18 classic courses in S.C.

Dunes among Jones’ best

Designer’s 13th hole at course in Myrtle Beach is unforgettable

 bspear@thestate.com May 29, 2011 

— On a visit to St. Andrews in the mid-1990s, Jack Bonner wandered into one of those stereotypical hole-in-the-wall book stores that often contain a treasure chest of wonderful reading hidden beneath the dust and cobwebs.

He figured he would discover some volumes on golf here in the cradle of the sport on Scotland’s east coast and, sure enough, he came across a book on Robert Trent Jones golf designs that captured his attention.

“I wonder what (the authors) think of our course,” the Myrtle Beach resident thought to himself and quickly thumbed through the pages for the report on the Jones-designed Dunes Golf & Beach Club layout.

“One of Jones’ first and quite possible his finest,” the book reported.

Bonner smiled in agreement. Those few words confirmed what club members have long held to be one of the self-evident truths of golf: The Dunes owns a place among the finest places to play the game.

Major publications concur; the Dunes is a perennial member in course rankings. And world-class players — whether in the Senior Tour Championship, PGA Qualifying School or U.S. Women’s Open — sing the praises of the layout at the north end of Myrtle Beach’s Ocean Boulevard.

Ben Crenshaw earned his PGA Tour card by winning the final stage of Qualifying School here. Murle Lindstrom won the 1962 U.S. Women’s Open here. Familiar names — Raymond Floyd, Gil Morgan, Hale Irwin, Jim Colbert, Jay Sigel and Gary McCord — won the Senior Tour Championship here on the Atlantic shore.

“Look at the champions of all the tournaments, amateur and pro, that have been held here,” longtime member Cecil Brandon said. “You don’t win here by accident.”

The course’s savior and its ‘Waterloo’

In the beginning, in the late 1940s, the Dunes experienced the typical start-up struggles for a project with estimated costs of $100,000 for the golf course and about $70,000 for a clubhouse. But, if nothing else, the founders had determination. They always discovered the right person at the right time, maybe a banker who approved a $50,000 loan or a man who volunteered his employees and equipment to help clear the land — after the tobacco harvest, of course.

But no one would be more important than a Philadelphia import named Jimmy D’Angelo.

D’Angelo had been a pro at Ocean Forest Country Club, now Pine Lakes, in the late 1930s, and the Dunes’ founders lured him back to Myrtle Beach to sell stock in their new venture for $525 a share. Before long, his duties at the Grand Strand’s second golf course included those of head golf professional.

The media-savvy D’Angelo asked Larry Robinson, a friend and golf writer for a New York newspaper, for ideas to promote not only the Dunes but also the Myrtle Beach area. Robinson suggested holding a testimonial dinner for the course architect on the Monday of Masters week, a day that would allow reporters headed to Augusta to attend.

From that evolved a golf writers’ tournament, which grew from eight reporters in 1954 to a full-scale event with fields of more than 100 played annually through 2005. More important, the stories that participants wrote put Myrtle Beach in the golf world’s consciousness.

“There’s no doubt about the value of that publicity,” said Brandon, a retired advertising executive and one of the developers of Myrtle Beach Golf Holiday, an alliance of hotels and golf courses that markets the region.

Much of that publicity centered on the Dunes’13th hole, a 535-yard, horseshoe-shaped par 5 that loops around Lake Singleton. For good reason, it’s referred to as “Waterloo.”

“The only way to reach the green is to charter a boat,” Dan Jenkins once wrote.

During the Senior Tour Championship, played at the Dunes 1994-99, Lee Trevino suggested the property would be better suited for condos and town houses.

At the 1962 U.S. Women’s Open, Mickey Wright called the 13th “a great hole.” But, she warned, “You can’t get greedy.”

“The 13{+t}{+h} is a hole that you either love or hate,” Dennis Nicholl, the Dunes’ current pro, said. “But I think the more you play it, the more you appreciate it. It’s certainly unique; it’s won all the awards for design.”

The hole requires a tee shot along the lake’s shoreline, a second across the water — and only the longest hitters dream about reaching the green in two. Most require three or more strokes to a treacherous green. Many a scorecard has been wrecked here, and a plaque at the tee commemorates a 22 posted by Charles Bartlett in a golf writers’ tournament.

The 13th climaxes a three-hole stretch called Alligator Alley, a series that assures the course will be indelibly etched in a golfer’s memory. The 430-yard, par-4 11th requires an approach shot to a peninsula green, the par-3 12th is so daunting that the back tee, at 245 yards, is never used, and the 13{+t}{+h} speaks for itself.

“Making the 11th into a dogleg with a second shot to a challenging green ‘made’ the hole,” Nicholls said. “And what most players don’t know is Alligator Alley could be more difficult. In the architect’s original plans, the 13th green was further right and the water would have been in play on the approach, too.”

Now, that’s a scary thought.

Dunes to the rescue

Jones once called the Dunes perhaps the best example of his philosophy of golf design, which features long tee boxes and large, undulating greens. His courses brought water into play more than architects of past eras, and his bunkering around elevated greens is classic.

“A few changes have been made through the years, but it’s classic golf,” Nicholls said, noting the relocation of the 11th green and the addition of a second tee box on 18 that allows the hole to play as a dogleg right or dogleg left. “An alternate hole has been added so that if a hole requires maintenance, golfers can still have 18 in a round. Otherwise, the course plays basically the way it was.”

And that is challenging, Jack Bonner said.

“I caddied for Doug Sanders for four years (in the Senior Tour Championship),” he said. “That was a wonderful experience for me, and the players could not get over how good the golf course is. The conditioning is really outstanding.”

Indeed, the days leading to the 1999 Senior Tour Championship are telling. The tournament had planned to end a five-year run at the Dunes after the 1998 event, but Hurricane Floyd powered ashore and made the new site, the TPC at Myrtle Beach, unplayable. The Dunes came to the rescue.

“I came to work here on Sept. 1, 1999, and Floyd hit on the 15th,” said Donna Eddington, who was recently promoted to general manager. “They decided to bring the tournament back (to the Dunes), and the usual conditioning here is such that we could have a major championship six weeks later.”

With its clubhouse along the Atlantic, the Dunes is a popular spot for weddings and other social functions with the ocean for a backdrop. But golf always will be the club’s legacy.

A walk through its version of a hall of fame is a walk through history. The refurbished archives feature tributes to Jones, the Senior Tour champions, D’Angelo and Carolyn Cudone, a Dunes member who was Curtis Cup captain and the winner of five consecutive USGA Senior Women’s Amateur titles.

“There are a lot of things the members can be proud of,” Eddington said. “The tradition here is important. That’s something that can’t be bought, and we made sure to preserve and protect it.”

The grill added in a 2000 clubhouse expansion is, not surprising, named Waterloo, and on the wall hangs a huge photograph of the hole that carries the same name. The picture emphasizes the challenge the course presents and creates an unforgettable memory of the way golf has been — and still is — at the Dunes.

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