there, ask for Terry Florence and tell him I said hi.

Golf at Wild Dunes


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