Dunes West Golf & River Club Boasts Historic Pedigree

By: John Torsiello

I'm big on aesthetics. And being a guy who plays golf a lot I like courses to not only play well but look nice. I know a lot of people just want to get to the clubhouse, check in, hop on a cart and start their rounds. But I enjoy the journey as well as the destination.

Dunes West's 18th Fairway & Clubhouse

One of my favorite drives into a course is at Dunes West Golf and River Club in Mt. Pleasant, S.C. It's like stepping back in time (and a little like walking up Magnolia Lane at Augusta National Golf Club), riding up the long entrance of a Southern plantation. The asphalt path takes you past towering live oaks draped with Spanish moss. It's a cool way to get set for one of the better daily-fee layouts in the Lowcountry.

Dunes West plays anywhere from 6,859 yards to 5,208 yards from the forward markers. Water enters play on seven holes and the fairways are fairly large and forgiving. The greens are mildly undulating and guarded by bunkers, both sand and grass.

What impressed me the most the last time I played here was the superb overall quality of the course, from the lush fairways, greens and tee boxes to the little things, like the meticulous trimming around the bunkers and cart paths. General manager Rich Rankin and course superintendent Rob Mackie keep a close watch on things, and it shows.

As for the feeling of driving into a plantation as you head toward the clubhouse, Dunes West - like a lot of golf courses in the area - actually was the site of a working plantation, a 1,000-acre operation known by the unmistakably quirky Southern name of Four Men's Ramble. If I might digress from hitting 7-irons and trying to figure out the undulating greens at Dunes West, there's a neat story about the land upon which the layout now, well, rambles across.

The former plantation produced mostly bricks along with some rice and cotton, and the main house and outbuildings were actually located on what is now the Dunes West Club. In 1827, the plantation was sold to A.S. Willington, the first editor of the Charleston News (now Post) and Courier newspaper, and the property became known as Lexington. In subsequent years, Lexington changed hands several times and, by the end of the Civil War, the main house was in ruins. In 1930 the property was purchased by Henrietta Hartford, the widow of Edward V. Hartford and one of the nation's wealthiest women.

Mrs. Hartford developed an elaborate estate on the site of the original Lexington home, including a 32-room house furnished with imported European antiques, a saltwater swimming pool, tennis courts, nine golf holes, stables, a guest house, servants' quarters and gardens designed by the Olmsted firm of Central Park fame. Some of these features remain today.

Getting out of a Bunker at Dunes West

Wait, the story gets better. In 1937, Mrs. Hartford was remarried to a Prince Guido Pignatelli of Italy (yep, Prince Guido), and the couple often visited Lexington until it somewhat mysteriously burned to the ground in 1942. Unable to face rebuilding the estate, the Princess eventually sold the property in 1947 to the O.L. Williams Veneer Company, which later became a part of Georgia Pacific. Development of the current club was undertaken a number of years later, when noted architect Arthur Hills was hired to design Dunes West's golf course, which opened in 1991.

So much for the Lowcountry history lesson. Dunes West's golf course is a very good test of your skills, not punishing mind you, but a layout that will bite if you don't pay attention, especially on the approach shots to mid-sized greens that are often protected by sand bunkers, water or both.

The third hole is a short, 357-yard, par-4 where birdie can be had if you steer clear of three fairway bunkers on the left and a large one guarding its small green. Favor the right side with the big club and aim left with a short-iron or wedge into the putting surface.

No. 4, a 489-yard par-5, is a well-thought-out design. A big drive will leave an opportunity to go for the green in two. But it demands a carry across a pond that runs down the left side of the fairway all the way to the green. It's risk-reward at its best.

The seventh is another fun par-5. Measuring 497 yards from the tips, it can be reached in two by big hitters who can draw the ball around the corner on this dogleg-left. But there's water on that side of the hole, running from the teeing area to about 135 yards from the green. The wiser play is to take the tee shot straightaway, lay up, and have a pitch left.

No. 14 is one of the toughest par-4s in the area. It plays 470 yards from the back tees and requires a long, straight drive followed by a long-iron or fairway wood. A bunker at the green's right-front gobbles up balls hit too short and a bit errant.

Dunes West has very strong par-5s and the 561-yard 15th may be the best of the bunch. The drive must clear four fairway bunkers that guard a slight rise, and the second shot can be directed right or left as the fairway splits in two. The one place your second can't go is into one of four large traps lurking between the split fairway. It's really difficult to hit the smallish green on your third shot out of these bunkers.

Numbers 16 through 18 are a fine brace of holes. The 16th is a tough par-4 that measures 412 yards. There's a huge sand trap guarding the right side of the fairway, and the approach must be true to find a small green squeezed by a pond along the right.

The 17th may be the best par-3 here. Stretching 214 yards off an elevated tee, the first shot must avoid a pond on the right. Bail out left and you are dry but have a very tough up and down, as the green slopes away from you.

The 18th plays 456 yards from the back blocks and finishes next to the facility's Old South-style clubhouse that is surrounded by live oaks. The second shot has to be accurate to avoid a marsh at the left and front. The wise play is to aim at the right side of the green, where you still can get up and down if missing the putting surface.

Check out Wagner Creek that glides by the clubhouse and 18th green. It's a pretty scene that sometimes involves a recreational watercraft sailing by, using the creek to head into or out of the nearby Wando River.

Dunes West Golf and River Club is one of those places where I always seem to play well. Maybe it's the view, the ease in which the layout unfolds, or the sweet conditions. It fits my eye, as they say.

Or, perhaps I'm channeling Prince Guido. Anyway, it's one of my favorite courses and is as good a daily-fee golf experience as you'll find in the Charleston area. For more information, visit www.GolfDunesWest.com.

John Torsiello is an editor/writer living in Connecticut. He has written extensively about all aspects of the golf industry for a number of national and regional publications. He is a regular contributor to "Golf Course Industry," "Lawn and Landscape," "Golfing" and "Fairway Living" magazines as well as various online publications. He has strong, ongoing relationships with industry professionals and has worked closely with course owners, architects, developers, course superintendents and general managers around the country. He has won a number of awards for his writing, including first place from the Turf and Ornamental Communicators Association for a piece that appeared in "Golf Course Industry" magazine.