MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. -- Since 1948, the staff members of The Dunes Golf & Beach Club, a Robert Trent Jones design, have been outstanding stewards, coddling the pristine course and its golfers as they clock about 30,000 rounds per year.
It is manicured to perfection, and the fairways and greens are like carpet, cradling your ball for the best contact, the truest putts.
The Dunes Golf & Beach Club's rough is another story. It will grab your ball and pull it down to its roots, nearly covering the orb. Crews keep the rough just short enough so you can find your ball, long enough for you to pine for the fairway.
"We didn't overseed the rough this winter, and it really made a difference," said Head Professional Dennis Nicholl. It allowed the Bermuda to thicken and create a green fortress for any ball that enters. Just great, one more element to worry about, in addition to the plethora of deep, foreboding bunkers that dominate the golf course.
Maintaining the bentgrass greens in the summer requires constant care. "We have our wilt patrol," Nicholl said. "No one wants the superintendent's job in August."
And crews keep the greens a tad longer in the summer to reduce stress on the grass, taking them from about an 8 or 9 on a stimpmeter from 10 or 11 in April, one of the club's busiest months.
From the tips, The Dunes Golf & Beach Club is a monster, measuring 7,195 yards with a 75.7 rating and 144 slope. The front tees measure 71.4 for women, with a 131 slope and stretch 5,345 yards. Greens in regulation will be a rarity for many women, with six of the par 4s at least 300 yards.
The golf course is the closest many people will come to a PGA Tour-prepared course. It has Bermuda fairways and a rare case in the South, bentgrass greens.
The Dunes also got a jump on its competition, pre-dating many of the country clubs in the area by about 20 or 30 years. Some members are third generation, Nicholl said.
What sets it apart is simple: "Flat out, it's the history," Nicholl said, "and hosting the events we have. The Senior Tour championship, an LPGA tournament, and U.S. Open qualifiers that brought us Gary McCord and Ben Crenshaw."
The Dunes Golf & Beach Club's front nine provides a consistent test of length and accuracy as one traverses tree-lined fairways and huge bunkers at the greens and strategically placed traps in the fairway.
The tempo is similar throughout the golf course with most holes featuring raised tees to a valley fairway that will steal more yardage from shorter drives, up to an elevated green well-protected by huge bunkers. Once on the green, be prepared for slopes and undulations. A yardage book is recommended for this course if you’ve not played it before. It offers some key hints to success.
The approach on the par 5s for the front consists of a water carry on No. 4 and a sea of bunkers at No. 8. The ninth hole, a long par 3, requires a little luck in guesses what the wind off the ocean will do to your shot. Plan at least two extra clubs.
After the front nine -- when one might be feeling pretty confident in one's game -- comes the back. From the start, you sense this part of the course is different, with a water carry from the tee to an abbreviated landing area before more water about 80 yards from the center of the elevated green.
The 11th is even more intimidating, with a nearly 90-degree right turn to the green with marsh on the inside and trees on the far side. It’s just a sliver of a landing area if you're going to lay up and high risk if you go for it. After all, most people, when stressed, grip the club too tight and slice.
The 12th is another marsh-side hole. This is a par 3 with a lot of trouble near the green.
Then there is The Dunes Golf & Beach Club's signature hole, No. 13. Called Waterloo, it's a par 5 that wraps around a lot of water. From the tee, placement is critical so one has a chance at a second shot over the vast expanse of water to get close enough to the green for an approach. It's surprising that a number of balls haven't filled the waterway and broken the surface. The hole has made several lists of the country's best golf holes.
Our playing partners, from Indianapolis, got a thrill when they heard a large splash and figured it was an alligator. From there, they hit from the other side of the cart.
I suspect the length of the reptile will grow a foot with each telling. I thought the splash was a large turtle, but I'm keeping it to myself.
Fortunately, the next few holes are relatively tame, reverting to the rhythm of the front. The 16th hole shakes up that routine a little with a green lower than the fairway ringed by seven bunkers. The green is the only solution.
The golf course concludes with a par 4 with alternate tee stations for a little variety. But a large water carry awaits about 70 to 90 yards from the green, with huge bunkers left, right and rear.
Allan Garvin, a 12-handicap golfer from Indianapolis, hadn't played the Dunes before. "It's a great, old-style course. You get what you deserve on this course."
But not only was the design impressive, so was its care.
"It's the best conditioned course I've ever played," Garvin said.
Scott Davidson, also of Indianapolis and a 10-handicapper, was drawn to the course by its designer. "I love Robert Trent Jones' old-style courses and how all the holes intermingle."
And then there are the greens: "They're great."
That pretty much sums it up. Make sure The Dunes Golf & Beach Club is on the play list if you want the best Myrtle Beach has to offer.
July 23, 2010