The Dunes Club & Pawleys Plantation GC Are Key players at Myrtle Beach

By: Steve Habel

It seems as if Myrtle Beach has been one of the nation's top golf destinations forever, but that's not really the case. Sixty years ago, very few players targeted South Carolina's Lowcountry alongside the Atlantic as a must-play stop for golf; after all, most of the area's 100-plus courses have been open for business only since the 1970s.

No. 17 at The Dunes Golf & Beach Club

Two of the region's best facilities, The Dunes Golf & Beach Club and Pawleys Plantation Golf & Country Club, are significant for the impact they had in bringing golf to the area while staying at the forefront of conversations about golf in this part of the world.

Work began on The Dunes Club in 1947 and it was ready for play as a nine-hole venue in 1949, making it the Grand Strand's second golf facility. Almost 40 years later, some 30 miles south on its eponymous island, Pawleys Plantation has maintained a high standard with a demanding but fair layout that utilizes every attribute that makes Myrtle Beach and environs so ripe for great golf.

We were able to play both courses last spring and can testify they still rank highly in the Grand Strand hierarchy.

The Dunes Golf & Beach Club

RTJ Honed his Chops at The Dunes Club

The Dunes Club has a classic pedigree thanks to a location along Singleton Swash overlooking the Atlantic Ocean and an inspired early-career routing by Robert Trent Jones, who began the project fresh off his collaboration with Bobby Jones at Atlanta's Peachtree Golf Club. The Dunes Club was Jones' first high-dollar project and its success placed him at the forefront of American golf course design.

From 1954 to 2005, The Dunes Club hosted the final round of the Golf Writers Association of America tournament. Held the weekend before the Masters, the tournament attracted the nation's most influential golf writers to the area and is often credited with helping turn Myrtle Beach into a golf destination.

In the 64 years since opening, The Dunes Club is firmly established as one of the top 100 in virtually every ranking of America's top classic courses.

Jones changed his original design in 1976-77 with modifications to Nos. 3, 4, 11, 15 and 18, and made more tweaks in 1992. In 2001, an extra hole was added between 13 and 14; this "alternate hole" is used when another is closed for maintenance.

In 2003, Rees Jones, RTJ's son, restored all the greens to their original shape and made minor alterations to the first, eighth, 13th, 16th and 18th greens to keep them consistent with the course's initial design.

The Dunes Club plays at a par of 72 and 7,195 yards from its back set of five tees. From there, the course carries a stout rating of 75.1 and a Slope of 145. The renovations have retained the essence of the original, proving that the layout has withstood the numerous equipment changes over the decades.

Much of its routing is through avenues defined by pine and mossy, live oak trees. The design is very traditional, with elevated greens and plenty of huge bunkers, and weaves among coastal woodlands then out to an ocean view on the ninth hole, and back around coastal marshlands on the home half.

The 10th Green at The Dunes Club

Seven of the 10 par-4s at The Dunes Club play 425 yards or more from the tips; these include the 465-yard sixth, 430-yard 11th, 450-yard 14th and 430-yard closer.

Many people consider the collection of par-5s here the best set found on any Jones-designed course. The first, the 505-yard fourth, is a dogleg-left with two huge bunkers at the elbow that narrow the landing area. In order to have a chance to go for the green in two, the drive must carry these hazards. The elevated and shallow putting surface is surrounded by a quartet of bunkers and fronted by a pond that also must be carried.

The 200-yard par-3 ninth has a raised green that is shallow and wide, and is near the edge of the Atlantic. Four bunkers guard its front, making club selection here crucial.

Nos. 11-13 comprises "Alligator Alley," a stretch that might be the top three consecutive holes in the entire Myrtle Beach area. The par-4 11th is the only hole on the course that has been significantly redesigned. It's now a daunting dogleg-right of 430 yards and ends at a peninsular green. Drives must stay to the left side of the fairway to avoid the Swash.

13th Hole at The Dunes Club

The 245-yard par-3 12th is all anyone would want in a one-shotter; it's protected on the entire right flank and at the green's right-front by a marsh. Its putting surface is just 26 yards deep and surrounded by four bunkers, leaving no room for error.

The Dunes Club's signature hole and perhaps the most renowned offering in the Grand Strand is the 590-yard 13th. Called "Waterloo," it turns about 75 degrees to the right from tee to green. The farther down the fairway and closer to danger one hits a tee shot, the narrower the landing area becomes as it's bordered by Lake Singleton - home to a 20-foot alligator - on the right. The best attack is to hit the ball about 220 yards and snuggle it up to the lake without going in. From there, players can cut as much or as little of the lake they want trying to get home.

There's even more teeth at the 13th green. There's a trio of deep bunkers around this two-tiered target and finding the wrong level almost guarantees a three-putt. Justifiably, the 13th was once named one of America's 18 best holes by Sports Illustrated.

The finisher is a dandy. The 430-yard par-4 heads up a hill and into the wind. With water fronting the green and the prevailing, facing wind coming off the nearby Atlantic, many players prefer to hit short of the pond and try for a one-putt par.

With its rolling fairways and large greens, The Dunes Club places a premium on shot-making. Hitting the ball to the correct spot in the fairway can generate extra roll and the preferred angle. It's a bit of a cliché, but golfers will use every club in their bag here.

The Dunes Club has hosted some of golf's most prestigious events, including the U.S. Women's Open, six Senior PGA Tour Championships and the finals of the PGA Tour's Q-School. This classic Jones layout certainly has stood the test of time and is a lasting legacy to one of the game's great architects.

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Pawleys Plantation Golf & Country Club

Nicklaus Used What Was Available at Pawleys Plantation

In October 1986, Nicklaus stood in the middle of 582 acres on Pawleys Island and began designing a new golf course. He returned every few months, directing fairway shaping, aligning trees, determining the elevations and placement of greens and tees, incorporating all the subtle touches that play in golfers' minds, again and again.

The tranquil surroundings of the marshes and creeks threading across the island and framed by 200-year-old moss-draped oaks are crucial to the experience Nicklaus created at Pawleys Plantation Golf & Country Club. "We used what was here, without forcing or changing what Mother Nature provided," Nicklaus once said.

Every hole is tree-lined, unless it's routed alongside the marsh. And the trees have grown since the course opened, so much so that players sometimes have to hit under these leafy canopies.

Seventh Hole at Pawleys Plantation

Par-72 Pawleys Plantation extends 7,026 yards from the tips, where it has a 74.5 rating and a 142 Slope. Nicklaus incorporated some unique touches, including a series of holes that use a wooden bulkhead to form the cart path as well as the tees at the 13th and 17th holes.

"Variety makes this course tremendously interesting to play," Nicklaus noted. "Each of the 18 holes has a distinct strategy; green placement, water, tree lines, traps, mounds, split fairways and two holes sharing a spectacular double-green. You'll have to think your way around the course, all the while, aware of how beautiful it is."

Repeat players say it's common to never have the same shot twice at Pawleys Plantation. The course has a striking finish, with six of the last seven holes involving marshes, and it has a Southern flair because of the live oaks.

Five of the par-4s weigh in at least 432 yards, including the 461-yard second, 452-yard eighth, 444-yard 16th and 443-yard 18th - the top four holes by handicap.

No. 16, with the 13th Green in the Distance,
at Pawleys Plantation

The second runs straight and narrow between mounding inside the tree lines on both sides, and the green is wider and more rolling in the back and narrow and sloping at the front due to a middle ridge. The sixth has water down the entire left periphery. A single large pine inside the water line pinches the landing area off the tee, and a long bunker on the left of its deep putting surface.

The eighth has a long bunker and water right of the green, and a tree is in the middle of the 416-yard ninth, 240 yards out.

The tees at the 145-yard 13th and 201-yard 17th abut each other and are accessed via a wooden bridge across a tidal marsh that must be carried to reach each bulk-headed green. These both all-or-nothing shots are just about the first things anyone who has played Pawleys Plantation mentions.

On the 13th, a putting surface is on a peninsula half the size of the famed island green at TPC Sawgrass; this one slopes to the right-front.

The 525-yard 14th turns to the right around a marsh that runs the length of the hole. There's a troublesome tree left of the fairway 295 yards from tips. The putting surface here angles to the right into the marsh, and it has bunkers front-right and rear; a good drive here leaves a risk-reward decision with the second.

The 444-yard 16th is both difficult and attractive. The drive needs to clear a few oak trees at the bend of the dogleg-left, and marsh enters play along the right 130 yards from a green almost completely engirded by bunkers.

No. 17's diagonal green falls off toward OB at the back. The ever-present marsh eats up errant shots and the green is narrowed by a bunker left and a large oak right.

Pawleys Plantation's tough closer turns left around oaks and a long, thin bunker bordering a marsh. Its rolling, spacious green has water and a bunker left.

Constantly changing scenery from marsh and wetlands to traditional tree-lined fairways keeps the guesswork going at Pawleys Plantation, a great combination of nature and manmade treatments. It was designed for the golfer who plays intelligently, and a fun course with variety for all skill sets.

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Steve Habel is a freelance writer contributing Cybergolf news stories, features, equipment and book reviews and personality profiles from his base in Central Texas. He also works as a contributing editor for Horns Illustrated magazine, a publication focusing on University of Texas sports, and is a contributing writer for Golfers' Guide and Golf Oklahoma magazine, Texas Links magazines and Golfers Guide. Habel's main blog ( features news on golf and the Longhorns, and another ( chronicles his many travels, including playing more than 600 golf courses since 2008. Habel is a member of the Golf Writers Association of America and the Texas Golf Writers Association.